Widow of slain 9-11 pilot bashes Congress

By Jon Dougherty

The widow of a commercial airline pilot slain in the 9-11 attacks has lashed out at Congress for failing to deliver to the White House a bill allowing guns in cockpits.

“Congress is planning to leave town and go home to campaign for reelection but they have not yet finished their most important work” – to arm airline pilots, said Ellen Saracini, wife of Capt. Victor Saracini, killed when his plane, United Airlines flight 175, was flown into the second World Trade Center tower.

Saracini is calling on lawmakers to pass a bill before the midterm elections next month.

“Recent news accounts confirm that the threat of another terrorist attack like the one that took the life of my husband … is very real,” she said, in a statement released Friday by the Airline Pilots’ Security Alliance, a group that supports arming pilots.

Saracini asserted that Americans cannot “rely upon [airport security] screening that has been proven ineffective,” a small number of air marshals or hardened cockpit doors to thwart future terrorist hijackings.

“My husband Vic, who supported arming pilots, will never walk through my door again and my children and I will live our lives without his love and support,” she said. “I call upon both Houses of Congress to get an armed pilot bill on President Bush’s desk, before they go home to campaign for reelection.”

Polls show most Americans support arming commercial airline pilots as a measure of protection against future hijackings, but the administration – particularly Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta, a Clinton-era holdover – has been reluctant.

The airlines themselves are opposed to arming pilots out of fear of liability, though legislation introduced in the House and Senate this summer would eliminate airline and pilot liability for passenger injury or death for using a gun to defend a plane from hijackers.

Saracini was not invited to testify before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee during armed pilot hearings in July, though she requested an invitation.

CNSNews.com reported Friday that APSA president Capt. Tracy Price called on the administration to fire Mineta for opposing efforts to arm pilots.

“Secretary Mineta’s opposition to arming pilots is not based in reason, but is based upon an emotional and visceral aversion to firearms in the hands of anyone but federal agents,” Price said.

Mineta has said part of his reluctance is based on the perceived costs to train and arm pilots.

“I don’t want to be in the position of having armed pilots and then all of the sudden facing a bill of $850-900 million in terms of the start-up costs, the training, getting the weapons for 85,000 pilots, and then doing the $250-$260 million in annual costs to do quarterly recurrent training,” he said in Senate testimony July 25, the day Saracini was not invited to appear.

Price dismissed those costs out of hand.

“These figures are ridiculously over-inflated and Secretary Mineta knows it,” he said. “Many highly-qualified firearms training institutions have said this training can be accomplished for less than $1,500 per pilot.”

Firearms training experts agree those costs are tremendously inflated.

“I can’t speak for other training organizations, but Front Sight offers to train any commercial pilot authorized to carry a gun to defend the cockpit free of charge,” Dr. Ignatius Piazza, founder and president of FrontSight Firearms Training Institute in Las Vegas, told WorldNetDaily last month.

Piazza said he could do it for about $2,500 per pilot, or $212.5 million – a quarter of what Mineta says it would cost – were he even interested in charging for his services, which he’s not.

Last year, shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks, Piazza offered airlines free training for pilots.

“The administration believes there are a number of security concerns that need to be addressed as Congress proceeds” in its debate over arming pilots, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer told WND Sept. 6.

Specifically, the administration is concerned about the length of training time pilots will complete, how they will be taught to fire weapons in the “confined space” of a cockpit, the consideration of passengers and the “integrity of the airplane itself,” Fleischer said.

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