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March 24, 2023

Bucks County pilot lost his life on 9/11, but legislation named in his memory aims to prevent future hijackings

The Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Act would require secondary cockpit barriers be installed on new commercial airplanes

Victor Saracini was the pilot on United Flight 175 on Sept. 11, 2001 when it was hijacked by terrorists and flown into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

More than 22 years later, federal legislation named in the Bucks County man's honor would mandate secondary cockpit barriers on all passenger planes in the United States to help prevent hijackings like the ones that occurred on 9/11. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey introduced the measure this week.

In 2018, Casey and former Sen. Pat Toomey backed similar legislation, also named in honor of Saracini, that required the installation of barriers on all newly manufactured planes bought by domestic airlines. Though it became law, the airline industry argued that it only applied to new models of airplanes, despite pushback from the Pennsylvania lawmakers. 

The new legislation, called the Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Act, aims to make it clear that barriers must be installed on all commercial planes, not just new types of aircraft. It has been referred to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. 

Casey previously described the barrier as a wire, mesh gate that would be installed between the cockpit door and the passenger cabin. In 2016, his office estimated that it would cost $3,500 to $5,000 to install each gate. Cost estimates for the new legislation have not been finalized. 

"We have more work to do to make air travel safer for pilots, passengers and crew members," Casey said. "The Saracini Enhanced Aviation Safety Act will prevent future attacks by bolstering cockpit protections in all passenger planes. I will continue working alongside Ellen Saracini to honor Captain Saracini by keeping airline passengers and pilots safe in our skies." 

Victor Saracini was a United Airlines pilot, primarily based out of John F. Kennedy and Newark Liberty International airports. On Sept. 11, 2001, he piloted United Flight 175 from Boston to Los Angeles. 

The plane was the second to hit the World Trade Center. The Atlantic City native was described by friends and family as a "skilled aviator and meticulous professional who enjoyed playing his guitar, boating, motorcycling, and cooking," according to the Atlantic City 9/11 Memorial

Investigators later concluded that Saracini, 51, and his co-pilot had been killed by members of an al Qaeda terrorist cell before the plane struck the tower.

Ellen Saracini, who is also a trained commercial pilot, has sought to honor her late husband's legacy by supporting federal legislation to enhance safety on passenger flights. She also played a role in the design of the Garden of Reflection 9/11 Memorial in Lower Makefield Township, Bucks County.

The memorial, which opened in 2006, includes the names of 2,973 victims of the attacks on glass panels near a reflecting pool and water fountain, including the 18 Bucks County residents who died. 

"We must secure our skies and protect our passengers and flight crews from acts of terrorism like the one my husband faced on September 11, 2001," Ellen Saracini said. "Since that day, I have made it my mission to ensure that our country is doing everything it can to implement better safeguards aboard aircraft. As it stands today, passenger planes are not equipped to adequately protect the flight deck. Installing secondary barriers on all commercial planes will protect the cockpit and ensure there will never be a repeat of that tragic day." 

U.S. Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, of Bucks County, introduced companion legislation in the House of Representatives in February. The bills have bipartisan support and have been endorsed by the Air Line Pilots Association, the world's largest pilots' union. 

"For more than 20 years, airline pilots have been committed in ensuring that the legacy of all who lost their lives or were harmed on September 11, 2001, is that of a safer and more secure U.S. air transportation system," said Capt. Jason Ambrosi, president of the Air Line Pilots Association. "ALPA has long supported the use of secondary barriers and we are grateful to Sen. Casey for honoring Capt. Saracini's memory." 

The Australian Research Council found that the installation of secondary physical barriers can be a cost-effective method of aircraft security in the "fleeting moments" when the cockpit door is left open during flights.