Charles F. Burlingame III
Hometown: Herndon, Va., USA
Occupation: Captain, American Airlines
Location: Crew, American Flight 77, Pentagon
"His work area was his little cave. He loved woodworking. That was Chic. He had all these little drawers with all his nuts and bolts, and he had them all labeled. I came home from a trip one day, and he said, 'Come here, I've got to show you something,' and he had everything organized. . . . I just gathered up a lot of things that he was very fond of, and placed them on his workbench [for the photo]." -- Sheri Burlingame, wife
He had eluded death before, in his eight years flying F-4 Phantom jet fighters for the Navy and 17 years in the cockpit for American Airlines.
The experiences of landing crippled fighters and just missing ill-fated flights never let the Fairfax County resident forget the dangers of flying or neglect the skills that had always brought him home.
So for those who knew Capt. Charles Frank Burlingame III, news that terrorists had wrested control of his aircraft and plunged Flight 77 like a guided missile into the Pentagon conjured unbearable images of the last moments of his life -- and those of his passengers.
"He always had the answers, and he always would solve the problems, but this one was bigger than him," said Mark Burlingame, who said his older brother was intensely serious about his responsibilities as a commercial pilot. "I don't know what happened in that cockpit, but I'm sure that they would have had to incapacitate him or kill him because he would have done anything to prevent the kind of tragedy that befell that airplane."
In the days since Tuesday's attack, Burlingame family members, like relatives of all those on the Boeing 757, have waited for some word from investigators about what might have happened during its terrifying hour in the air.
What might their brother have done to thwart the terrorists' plans and save his 58 passengers and five crew members? The only hint of their final moments has come from two brief phone calls that passenger Barbara Olson placed to her husband, Solicitor General Theodore Olson, as the plane was heading toward Washington.
And so the captain's siblings, perhaps feeling a special responsibility to reach out to other families, spoke out yesterday, offering consolation and explanation of the measure of their brother's mettle.
"If he couldn't save that plane, nobody could," said Burlingame's younger sister, Debra, a lawyer who lives in Los Angeles. "We want to tell his story so that people who had loved ones on that flight will know that he would have sacrificed himself to save them."
With body bags waiting on the Pentagon grounds, rescue workers continued the painstaking task of removing victims' remains from the smoldering building, and military officials announced that the death toll had risen to nearly 200.
"One of the true ironies of this crash is that it was into the Pentagon, where he worked for many years as a naval reserve officer," said Burlingame's brother, Brad, a tourism executive in West Hollywood, Calif. "The people that perished in that crash could very well have been friends and colleagues of his."
Charles Burlingame, an aeronautical engineer and honors graduate from the Navy's Top Gun fighter pilot school in Miramar, Calif., had been known since he was a child as "Chic." He earned the nickname "Gramps" from his classmates at the U.S. Naval Academy because of his penchant for wearing snazzy red slippers as a midshipman.
His style, his Hollywood good looks and his appreciation for R&B music belied a serious side -- a life-long love of aviation and a discipline honed at the military academy and eight subsequent years of service in the Navy.
In recent months, Burlingame had been helping to organize the 30th reunion of the Class of '71, making appearances at local schools to recruit students for the Naval Academy and raising funds for his alma mater.
On Wednesday, he would have turned 52. His wife, Shari, a flight attendant for American Airlines, had planned a special dinner in anticipation of his return flight from Los Angeles, relatives said.
News of his death drew outpourings from classmates around the world.
"I'm sure Chic was fighting bravely to the end," one wrote to Shari Burlingame, who remained secluded in the couple's Herndon home.
Mark Burlingame, a cardiologist in Lancaster, Pa., recalls his brother saying that in a plane crash, "whatever happens to my aircraft, I know that I'm going to suffer the same fate. The pilot rarely survives."
Like many military pilots, Burlingame considered the most difficult job to be landing an F-4 fighter jet on the deck of an aircraft carrier as it pitched at sea in the dark of night. Once, his brothers recalled, he put down a jet without landing gear. No one was injured.
After he left the Navy, Burlingame was hired by American Airlines in 1989. For a time, he flew regular routes to South America. But he gave them up in order to spend more time at home. A month later, one of the pilots who replaced him crashed into the Colombia mountainside.
"He knew there was danger there," said Mark Burlingame. "He avoided disaster."
Friends and family remembered him as a man who was unabashedly patriotic, who embraced military life even after he retired from active and reserve duty. He remained active in the reserve, working until 1996 as a liaison in the Pentagon.
When his plane went down Tuesday, it ripped through a section of the building that includes the Navy Reserve offices.
His siblings, who watched Burlingame step in to lead the family after their father and then their mother died, are hoping that he may be laid to rest near them, in Arlington National Cemetery.
"That was a sacred place to him," Mark Burlingame said, his voice breaking. "We think he would have wanted it that way."
-- Anita Huslin
Source: The Washington Post, AP and washingtonpost.com
The profiles in this feature were written in the months following Sept. 11, 2001.
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