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    Palm Harbor couple lose son-in-law

    The pilot of United Airlines Flight 175 was a family man who loved to spend his days off with his two daughters.

    By ED QUIOCO

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published September 13, 2001


    photo
    Victor Saracini
    PALM HARBOR -- Like tens of millions of Americans, Bernard and Bernadette Hildebrand watched in horror Tuesday as television networks played and replayed the image of United Airlines Flight 175 crashing into the south tower of the World Trade Center.

    From the first, they hoped the Boeing 767 wasn't being flown by their son-in-law, pilot Victor J. Saracini.

    But when they called their daughter and son-in-law's home in Lower Makefield, Pa., a United employee answered. He passed the phone to one of their other daughters, who delivered the grim news:

    Saracini, 51, was the captain of the plane, which carried 65 passengers and crew.

    "In the beginning, you absolutely cannot imagine that it would be your son-in-law," said Mrs. Hildebrand, 75, a retired bank manager. Over and over, she said, she kept asking, "Are they sure?"

    "You dreaded admitting that you knew," said her husband, 75, a retired salesman.

    On Wednesday, the couple, who have lived in Palm Harbor for about eight years, remembered their son-in-law as a "loving, sensitive, intelligent and caring" father and a "ferocious reader."

    Saracini grew up in New Jersey and flew fighter jets for the Navy before joining United. He loved going to the Jersey shore and had a sailboat with a motor "just in case there was no wind," Hildebrand said. Saracini often would stay with the couple in Palm Harbor when he had a flight out of Tampa.

    Saracini liked to fix things around the house and had an impressive collection of tools.

    "He had a workshop that was out of this world," Hildebrand said.

    Most of all, the couple said, Saracini was a family man who loved to spend his days off with his two daughters. He had been married to their daughter for more than 15 years.

    Mrs. Hildebrand recalled that when one daughter was still a baby, Saracini already was trying to get her familiar with computers.

    "Daddy is going to teach you about computers," he told his daughter, according to Mrs. Hildebrand.

    Because they did not want to release any information that might hurt their daughter, the Hildebrands would not discuss or give the names or ages of Saracini's wife and two daughters. They also declined to provide a photograph of their son-in-law or to allow themselves to be photographed.

    "Our grief is thinking about them," Mrs. Hildebrand said.

    Their son-in-law was a thorough man who had a habit of going through the entire plane during his preflight check. Saracini learned how to fly any plane in the United Airlines fleet. He also learned how to fix planes.

    "He would have been a student all his life," Hildebrand said.

    Saracini would have struggled against the hijackers, his in-laws said.

    "He would have said, "You aren't taking my plane and my passengers,' " Mrs. Hildebrand said. "He also would have in mind his wife and children, and he would have done everything he could to stay alive. They were his whole life."

    The couple plan to drive to Pennsylvania to be with the family.

    "It just doesn't seem real to us," Mrs. Hildebrand said. "I can't understand why human beings can't live in peace."

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