A story of heroism at plane attack site

Passerby helped workers flee fire

By Kelley Shannon and Jay Root
Associated Press / February 20, 2010

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AUSTIN, Texas - Robin De Haven was driving the company truck when he saw something that didn’t look right - a small plane, flying extremely low over a heavily congested area of Austin.

The 28-year-old Iraq war veteran recalled yesterday how he then saw black smoke billowing from the glass building and rushed to the scene. There, where the plane had exploded into flames in a suicide attack fueled by antigovernment hatred, De Haven found five people trapped on the second floor of the burning office housing Internal Revenue Service employees.

“I wanted to go help,’’ said De Haven, who works for a glass company. “I thought, ‘I’m going to go ahead and do it.’ I thought my boss would understand.’’

He quickly hurled his 17-foot ladder onto the building, climbed up, and went inside to help the workers escape.

Authorities have credited stories of heroism like De Haven’s for keeping the death toll so low in Thursday’s crash. The pilot, Andrew Joseph Stack III, and one other person were killed when the software engineer fueled with rage against the IRS slammed his plane Thursday morning into the hulking Echelon 1 building.

Stack, 53, apparently targeted the lower floors of the office building, where nearly 200 IRS employees worked. Thirteen people were injured and one remained hospitalized.

In a ranting, 3,000-word manifesto posted on a website, Stack lashed out at the government - especially its tax code - claiming it robbed him of his savings and derailed his career.

US law enforcement officials were trying to determine whether Stack put anything in the plane to worsen the damage. One official also said they were trying to find out whether a marital dispute precipitated the attack. All officials spoke on condition of anonymity because the investigation was ongoing.

Six miles away from the building, arson crews yesterday inspected Stack’s home, which he apparently set on fire.

A representative for his wife, Sheryl Stack, said she thanked her friends and family for their kindness. “Words cannot adequately express my sorrow or the sympathy I feel for everyone affected by this unimaginable tragedy,’’ the statement read by Rayford Walker said.

The company De Haven works for said it has been flooded with calls and e-mails calling him a hero. “I don’t feel like a hero,’’ he said. “I was just trying to help.’’