FDR 1: THE EVIDENCE TRAIL
Adam Larson / Caustic Logic
The Frustrating Fraud
Researchers curious about the Flight data recorder from the Pentagon attack plane, from 9/11 to mid-2006 anyway, were frustrated by an uncooperative government. The National Transporatation Safety Board (NTSB) Web site announced “the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 are under the jurisdiction of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Safety Board provided requested technical assistance to the FBI, and any material generated by the NTSB is under the control of the FBI. The Safety Board does not plan to issue a report or open a public docket." The FBI of course released nothing as its PENTTBOM investigation ground on, and so the data the NTSB had gleaned remained behind closed doors for years.
The data did form a partial basis of the 9/11 Commission’s work. The path for Flight 77 the Commission published in mid-2004 was based on this, not that they ever explicitly said so, and reflected the official story. Oddly, the Commission never mentioned anything about Flight Data Recorder from any flight but 93, neither confirming nor denying the existence of the other three in its Final Report, even in the footnotes.
FOIA lawsuits for the entire NTSB record of 9/11 planes were finally successful in the wake of the Moussaoui trial’s conclusion in mid-2006. The National Security Archive at George Washington University announced on august 11 “the documents were released in their entirety to the National Security Archive and were received directly from the NTSB.” The “entire” catalog of info posted online at the Archive’ site that day included three types of reports:
1) Air Traffic Control recording logs: presented for all four flights
2) Flight path and altitude studies for flights 11, 175, and 77, the first two with complete paths and altitudes based on radar returns, 77’s path partially drawn-in due to a radar gap, but showing the final grand loop over Washington, as seen on Dulles radar, over a topographic map in close detail.
3) A detailed report on the Flight Data Recorder of Flight 93.
Regarding the third category of one, the archive’s announcement read in part: “in addition to the Flight Path Studies and Air Traffic Control Recording transcripts, the NTSB released a February 2002 “specialist’s factual report of investigation” on United Airlines Flight 93 based on the flight's recovered digital data recorder.” Since its cockpit Voice Recorder, the only one recovered and readable, is still under wraps, this clearly means the FDR. “According to the report, the flight recorder functioned normally,” and provided investigator with “graphic analysis of the data recovered from Flight 93.” But oddly, this release made a claim I’ve never heard explicitly elsewhere: Flight 93’s was “the only surviving recorder from the hijacked planes on 9/11.”
Wow! I knew the Black Boxes and CVRs in New York, while three of four were allegedly found but were buried and never admitted to having survived. But I had always heard that the Black Boxes were found at both Shanksville and at the Pentagon and had yielded data in both cases. But after seeing this and seeing no mention of such a study in the 9/11 commission’s report, it almost seems reasonable to ask if the FDR even survived at all.
But of course that’s not where it stands, and this is clearly just a mistake, perhaps by an intern asked to write up apiece beyond her understanding, taking Flight 77’s FDR study not being included as a sign it didn’t have one. That still doesn’t explain [i]why[/i] it wasn’t included, of course, and it is still telling.
The evidence of the recorder surviving is thick enough. Just after the 9/11 attacks, the FBI took over the crime scene, and brought in the NTSB to help locate plane parts and especially the black boxes. By about 4:00 am on September 14, the cockpit voice recorder and the FDR were found, according to CNN and other sources. According to the ASCE's Pentagon building performance Report, the FDR at least was found near the end of the plane's trajectory in ring C (see above). The recorders were turned over to the NTSB laboratory in Washington that same day, where technicians set to summoning the data within. The CVR was found to be useless, and so we had no audio directly from inside the plane, but on the 15th FBI Diretor Mueller said useful information was gleaned from the data recorder.
The 9/11 Commission had referenced this data indirectly, via the NTSB flight path study. As with the same for Flights 11 and 175, it included an altitude mapping, but while those were based on radar returns (with no FDRs “found”), flight 77’s altitude chart is listed as a readin from the FDR. Finally, I just found, the NTSB does have a site for downloading the once-elusive Specialist's Study for Flight 77 in PDF format: "Frequently Requested Items." That's one part of the story made less mysterious. [direct PDF download link]
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