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(September 12-21, 2001): Recovery Workers Search for One of the Black Boxes at Ground Zero in Locations Where Its Signal Has Been Detected

Steven Stefanakos.Steven Stefanakos. [Source: New York City Police Department.]Recovery workers at Ground Zero search for one of the black boxes from Flight 11 or Flight 175—the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11—in locations where a signal from the device has reportedly been picked up, but it is unclear if they find a black box. [Appel, 2009, pp. 281-282] The two “black boxes” carried by all commercial aircraft—the cockpit voice recorder and the flight data recorder—can provide valuable information about why a plane crashed. [CBS News, 2/25/2002; PBS, 2/17/2004] In the week after the 9/11 attacks occur, investigators identify a signal being emitted by one of the black boxes in the WTC debris, according to a report published by the New York State Emergency Management Office (see September 18, 2001). [New York State Emergency Management Office, 9/18/2001, pp. 1 pdf file] The signal is detected by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), according to author Anthea Appel. However, while FAA personnel are able to hear the signal, they are unable to pinpoint exactly where it is coming from.
FAA Suggests Two Possible Locations for the Black Box - The FAA initially says it thinks the signal is coming from the corner of Liberty and Church Streets, which border the south and east edges of the WTC site, respectively, and so recovery workers are sent to dig at this location. However, after a few days, it changes its mind and, on September 21, says the signal is coming from Building 5 of the WTC. [Appel, 2009, pp. 281] This nine-story building is located in the northeast corner of the WTC site. [Federal Emergency Management Agency, 5/1/2002, pp. 4-1] The signal is coming from inside or directly under its roof, the FAA says.
Police Officers See No Sign of the Black Box - Lieutenant Delia Mannix of the New York Police Department’s Emergency Service Unit (ESU), who is in charge of the operation to recover the black box, decides the only way to search the roof of Building 5 is to send a team up in a small, waist-high cage known as a “bucket.” Steven Stefanakos and two other ESU officers, who are selected for the task, get into a bucket and a crane lifts them onto the roof of Building 5. Knowing the black box is supposed to be under or embedded in the roof, Stefanakos and the two other officers look around, trying to spot a hole or a dent where the black box could have punctured the roof after being catapulted out of the plane when it crashed into the WTC. The roof, however, appears to be intact.
FAA Staffer Responsible for Locating the Black Box Has Gone Home - Unsure where to search, Stefanakos tries contacting the FAA staffer who is responsible for locating the black box. He tries to reach them three times over his radio but gets no response. Finally, a voice comes over his radio, telling him: “The FAA aren’t here. They went home for the weekend.” Noting that it is only about five o’clock in the afternoon, Stefanakos and his two colleagues are incredulous. As they are being carried down to the ground in the bucket, they comment to each other: “We’ve been workin’ every day for 16 or 17 hours straight with no days off. And here we are, inches away from the black box, and the FAA just get up and leave in the middle of a recovery just because they don’t wanna screw up their weekend!” [Appel, 2009, pp. 281-282] Whether a black box is subsequently retrieved from the roof of Building 5 is unstated. The 9/11 Commission Report will state that the black boxes from the planes that crashed into the WTC “were not found.” [9/11 Commission, 7/24/2004, pp. 456] Furthermore, a report published by the New York City Office of Emergency Management on September 25 will claim that the FAA has in fact been “[u]nable to detect any ‘pinging’ from either ‘black box’” at Ground Zero. [New York City Office of Emergency Management, 9/25/2001, pp. 17-18 pdf file] However, firefighter Nicholas DeMasi, who works extensively in the wreckage of the WTC, will say he helped federal agents recover three black boxes at Ground Zero (see October 2001). [Swanson, 2003, pp. 108; Philadelphia Daily News, 10/28/2004]

Entity Tags: Federal Aviation Administration, New York City Police Department, Delia Mannix, Steven Stefanakos

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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