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October 12, 2001: Recovery Workers Find What They Think Is One of the Planes’ Black Boxes in the Debris of the WTC

Pier 25 on the Hudson River.Pier 25 on the Hudson River. [Source: Larry Lerner / FEMA]Recovery workers find what appears to be one of the black boxes from Flight 11 or Flight 175—the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center on 9/11—while they are working near Ground Zero, but FBI agents who inspect the object deny that it is one of these devices. [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 94-96] 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. Although they are called “black” boxes, they are in fact painted bright orange. [CBS News, 2/25/2002; PBS, 2/17/2004] Since the initial days of the recovery effort at Ground Zero, finding the black boxes from Flight 11 and Flight 175 has been a priority, due to the critical information they might hold. Many posters with photos of a plane’s black boxes have been put up around the WTC site so workers will recognize these devices if they turn up in the debris.
Operating Engineer Thinks He Has Found a Black Box - Today, an operating engineer notices an object that looks like it could be one of the black boxes while he is scraping up a load of debris at Pier 25 on the Hudson River. [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 94] At Pier 25, near Ground Zero, debris from the WTC site is being loaded onto barges and transported to the Fresh Kills landfill on Staten Island. [New York Daily News, 1/6/2002; APWA Reporter, 3/2004] The operating engineer thinks the object is the same shape as a black box. It is too blackened and charred, though, for him to determine if it is painted orange, like a plane’s black boxes are. He stops operations at the pier so he can get the opinion of the crane operator there. The crane operator agrees that the object looks like a plane’s black box and says its discovery should be reported. The operating engineer therefore makes a call to report the find and is put through to Lieutenant Ed Moss of the Port Authority Police Department (PAPD).
Police Officers Think the Unearthed Object Is a Black Box - After the operating engineer tells him about the discovery, Moss heads to Pier 25 with his colleague, Lieutenant Bill Doubrawski. He examines the object and he too thinks it is one of the black boxes. Excitedly, he contacts Lieutenant William Keegan, who is in charge of the PAPD’s nighttime rescue and recovery operation at Ground Zero. Talking over a secure phone line, Moss tells Keegan: “I think we found one of these things. I’m looking at the diagram. I think this is it.” Moss says Doubrawski agrees with his assessment. He describes the object as being “[h]ard as a rock, not orange,” and looking “like it was torched, all blackened.” Keegan says he wants to see the object and heads to Pier 25 to examine it.
Senior Police Officer Agrees with His Colleagues' Assessment - When he arrives there, he compares the object to some photos of a plane’s black boxes and agrees that it appears to be one of these devices. “The object found on the pier was absolutely close enough to the pictures available to us to notify the FBI without delay,” Keegan will later write. The PAPD officers arrange for some FBI agents who are working at Ground Zero to come to the PAPD command post to see the object.
FBI Agents Think the Object Is a Black Box but Then Change Their Minds - Around 20 to 30 minutes later, two FBI agents arrive at the command post. The agents examine the object that has been discovered and compare it to a diagram of a plane’s black box. They then say words to the effect of “Wow, this looks like it” and “It’s the same shape,” according to Keegan. However, after looking at the object for a few more minutes, they apparently change their minds. “We don’t think it’s a black box,” one of them tells the PAPD officers. In response, Keegan asks: “So it’s okay to throw it back on the barge? You’re clearing it?” The other agent quickly replies, “No, no, we’re going to take it with us.” The two FBI agents then leave the command post, taking the object with them. Keegan and his colleagues will subsequently never receive any information from the FBI, regarding whether the object really is one of the black boxes. [Keegan and Davis, 2006, pp. 94-96] 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] But 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: Bill Doubrawski, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ed Moss, William Keegan

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

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