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11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001: FAA New York Center Controllers Recorded Recalling Experiences of Hijackings

A number of air traffic controllers at the FAA’s New York Center provide accounts of their experiences of interacting with, or tracking, two of the hijacked aircraft, on a tape recording that will later be destroyed by one of the center’s managers. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; Washington Post, 5/7/2004; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004 pdf file]
Manager Directs Colleague to Record Controllers - Mike McCormick, the New York Center manager, directs the taping. He will later say he does so because he wants a contemporaneous recording of the controllers’ accounts that will be immediately available for law enforcement efforts, in case agencies like the FBI show up at the center. He is also concerned that the controllers might be taking stress-induced sickness leave in response to the attacks. They would therefore be unavailable to give conventional written witness statements in a timely manner, and their recollections would be less clear when they returned from leave. McCormick tells Kevin Delaney, the center’s quality assurance manager, to record the controllers’ statements, and a tape recorder is then set up to do this. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004 pdf file]
Controllers Gathered Together - At least six of the center’s air traffic controllers are gathered in a room at the center nicknamed the “Bat Cave” for the fact-finding session. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; New York Times, 5/6/2004] These controllers and a union official representing them were concerned about the controllers being recorded, but have been persuaded to go ahead with the session (see (Shortly Before 11:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Washington Post, 5/7/2004]
Controllers Describe Experiences - Beginning at 11:40 a.m., a recording is made on a single, standard cassette tape. The controllers, who were involved in working radar positions during the hijackings and crashes of the first two targeted aircraft, Flight 11 and Flight 175, are asked to make statements. According to Mark DiPalmo, the local president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association, “We sat everyone in a room, went around the room, said, ‘What do you remember?’” The controllers give their statements in the group setting, with a microphone being passed from one of them to the next. They describe their actions interacting with, or tracking, the two hijacked aircraft. According to DiPalmo, the session is informal, and sometimes more than one person is speaking at a time. The resulting tape lasts about an hour, with each recorded statement lasting about five to 10 minutes.
Other Employees Present - As well as the six controllers, approximately 10 other FAA employees are present during the session. (A signing-in sheet will show that about 16 center personnel are there. However, some witnesses will later indicate there may be additional individuals who do not sign in.) Two quality assurance specialists take notes, but these are sketchy, amounting to just three pages in total. After the tape of the session has been made, it is logged into the New York Center’s formal record of evidence.
Recording Controllers Not Standard Procedure - Audio taping of witness statements following an accident or incident has not previously been conducted at the New York Center. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; New York Times, 5/6/2004] However, David LaCates, the deputy operations manager there, will tell the 9/11 Commission that, “Since this was an unusual situation,” he believes McCormick wants “an immediate and accurate record of what had happened.” [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 pdf file]
FBI Does Not Come to Center - Although McCormick is expecting law enforcement authorities to come to the New York Center quickly, none do. Yet, even though he will later claim he wanted the tape made for the benefit of these authorities, McCormick will not reach out to the FBI himself, nor tell FAA headquarters or regional headquarters that no one has come. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004 pdf file]
Tape Later Destroyed - Despite its evidential value, Delaney will deliberately destroy the tape of the controllers’ statements several months later (see Between December 2001 and February 2002), before anyone has listened to, transcribed, or made a duplicate of it. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file; Washington Post, 5/7/2004] Even McCormick will say he never listens to the tape. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 pdf file] Prior to an investigation by the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General in late 2003 and early 2004 (see May 6, 2004), apparently no one outside the New York Center will be aware of the tape’s existence or its destruction. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Kevin Delaney, Mark DiPalmo, David LaCates, Mike McCormick

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline


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