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Profile: David LaCates
David LaCates was a participant or observer in the following events:
Dutchess County Airport. [Source: Phillip Capper]Tom White, a New York air traffic controller, incorrectly reports over an FAA teleconference that the first aircraft to hit the World Trade Center appears to have been a Sikorsky helicopter. [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002 ; 9/11 Commission, 5/21/2004] White is an operations manager at the FAA’s New York Terminal Radar Approach Control (TRACON) in Westbury, Long Island. [9/11 Commission, 12/15/2003 ] He says over the FAA teleconference that the Sikorsky helicopter had been heading south from Poughkeepsie, New York, and appeared to hit the WTC at 8:27 a.m. (see 8:27 a.m. September 11, 2001)—nearly 20 minutes before the first crash there actually took place (see 8:46 a.m. September 11, 2001).
TRACON Previously Said Small Plane Hit the WTC - About 20 minutes earlier, someone from the TRACON—presumably White—suggested over the teleconference that the first aircraft to hit the WTC was a small twin-engine plane. At around 9:55 a.m. they said: “I think we’ve identified the location of a departure point for aircraft number one [presumably a reference to the plane that hit the North Tower]. At approximately 12:03 Zulu time [i.e. 8:03 a.m. Eastern time], aircraft number one appears to have departed Poughkeepsie airport and established a southerly heading at a speed of about 160 knots [i.e. 184 miles per hour]. The profile looks like it might be a light twin.” Asked if they had any more information, the TRACON employee replied: “I tried to get in touch with Poughkeepsie tower. However, the phone lines are overloaded and the circuits are busy.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001] The “Poughkeepsie airport” the helicopter took off from is presumably Dutchess County Airport. Sikorsky bases a fleet of its S-76 helicopters at Dutchess County Airport, which it dispatches to the New York metro areas as needed. [Site Selection, 5/2000; Aviation International News, 8/1/2003] Poughkeepsie is about 70 miles north of New York City. [Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, 2/3/2008]
Radar Information Suggests Helicopter Hit WTC - White now gives an update over the FAA teleconference, and suggests the first aircraft to hit the WTC was in fact a helicopter. He says: “We tracked a Sikorsky helicopter… from Poughkeepsie to the Trade Center. It appeared to fly into the Trade Center at 12:27 [Zulu time, or 8:27 a.m. Eastern time]. That is preliminary information.” White then clarifies that this conclusion has been reached partly through replaying radar data. He says: “[T]he only target that we saw in the vicinity of the Trade Center at 12:27, to fly into the Trade Center, we, we played the radar and tracked it up through Westchester and Stewart. We had a departure off a Poughkeepsie at 12:03. The tower says the only thing they had southbound at that time was a Sikorsky helicopter, which is consistent with the speed that we followed it down.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001; Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
Long Delay before False Information Is Corrected - The New York TRACON’s reports about a helicopter or small plane hitting the WTC are subsequently confirmed to be mistaken. However it apparently takes several hours before the erroneous information is corrected. David LaCates, the deputy operations manager at the FAA’s New York Center, will tell the 9/11 Commission that “he did hear rumors that the aircraft that struck the WTC was in fact a small airplane from Poughkeepsie,” and he “believes this rumor persisted for over an hour.” [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ] According to one FAA chronology of this day’s events, it is only at 1:00 p.m. that the “Sikorsky helicopter” is “now believed not to have hit the WTC.” [Federal Aviation Administration, 1/2/2002 ] Another FAA chronology will state that at 1:04 p.m. it is reported that the Sikorsky helicopter “landed 20 minutes early, normal GE run at 12:28Z [i.e. 8:28 a.m. Eastern time] to WTC.” (It is unclear what is meant by “normal GE run.”) [Federal Aviation Administration, 9/11/2001]
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]
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 ; US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]
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 ; 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 ; US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ; 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 ; 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 ]
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 ; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004]
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 ; Washington Post, 5/7/2004] Even McCormick will say he never listens to the tape. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ] 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 ]
Five of the six air traffic controllers at the FAA’s New York Center that provided tape-recorded statements where they described their actions during the 9/11 attacks subsequently prepare written statements about the attacks. However, they do not get to listen to their earlier taped accounts to help them do this. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ]
FAA Requires Written Statements - Six controllers at the New York Center who communicated with, or tracked, two of the hijacked aircraft on 9/11 have participated in a session where they were recorded giving their personal accounts of the attacks (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001). [Washington Post, 5/6/2004] But FAA policy requires all personnel that were involved with an aircraft accident or incident to provide written statements. [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ] According to David LaCates, the deputy operations manager at the New York Center, the usual procedure is for those controllers to watch a computerized recreation of the air traffic radar picture during the event while listening to an audio tape of their air traffic controller position during that event, and then compile a written statement. [9/11 Commission, 10/2/2003 ]
Five Controllers Prepare Statements - One of the six controllers provides a written statement during the day of September 11, some time after giving his or her tape-recorded account; three of them provide written statements about two weeks later; the fifth does so three weeks after the attacks. All of the written statements are two pages long, except one that is four pages. According to Kevin Delaney, the New York Center’s quality assurance manager, the sixth controller does not provide a written statement because these statements are only required from the controllers that talked to the hijacked aircraft or had been working radar positions that the flight paths of the hijacked aircraft intersected.
Controllers Do Not Hear Tape - Before the controllers gave their tape-recorded accounts, Mike McCormick, the New York Center manager, told the local controllers’ union president that they would be able to use their taped statements to help them prepare their written ones (see (Shortly Before 11:40 a.m.) September 11, 2001). Yet the controllers never listen to the tape before they make their written statements, nor do they compare their completed written statements with their earlier taped ones. When one of the controllers asks to listen to the tape, she will be told that it is not meant for anyone to hear (see (November 2001)).
Written Statements Generally Consistent with Recorded Ones - Three of the five controllers that provide written statements will later tell Department of Transportation investigators that they believe their written statements are mostly consistent with their earlier recorded statements. The other two controllers will say they believe their written statements are more accurate or more detailed, because they were able to review radar data and transcripts of radio communications before preparing them. However, they will say they cannot be certain of this, since they never listened to the tape. In a 2004 report, the Department of Transportation’s Office of Inspector General will state that its “review of the controllers’ written witness statements, in comparison with two sets of sparse and sketchy notes taken during the taping, suggests some measure of consistency.” [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004] The tape of the controllers’ statements will be destroyed some time between December 2001 and February 2002 (see Between December 2001 and February 2002), without any of the controllers having listened to it. [New York Times, 5/6/2004; Washington Post, 5/6/2004]
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