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Profile: Mark DiPalmo
Mark DiPalmo was a participant or observer in the following events:
Logo of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association. [Source: National Air Traffic Controllers Association]Several air traffic controllers at the FAA’s New York Center and a union official representing them express concern that the controllers are going to be recorded recalling their experiences of the morning’s attacks, but are persuaded to go ahead with the recording. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ; US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ; Washington Post, 5/7/2004] Mike McCormick, the New York Center manager, has directed that six controllers who communicated with, or tracked, the first two hijacked aircraft participate in a session where they are recorded giving their personal accounts of what happened. [Washington Post, 5/6/2004; Air Safety Week, 5/17/2004 ]
Controllers Apprehensive - According to McCormick, before the session commences there is a general concern among these controllers. He will later tell the 9/11 Commission that they “didn’t want to put things in a formal way that would be used in an investigation. There was also some worry about who would receive the tape.”
Local Union President Concerned - McCormick consults with Mark DiPalmo, the local president of the National Air Traffic Controllers Association (NATCA)—the air traffic controllers’ union. DiPalmo is concerned because the tape recording of statements is not a standard procedure. McCormick assures him that the tape will be available only to law enforcement officers, will only serve as a temporary measure until written statements have been prepared, and the controllers will be able to use their taped statements to help them prepare written ones. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ; US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ; New York Times, 5/6/2004] Ruth E. Marlin, the executive vice president of NATCA, will later say she cannot address the question of why DiPalmo wants the tape to be “temporary.” She will say, however, that if she were in his position, “my concern would be that if tapes were saved permanently, they might be subject to FOIA [Freedom of Information Act] request, and then controllers would be subject to hearing their own voices recounted on television over and over again.” [Washington Post, 5/7/2004]
Controllers and Union President Consent - The controllers are reassured that the tape with their recorded statements on will not be used for disciplinary purposes, and will be strictly for use only by law enforcement personnel. [9/11 Commission, 10/1/2003 ] DiPalmo agrees to the recording of the controllers on the condition that the tape is only a temporary record until written statements are obtained, after which it should be destroyed. The recording session commences at 11:40 a.m. (see 11:40 a.m. September 11, 2001) and the resulting tape will be destroyed several months later (see Between December 2001 and February 2002). [US Department of Transportation, 5/4/2004 ]
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 ]
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