The Black Boxes

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In our experience, discussion on the "black boxes" of the 9/11 flights tends to fall into one of two areas.

The first, most commonly found on forums and message boards, tends to be a comment along the lines of this article:

In reality "all four black boxes" are not "supposedly destroyed". The Flight 93 flight data recorders were recovered. The Flight 77 black boxes were also removed from the Pentagon, but one of them (the cockpit voice recorder) was too badly damaged to be used. The only boxes not to be recovered were from the World Trade Centre impacts (although one story says otherwise: more on that below).

How could even three black boxes be destroyed? These were exceptional crashes: most impacts will be at far lower speeds as the pilot attempts to limit damage, not into a mass of steel columns, and not ending inside a building where they'll be exposed to fire and without (potentially, in the case of the WTC) enormous crush damage from many floors of a building falling onto them.

The potential end result of this trauma was revealed in a photo of the American Airlines Flight 77 cockpit voice recorder, released at the Moussaoui trial.

Flight 77 CVR.jpg

Black boxes not indestructible

Let's keep in mind that black boxes have been destroyed by impact or fire before.

So perhaps it's no surprise that a Chicago Tribune story at the time expressed doubt over the survival of the Flight 11 and 175 recorders:

DeMasi and Bellone

The second and more common topic of discussion in this area, however, refers to a story that at least three of the recorders were recovered from Ground Zero:

As far as we’re concerned, this story raises more questions than it answers.

If there was a need to find these boxes urgently, for instance, why wait until October 3rd? Wouldn’t that risk them already have been sent off to Fresh Kills in the early part of the cleanup?

Of course there was still plenty of rubble around, and in all likelihood they would still be buried. But then if that were true, how likely is it that you would find 3 out of 4 boxes, apparently in one search session, by a few FBI agents, and with no reports of major digging?

But let’s suppose they were still at ground zero, and conveniently close to the surface. Why not announce they’ve been found, as happened at the other sites? If you happen to believe conspirators were able to cover up the true contents of the Flight 93 and Flight 77 black boxes, then why couldn’t they do the same with these?

The counter to this would be to ask “why would they make it up?”, of course. Well, the story was first mentioned in a book, and any controversy would generate a few more sales. The proceeds were for Bellone’s Trauma Response Assistance for Children (TRAC) Team, however, so this seemed like a worthy cause... Until we discovered a few newspaper reports:

Now the picture doesn’t look quite as good. Although it's worth remembering that, whatever Mr Bellone’s troubles, he only verified a story that was told by Nicholas DeMasi.

If we just pay attention to the first story, though, it suggests the TRAC team were in financial trouble in April, around six months before the black box story materialised. Which sounds suspiciously convenient, but isn’t really, because the main reason TRAC owed money is they’d had the book published already. If the “we found the black boxes” story was created to boost sales then you might have expected them to mention it on release, not around a year later.

Confused yet? We are too. The central story of the boxes being found doesn’t seem plausible to us, and there are murky stories around the book where the claim appeared, but the incentive to make it up doesn’t seem very strong, either.

A December 2005 story in CounterPunch didn’t really help. They quoted an NTSB source as saying:

The source isn’t named, so there’s no way to check or verify this information, and it does seem a little odd. If the boxes were taken originally because it was known they contained incriminating information, then why would they be sent to the NTSB? This suggests a genuine attempt to find out what happened, not a coverup. But if there was an investigation, then why not announce that the boxes were found, just as happened with Flights 77 and 93? If it's so critical that these boxes just "disappeared", then why would the NTSB decided to reveal that they were recovered now? If it were someone who wanted the truth to be exposed, then why wouldn't they leak something more substantial, copies of emails or documents to support the claims? And to a media outlet that would get them more attention? Because in reality, although this is a step closer to significant evidence, it’s not there yet.

Dan Rather

Search online and you'll quickly find a clip of Dan Rather saying that at least one of the black boxes had been found at Ground Zero, something that's often used to support claims of their recovery. The people who use this in their YouTube movies never seem to post what happened around five minutes later, though, when Rather apologised and said he'd made a mistake. Here are both clips.

Dan Rather says a black box has been recovered.
Dan Rather apologises for the mistake.