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.
Black boxes not indestructible
Let's keep in mind that black boxes have been destroyed by impact or fire before.
Barrie Examiner (Ontario)
October 20, 2004 Wednesday
HALIFAX (CP) -- Investigators searching for the cause of the crash last week of a Boeing 747 cargo jet won't get to hear from the two people who may have known exactly what happened.
After days of searching swampy, scorched terrain outside Halifax, officials recovered the aircraft's cockpit voice recorder from a kilometre-long trail of mangled debris.
"But that's the good news," Bill Fowler, lead investigator for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said during a news conference Tuesday.
"The not-so-good news is the recorder was damaged such that there is no retrievable information."
The so-called black box, which records the cockpit conversations of the pilot and co-pilot, was destroyed by fire after the MK Airlines Ltd. jumbo jet crashed on takeoff last Thursday at Halifax International Airport.
Fowler said the recorder was found Monday and shipped to the board's lab in Ottawa.
It was quickly determined that no recording survived the fire that resulted when the jet, carrying a full load of fuel, hit the ground and broke up.
"It certainly would have helped, but we were operating under the assumption we wouldn't have it," said Fowler, referring to the severity of the impact.
A second black box -- the plane's flight data recorder -- was recovered Sunday. That instrument, which monitors aircraft function and performance, was also damaged, but investigators are hopeful it will offer fresh clues.
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:
"experts doubted whether all the recorders would be found. The devices aboard the two planes that rammed the World Trade Center towers probably couldn't survive the crash impact and the resulting fires, they said"
www.chicagotribune.com/technology/chi-0109140350sep14,1,4548196.story?ctrack=1&cset=true (broken now)
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:
The New York Post
April 5, 2004 Monday
SECTION: All Editions; Pg. 15
HEADLINE: 9/11 TOUR FUROR - FIRE MARSHALS PROBE GROUND ZERO EXHIBIT
BYLINE: JEANE MacINTOSH
A New York charity that runs a traveling exhibit of Ground Zero "artifacts" - including part of a plane, pieces of destroyed buildings and earrings, shoes and eyeglasses belonging to victims - is under investigation by city fire marshals, The Post has learned.
And Fire Department brass has warned the group - which won't say where or how it obtained many items - to stop claiming ties to FDNY and dressing in its uniforms.
"The fire marshals have opened an investigation into this group," FDNY spokesman David Billig confirmed.
Members of the organization, Trauma Response Assistance for Children (TRAC) Team, a registered nonprofit charity, cross the country talking to schoolkids and civic groups. The group wears Fire Department garb during presentations, but isn't sanctioned by the department.
"This group has no right to imply it works for or acts in any official FDNY capacity," Billig said. They are "not authorized to wear Fire Department uniforms."
TRAC founder Mike Bellone said he means no harm: "We're just a group of guys who want to share our experiences from Ground Zero and show kids that hope can spring from a horrible tragedy."
The group has done more than 700 presentations nationwide, he said.
TRAC doesn't charge for appearances and relies on sales of a self-published book and souvenirs - such as shirts, patches and snow globes carrying the FDNY logo - for revenue.
But, Bellone said, "Our hosts, if they can afford it, pay our room and board."
Billig said the products TRAC sells aren't officially licensed by FDNY.
Bellone, a former grocery worker, was named an "honorary firefighter" by friends at a ladder company for his Ground Zero work, where he was given "visitor" access to the site.
His group's press releases read, "FDNY and TRAC Team Present," and its members' shirt patches are emblazoned with the words "TRAC Team - FDNY." But only one of them, Bob Barrett, a retired firefighter, is legitimately FDNY. The other four or so men are Bellone's pals.
Still, Bellone insists, "We don't give the idea I work for FDNY, or that TRAC is connected to them. If someone got that idea, I apologize."
As for the artifacts, Bellone said: "It never occurred to me that anyone would have a problem with it. We tried to return some of the stuff, but if nobody wanted it, we thought, 'Why not use it for educational purposes?' If someone wants something back, just tell me."
TRAC's troubles might run deeper than the exhibit investigation.
The Post has learned that the group:
- Owes New Jersey graphics company ADP $200,000 for printing its self-published book about Ground Zero.
- Stiffed a company that provided the American flags TRAC hands out to local dignitaries.
- Left a cross-country trail of more than $20,000 in unpaid bills, including hotel rooms, flights, FDNY shirts, business cards and even prescription drugs.
The Post spoke to four former TRAC business associates who said they felt "used" by the group after it "misrepresented" itself and left unpaid bills.
"I put my reputation on the line for this group, and believed in it," said one. "But the truth is, they play on people's emotions and good will, manipulating them where they're most vulnerable for nothing but their own gain."
Bellone conceded TRAC owes money, but chalked some of it up to "miscommunications" and "mix-ups" and said, "We've either paid or are working to pay off all our bills."...
October 19 2005
Michael Bellone, the self-proclaimed "honorary New York firefighter," who spoke to 100-200 people at Concordia University about the events of 9-11 is a "fraud," according to New York Fire Marshal Conrad Tinney.
Tinney was one of the fire marshals who arrested Bellone, 51, of Brooklyn, N.Y., on Sept. 27, for having an FDNY Scott air tank, harness, regulator and mask. He was charged with grand larceny, criminal impersonation and possession of stolen property, but the charges were later dropped after Bellone returned the items.
Bellone told FDNY investigators the equipment was given to his charity - Trauma Response Assistance for Children (TRAC) Team - but didn’t tell FDNY fire marshals who donated the items.
"The charges may have been dropped, but the investigation is continuing," Tinney said. "We know he has a door off one of our engines destroyed in the attacks and some tools as well."
Bellone spoke Sept. 22 at a Concordia event organized by Student Life after an alum was in Oconomowoc during the week of Sept. 11 where Bellone spoke. It is unknown how much Concordia officials paid Bellone for his presentation.
"Concordia is very disappointed to learn that this presentation might not have been legitimate. Our students were very interested in the subject matter and obviously had we known what we know now about Michael Bellone we would not have allowed him to speak on campus," said Heidi Fendos, a spokesman for the university.
Tinney said he couldn’t elaborate any more on the investigation, but said Bellone volunteered at Ground Zero as a "citizen" and as a "volunteer" and collaborated on a book about the experience, and later, displayed some of the equipment at speeches to schoolchildren and adults across the country.
"It wasn’t until two years later that we began getting complaints about him," Tinney said. "We have one honorary firefighter and that is a child from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Aside from the child, it is normally the chiefs and those above who are made honorary firefighters and he (Bellone) isn’t one. He’s saying he was made an honorary firefighter by New York Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta. That’s a fallacy."
After taking complaints, FDNY investigators questioned Bellone and discovered the breathing apparatus and other gear were missing from the fire department’s Mask Service Unit since Oct. 1, 2001.
Three years later, Tinney said Bellone was warned to return all of the FDNY equipment he had in his possession.
"We figured common sense would prevail and he would stop on his own," Tinney said. "There were times when he would show up at different events wearing New York Fire Department gear."
Tinney said investigations revealed Bellone has given more than 700 presentations across the country.
"The bottom line is that I have a problem with individuals who prey on the emotions of the general public based on a tragedy," Tinney said.Web Archive source
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.
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.