No Seismic Proof

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William Rodriguez is well known for his claim that there was an explosion at the World Trade Centre, seconds before the plane impact. There was little in the way of corroboration, however, until a Journal of 9/11 Studies paper was published in 2006:

This is the anomaly they're talking about.

The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) timed the impacts of Flight 11 and 175 at 8:46:26 and 9:02:54, respectively, while the 9/11 Commission reports the impacts at 8:46:40 (14 seconds later) and 9:03:11 (17 seconds later). The "Seismic Proof" case is that the 9/11 Commission time accurately records the impact time, and therefore LDEO must have picked up something else: perhaps "basement explosions".

The accuracy of the data is, of course, the first point to consider. The "Seismic Proof" paper points us to this statement from LDEO:

Nonetheless, as the paper also points out, the seismic data was reanalysed later and the times did change:

Three seconds is a little closer, but not nearly enough to resolve the problem.

Meanwhile the Commission’s methods are explained here:

These appear to be solid claims, yet they raise immediate questions, and perhaps not the ones the authors intended. Take a look at the LDEO seismic chart, for instance:

Wtc pal ehe 500.gif

Note that LDEO are reporting a single seismic event for each impact, not two. Are we to believe that a pre-impact explosion registered at LDEO, even more significantly than the impacts themselves?

Further, if there was an explosion of this power, then wouldn't you expect it be reported by rather more people? Here are just two relevant accounts:

If these accounts are describing the plane impacts, then what we're being asked to believe is that they didn't register seismically to any significant degree, despite causing effects comparable to an earthquake. And if they're describing a pre-collapse explosion, then we have to believe that these witnesses missed the plane hitting ten or more seconds later. Neither option sounds plausible, but perhaps a closer examination of the data will reveal a more convincing explanation of what’s going on.

We could start by looking at the NTSB Flight Path study for Flight 11. That uses the 8:46:40 time, but describes it as "approximate". The Flight 175 document uses the same qualifier. As both studies relate to flight paths it's no great surprise that they wouldn't focus on impact time accuracy, however it would be useful to know how "approximate" they really are. Another NTSB document may offer some clues:

Although "Seismic Proof" earlier portrayed the radar times as accurate "to the second", the NTSB paint a very different picture. The radars didn't all use synchronised times, for instance, and in this case there were large offsets to be considered. An "effort" had to be made to account for the "error" in each radar set. And as they point out, ASR radar doesn't provide continuous data anyway: records are made "approximately every 4½ seconds".

The NTSB nonetheless did devise a system to correlate all these times. Here’s what they had to say:

This is an impressive-sounding process, however any uncertainty in the resulting times is not spelled out. The NTSB didn’t have flight data recorder (FDR) data for Flight 11 and 175, either, so their calculations would not have this additional extra check. Presumably that would increase any resulting uncertainty in times for those flights, but to what? We don’t know. And this matters, so if you’ve not done so already, go read the entire document above to make sure you’re getting the whole picture.

It seems to us that any complex correlation process, dealing with such variable input data, presents considerable scope for error. However, without a clear statement on uncertainty of the accuracy time from the NTSB, and with no access to the raw data, it's hard to see how we (or anyone else) can assess the accuracy of this calculation.

Fortunately there are other ways to at least determine the time of the second impact. This was captured on many news broadcasts, the footage of which included a clock. NIST used this to determine the impact time, and reported the results here:

This puts the impact five seconds after the original LDEO time, but only two seconds away from the revised time, within the combined margin of error. No support here for an impact as late as the Commission time of 9:03:11. Some may object to this analysis, especially as it’s come from NIST. If you don’t trust their report, then why believe them on this?

One answer is to locate videos of the second impact, and check the time shown. This poses some problems of its own, because there’s no way to tell whether videos you download from a 9/11 site (including this one) are genuine and unaltered in every aspect, and you need a better chain of custody than that. However, as we write (December 2006) the station NY1 has a link where you can watch footage from their 9/11 coverage, including a clip that shows the explosion from the second impact.


See the station’s footage here (Real format)

Their clock had changed over to 9:03 around half a second before the explosion began to be visible. When you consider that the explosion didn’t occur immediately on impact, and there could be a delay in broadcast anyway (the time it takes a video frame to be processed, leave the camera, and be sent to the studio before the time stamp is added), NIST’s 9:02:59, with a one second uncertainty, seems very close.

There are those who suggest the broadcast footage has been faked, too, so perhaps this isn’t convincing enough. But that’s not a problem: we have still other sources available.

In August 2006, for example, a large number of 911 and other emergency calls from September 11th were released to the public. Each call was given a start time. The second call in the audio file for “Bronx Master Channel #3, Voice Alarm Telephone” is said to start at 09:02:54, and approximately 4.5 seconds into the call you hear shouting in the background, and the caller says there’s been a “major explosion in the second building”. (The list of all available files is here, the MP3 file we’re referring to is here, [Image:23 Fire Bronx Ch 03 T 02.mp3 our snipped version of the second transmission only is here].)

Plainly we have an accuracy issue here: how much can we trust these times? Presumably emergency transmissions are more likely than most to be used in legal cases, and so would have to be timed very precisely, but that’s just a guess on our part, and they don’t say how accurate the times are.

Further, while this time looks potentially very close to NISTs 9:02:59, other calls are a little further out. The one in this file appears to show reaction from behind the caller at around 9:03:04 to 05, for instance. Of course the speed of reaction from the viewers will depend on the coverage they’re watching: the above NY1 image, for instance, isn’t obviously a plane and it may have taken a moment for viewers to react, but if others watched a live shot where Flight 175 was visible then the story may have been different. In any event, both calls are far closer to NISTs time than the Commission's 9:03:11.

This remains an “official” source, though. If you distrust NIST, and the TV networks, then maybe you’ll think these tapes might be faked, too. So it’s just as well there’s an independent source we can use by way of comparison.

On 9/11 Pavel Hlava was riding through New York, videotaping the WTC, when he briefly caught the first impact. After passing through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel he continued filming the burning tower, and caught the second impact, too. But most important of all, there's a timestamp running throughout the footage. Here's what it shows.

Flight 11 has just penetrated the WTC here: Hlava has the time at 8:46:28 (actually impact could be a second earlier). (Download the video here.)


The second video has the precise point of impact concealed, but these two images should give you an idea.



Here the impact is around 9:02:57, within half a second or so. Confirm this for yourself by downloading a copy of the video from another site, or take a look at our copy here. (There’s more background in a New York Times Flash applet, which we’ve also archived here.)

For Flight 11, then, LDEO originally estimated an impact time of 8:46:26; revised it to 8:46:29; Havel gives us 8:46:28.

And for Flight 175, LDEO give us 9:02:54, and revised it to 9:02:57, while Havel gives us 9:02:57, the Bronx Channel #3 call gives us something before 9:02:58.5, and the NY1 clip says something before 9:02:59.5; NISTs “TV time” is 09:02:59.

The Havel timings have a fair degree of uncertainty, so please check the videos for yourself, but they do seem to match up with the LDEO very well. The way Havel’s shot of the second impact agrees with TV recordings and emergency call time further tells us that his camera clock wasn’t far from the real time.

Combining these factors makes a strong case for the seismic events corresponding to the impact times, just as LDEO reported. We are left with a mystery in the apparent extreme inaccuracy of the “FAA radar data and air traffic control software logic” calculation method used by the 9/11 Commission, however it seems its derived time cannot be used to prove pre-impact explosions at the WTC.

The only remaining fight is over the Havel footage. Because even though it appeared in 2003, before the 9/11 Commission Report was released, so could not have been faked to resolve a timing discrepancy that hadn’t occurred yet, there are still those looking to falsify it. Not least because independent footage of both impacts would make those who claim that no planes hit the WTC at all, look, well, completely wrong. And so there is a claim that something is “wrong” with the footage, as this page illustrates:


Apparently we’re supposed to believe the red and white “object” in the rear window of the highlighted car is a reflection of the vehicle that Havel is in; it’s not a black SUV, therefore we cannot trust his story. (Go visit the page to see this in motion, though it makes little difference to us.)

One immediate and obvious problem with this is there’s no reason at all to believe it’s a reflection of Havel’s vehicle. In fact, from the position of the sun (see the shadows of the cars), this seems most unlikely. But more serious problems were revealed in a post on the physorg forum.

First, he identified the car model as a 1999 BMW Z3, with this picture.


Next, he pointed out the third red brake light visible at the top of the rear window, and suggested this is a likely cause of the red reflection.

And finally, he points to the steep angle of the rear window as a sign that any reflection would not be of an object directly behind it.


Looks like a thorough rebuttal to us, though please visit the Webfairy page, view the Havel video, and make your own mind up.

Update: The PhysOrg forum has another post attempting to make the reflection idea stand up here. Keep reading from that post for the response.