Investigators locate 'black box' from Flight 93; widen search area in Somerset crash
Thursday, September 13, 2001
By Tom Gibb, James O'Toole and Cindi Lash, Post-Gazette Staff Writers
Investigators this afternoon discovered the "black box" containing flight data recordings from United Flight 93 at the crash site in rural Somerset County.
Pittsburgh FBI spokesman Bill Crowley said the flight data recorder was found about 4:50 p.m. in the main crater at the crash site, located near Shanksville. Crowley said he didn't know whether the recorder was operable, or whether officials would be able to gather information from it.
Finding the flight data recorder had been the focus of investigators as they widened their search area today following the discoveries of more debris, including what appeared to be human remains, miles from the point of impact at a reclaimed coal mine.
Residents and workers at businesses outside Shanksville, Somerset County, reported discovering clothing, books, papers and what appeared to be human remains. Some residents said they collected bags-full of items to be turned over to investigators. Others reported what appeared to be crash debris floating in Indian Lake, nearly six miles from the immediate crash scene.
Workers at Indian Lake Marina said that they saw a cloud of confetti-like debris descend on the lake and nearby farms minutes after hearing the explosion that signaled the crash at 10:06 a.m. Tuesday.
Somerset County Coroner Wallace Miller said that, at the same time, the first human remains have been removed from the site in a prelude to the somber challenge of identifying the 45 victims of the crash.
While the investigation at the crime scene began to settle into a grim routine, the emergency personnel were also preparing for the visits of families of the victims.
The first of those visits to the crash scene could occur as early as this afternoon.
"We're prepared to do whatever we can to help them with the grieving process," said Special Agent Bill Crowley of the FBI's Pittsburgh office.
"The other priority is the black box," Crowley said. "We're confident that we are going to keep looking for it and we will account for it."
Whether that search will yield usable information was one of the key questions hanging over this stage of the investigation. If it does, it could provide insight into what may have been a terrifying struggle between hijackers and passengers that kept the Boeing 757 from hitting an intended target in a populated area.
Cell phone calls from passengers have fueled the speculation about such a scenario, along with the fact that this was the only one of the four planes that crashed Tuesday that did not hit a populated, high-profile target.
While some officials were reportedly pessimistic about the chances of finding the flight recorders intact, Crowley said there was no way to determine their conditions until they were located.
Crowley emphasized that the still elusive data might show "what everyone desperately wants to know: What was happening on that plane."
He also said the National Transportation Safety Board has told investigators that the plane, which began its flight in Newark, N.J., was flying east when it crashed but could provide no other information about its path or intended target.
In a morning briefing, state Police Major Lyle Szupinka confirmed that debris from the plane had turned up in relatively far-flung sites, including the residential area of Indian Lake. Investigators appealed to any residents who had come across such debris, in the surrounding countryside or even in their yards, to contact them, emphasizing that even the smallest remnants could prove to be important clues.
"This is not a finite [crime] scene," said Crowley. "As things are discovered, it expands and contracts."
In response to a question on recurring rumors that the plane might have been shot down, Crowley said that at this stage of the investigation, no possibility was being ruled out. He stressed, however, that no evidence had surfaced to support that theory.
Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, noted and discounted the same speculation here Tuesday, saying that Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfield had assured him that the government had not shot down the hijacked plane to prevent it from hitting a potential target.