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Posted on Thu, Oct. 28, 2004

2 say they found 9/11 'black boxes'




bunchw@phillynews.com

Two men who worked extensively in the wreckage of the World Trade Center claim they helped federal agents find three of the four "black boxes" from the jetliners that struck the towers on 9/11 - contradicting the official account.

Both the independent 9/11 Commission and federal authorities insist that none of the four devices - a cockpit voice recorder (CVR) and flight data recorder (FDR) from the two planes - was ever found.

But New York City Firefighter Nicholas DeMasi has written in a book self-published by Ground Zero workers that he took federal agents on an all-terrain vehicle in October 2001 and located three of the four. His account is backed by a well-known Ground Zero volunteer.

Their story raises the question of a cover-up at Ground Zero - although's it's not clear why the government would want to keep the discovery under wraps.

A footnote to this summer's 9/11 Commission Report states: "The CVRs and FDRs from American 11 and United 175" - the two planes that hit the Trade Center - "were not found."

FBI spokesman Jim Margolin and Frank Gribbon of the FDNY said this week they are certain the devices weren't recovered.

The "black boxes" - actually orange - could have provided valuable information about how the 9/11 attacks were pulled off.

The cockpit voice recorder, which captures the last 30 minutes of a doomed flight on a tape loop, would have captured the hijackers' voices and any radio transmissions. The flight data recorder records key data such as airspeed, heading and altitude.

They are built to survive an impact of 3,400 Gs and a fire of 1,100 degrees Celsius for one hour, somewhat higher than estimates of the World Trade Center blaze.

"I can't recall another domestic case in which we did not recover the recorders," Ted Lopatkiewicz, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, told CBS News in 2002. However, officials said little of the jets was recovered.

DeMasi, with now-defunct Engine Company 261, told his story in a 2003 book published by a group that calls itself Trauma Recovery Assistance for Children. He said he donated 4 ATVs to the cleanup and became known as "the ATV Guy."

"At one point, I was asked to take federal agents around the site to search for the black boxes from the planes...," he wrote. "We loaded up about a million dollars worth of equipment and strapped it into the ATV...

"There were a total of four black boxes. We found three."

Efforts to locate and interview DeMasi, now said to be with the FDNY's Marine Unit, were not successful.

But his account was verified by another member of the TRAC Team, recovery site volunteer Mike Bellone. He said he didn't go out with FBI agents on the ATV but observed their search.

At one point, Bellone said he observed them with a red-orange, charred device with two white stripes. Pictures on the NTSB Web site show the devices are orange with two white stripes.

"There was the one that I saw, and two others were recovered in different locations - but I wasn't there for the other two," Bellone said. He said the FBI agents left with the boxes.

Bellone has been criticized for his handling of TRAC finances and for wearing an official uniform when he's only an honorary fireman - but those allegations came after DeMasi's account.


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