8/16/2005

Boston.com / News / Nation / Washington / Tape of 9/11 controllers was destroyed

Tape of 9/11 controllers was destroyed

By Leslie Miller, Associated Press Writer | May 7, 2004

WASHINGTON --Air traffic controllers who handled two of the hijacked flights on Sept. 11, 2001, recorded their experiences shortly after the planes crashed into the World Trade Center but a supervisor destroyed the tape, government investigators said Thursday.

A report by Transportation Department Inspector General Kenneth Mead said the manager for the New York-area air traffic control center asked the controllers to make the recordings a few hours after the crashes in belief they would be important for law enforcement.

Investigators never heard it. Sometime between December 2001 and February 2002, an unidentified Federal Aviation Administration quality assurance manager crushed the cassette case in his hand, cut the tape into small pieces and threw them away in multiple trash cans, the report said.

"We were told that nobody ever listened to, transcribed or duplicated the tape," Mead said in the report sent to Sen. John McCain. The Arizona Republican asked the inspector general to look into how well the agency was cooperating with the independent panel investigating the attacks.

Neither manager told anyone outside the center -- including their superiors and law enforcement officials -- about the tape's existence, the report said. The Sept. 11 commission learned of the tape during interviews with New York air traffic control center personnel between September and October.

The destruction occurred even though the FAA sent a directive three days after the hijackings: "Retain and secure until further notice ALL Administrative/Operational data and records. ... If a question arises whether or not you should retain the data, RETAIN IT."

The quality assurance manager said he destroyed the tape because he felt it violated FAA policy calling for written statements from controllers who have handled a plane involved in an accident or other serious incident. He also said he felt the controllers were not in the right frame of mind to have consented to the taping, the report said.

The manager said he waited several months to destroy the tape because he promised the local controllers' union vice president that he would get rid of it once the control center's formal accident package was complete, the report said. That package was sent to FAA headquarters in November 2001.

The report did not characterize the tape's destruction as an attempted cover-up. But it said the recording could have helped provide a fuller explanation of what happened on Sept. 11.

Boston.com / News / Nation / Washington / Tape of 9/11 controllers was destroyed

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