By Reed Irvine
December 28, 2001

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Accuracy in Media recently submitted a request to the FBI for a transcript of the cockpit voice recorder (CVR) of United Flight 93, the hijacked Boeing 757 that crashed in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11. No information about what the two black boxes revealed has been made public, which is certainly not standard operating procedure. The FBI's response to AIM's FOIA request was that the transcript is exempt from the Freedom of Information Act because "it could reasonably be expected to interfere with enforcement proceedings." What enforcement proceedings?

The purpose of installing the CVR and the flight data recorder on aircraft is to provide information that may explain the cause of the crash. In the case of United Flight 93, there are three possible scenarios. The one favored by the government seems to be that several male passengers tried to overpower the hijackers and take control of the plane, but it crashed as they struggled in the cockpit. This is based on reports of what was said in cell-phone conversations, but those calls all stopped about eight minutes before the plane crashed. If the passengers succeeded in getting into the cockpit, there should be evidence of the struggle on the CVR. If that is what happened, why doesn't the FBI release the transcript that would prove it?

FBI spokesman John Collingwood has explained their refusal to release the transcript to those who had relatives on the plane, saying, "While we empathize with the grieving families, we do not believe that the horror captured on the cockpit voice recording will console them in any way." That decision was made after FBI Director Robert Mueller listened to the tape.

If the tape shows that the actions taken by some of the passengers caused the crash, that would at least give their families the satisfaction of knowing they behaved heroically, preventing the hijackers from killing anyone except those aboard. The FBI's refusal to release even an edited transcript seems to be a repudiation of that scenario without explicitly saying so. Nevertheless, the FBI spokesman said that while the FBI would not accede to the families' request for the tape, "we hope that they will take comfort in knowing that all of America embraces the passengers and flight crew of Flight 93 as heroes." That's what they want us to believe, and what we would like to believe, but they refuse to provide the proof.

A second scenario is also based on a cell phone conversation in which a passenger said that one of the hijackers claimed to have a bomb which he threatened to detonate. The recent bomb-in-the-sneakers incident gives this increased plausibility. It shows how easily a powerful explosive could be smuggled aboard a plane by a suicide bomber. It gets added credibility from a passenger's 911 phone call reporting an explosion on the plane. That would explain why papers and other light material from the plane was scattered over several miles. A bomb would open a hole in the fuselage or blow out windows, creating havoc from the sudden decompression. It would probably kill some of the passengers and make it hard for the hijackers to fly the plane.

The third scenario is that the airliner was shot down by an F-16 fighter plane dispatched to intercept and shoot down the airliner, an action authorized by President Bush. Interesting material supporting this scenario can be found on www.flight93.com. An article from the Philadelphia Daily News of November 15, reports that a number of people near the area where the plane crashed believe that it was shot down. One of them, Laura Temyer, was surprised when she heard a plane because she understood that all flights had been grounded. She told the Daily News, "I heard like a boom and the engine sounded funny. I heard two more booms, and then I did not hear anything."

The mayor of Shanksville, a village near the crash site, said that F-16 fighters were very, very close, and that two men he knew claimed they had heard a missile. The FBI acknowledges that a half-ton piece of one of the engines was found west of the crash site. It may have been hit by a heat-seeking missile from an F-16. This refutes the claim of eyewitnesses who say the plane was intact when it crashed, burrowing deeply into the soft soil of an abandoned strip mine.

When American Flight 587 crashed in New York shortly after takeoff, the government released detailed information from the CVR within 36 hours. What are they hiding about United Flight 93?

Reed Irvine can be reached at ri@aim.org

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