Black Boxes
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 The story...

None of the black boxes on 911 were recovered, unbelievable considering they're virtually indestructible.

Our take...

The Flight 93 flight data recorders were recovered. The Flight 77 black boxes were also removed from the Pentagon, but one of them (the cockpit voice recorder) was too badly damaged to be used. The only boxes not to be recovered were from the World Trade Centre impacts, however that's also the most extreme situation (and if they were caught in the collapse then there's little chance of them surviving).

And were they expected to be found at the time? Well, not by everyone:

"experts doubted whether all the recorders would be found. The devices aboard the two planes that rammed the World Trade Center towers probably couldn't survive the crash impact and the resulting fires, they said",1,4548196.story?ctrack=1&cset=true [broken now]

And this isn’t an unreasonable view, because despite the claims to the contrary, black boxes are occasionally destroyed in accidents: they really aren’t indestructible:

April 28, 1999
HEADLINE: KAL MD-11 crew complained of control problems: CVR
SOURCE: Air Transport Intelligence
BYLINE: Nicholas Ionides
DATELINE: Singapore

The crew of the Korean Air (KAL) Boeing MD-11 freighter which crashed near Shanghai on 15 April complained to each other of control problems soon after take-off, according to an initial decoding of the aircraft's cockpit voice recorder (CVR)...

The CAAC, which is being assisted in its investigation by the NTSB and the Korean Civil Aviation Bureau, says the aircraft's flight data recorder was destroyed by the impact, "and only fragments of the tape have been recovered".

June 6, 1999, Sunday, AM cycle
HEADLINE: One year later, crash of rescue helicopter still a mystery

Three emergency team members died June 5, 1998, when their a Eurocopter A350BA crashed six miles southeast of Cuevitas at about 5:40 a.m. on the way to a major accident.

The victims were Carlos De La Fuente Sr., a 34-year-old flight nurse; paramedic Brenda Leinweber, 46, of South Padre Island; and pilot Anthony Martinez, 46, of McAllen.

The helicopter was not found until the next day at 9:45 a.m., thirty hours later. Searchers were hampered by thick brush because very little of the helicopter remained. Even the flight data recorder had been destroyed.

Barrie Examiner (Ontario)
October 20, 2004 Wednesday
Final Edition

HALIFAX (CP) -- Investigators searching for the cause of the crash last week of a Boeing 747 cargo jet won't get to hear from the two people who may have known exactly what happened.

After days of searching swampy, scorched terrain outside Halifax, officials recovered the aircraft's cockpit voice recorder from a kilometre-long trail of mangled debris.

"But that's the good news," Bill Fowler, lead investigator for the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, said during a news conference Tuesday.

"The not-so-good news is the recorder was damaged such that there is no retrievable information."

The so-called black box, which records the cockpit conversations of the pilot and co-pilot, was destroyed by fire after the MK Airlines Ltd. jumbo jet crashed on takeoff last Thursday at Halifax International Airport.

Fowler said the recorder was found Monday and shipped to the board's lab in Ottawa.

It was quickly determined that no recording survived the fire that resulted when the jet, carrying a full load of fuel, hit the ground and broke up.

"It certainly would have helped, but we were operating under the assumption we wouldn't have it," said Fowler, referring to the severity of the impact.

A second black box -- the plane's flight data recorder -- was recovered Sunday. That instrument, which mon- itors aircraft function and performance, was also damaged, but investigators are hopeful it will offer fresh clues.

Flight International
January 30, 2007

An investigation into the loss of two Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLF) Boeing CH-47D Chinook transport helicopters in Afghanistan in 2005 has identified pilot error and a lack of experience in operating in difficult terrain as the main causes in both non-fatal accidents.On 27 July 2005, the crew of Chinook D-105 were flying a night mission as part of a two-ship formation to resupply Special Forces personnel, but were forced to abandon their initial landing attempt when the lead aircraft created brown-out conditions. During their second attempt, the pilots failed to notice a left-hand drift, which caused the aircraft to roll over when it touched down. Although the crew evacuated safely, the aircraft and its flight data recorder were destroyed in the resulting fire.

Nonetheless, a story later emerged suggesting the boxes had been found after all.

“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 were getting ready to go out. My ATV was parked at the top of the stairs at the Brooks Brothers entrance area. 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 over several days to locate and interview DeMasi, who is now said to be with the FDNY’s Marine Unit, were not successful.

But his account was verified by another member of the so-called TRAC Team, recovery site volunteer Bellone. He recalled FBI agents arriving for the search one day in early October, setting up their equipment near Brooks Brothers. He said he didn’t go out with them on the ATV but observed their search.

At one point, Bellone said he observed the team with a box that appeared charred but was redish-orange with two white stripes. Pictures of the flight recorders on the NTSB and other Web sites show devices that 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.

As far as we’re concerned, this story raises more questions than it answers.

If there was a need to find these boxes urgently, for instance, why wait until October 3rd? Wouldn’t that risk them already have been sent off to Fresh Kills in the early part of the cleanup?

Of course there was still plenty of rubble around, and in all likelihood they would still be buried. But then if that were true, how likely is it that you would find 3 out of 4 boxes, apparently in one search session, by a few FBI agents, and with no reports of major digging?

But let’s suppose they were still at ground zero, and conveniently close to the surface. 
Why not announce they’ve been found, as happened at the other sites? If you happen to believe conspirators were able to cover up the true contents of the Flight 93 and Flight 77 black boxes, then why couldn’t they do the same with these?

The counter to this would be to ask “why would they make it up?”, of course. Well, the story was first mentioned in a book, and it seems plausible that the fuss over the story would generate a few more sales. The proceeds were for Bellone’s Trauma Response Assistance for Children (TRAC) Team, however, so this seemed like a worthy cause... Until we discovered a few newspaper reports:

 The New York Post
April 5, 2004 Monday
SECTION: All Editions; Pg. 15

A New York charity that runs a traveling exhibit of Ground Zero "artifacts" - including part of a plane, pieces of destroyed buildings and earrings, shoes and eyeglasses belonging to victims - is under investigation by city fire marshals, The Post has learned.

And Fire Department brass has warned the group - which won't say where or how it obtained many items - to stop claiming ties to FDNY and dressing in its uniforms.

"The fire marshals have opened an investigation into this group," FDNY spokesman David Billig confirmed.

Members of the organization, Trauma Response Assistance for Children (TRAC) Team, a registered nonprofit charity, cross the country talking to schoolkids and civic groups. The group wears Fire Department garb during presentations, but isn't sanctioned by the department.

"This group has no right to imply it works for or acts in any official FDNY capacity," Billig said. They are "not authorized to wear Fire Department uniforms."

TRAC founder Mike Bellone said he means no harm: "We're just a group of guys who want to share our experiences from Ground Zero and show kids that hope can spring from a horrible tragedy."

The group has done more than 700 presentations nationwide, he said.

TRAC doesn't charge for appearances and relies on sales of a self-published book and souvenirs - such as shirts, patches and snow globes carrying the FDNY logo - for revenue.

But, Bellone said, "Our hosts, if they can afford it, pay our room and board."

Billig said the products TRAC sells aren't officially licensed by FDNY.

Bellone, a former grocery worker, was named an "honorary firefighter" by friends at a ladder company for his Ground Zero work, where he was given "visitor" access to the site.

His group's press releases read, "FDNY and TRAC Team Present," and its members' shirt patches are emblazoned with the words "TRAC Team - FDNY." But only one of them, Bob Barrett, a retired firefighter, is legitimately FDNY. The other four or so men are Bellone's pals.

Still, Bellone insists, "We don't give the idea I work for FDNY, or that TRAC is connected to them. If someone got that idea, I apologize."

As for the artifacts, Bellone said: "It never occurred to me that anyone would have a problem with it. We tried to return some of the stuff, but if nobody wanted it, we thought, 'Why not use it for educational purposes?' If someone wants something back, just tell me."

TRAC's troubles might run deeper than the exhibit investigation.

The Post has learned that the group:

* Owes New Jersey graphics company ADP $200,000 for printing its self-published book about Ground Zero.

* Stiffed a company that provided the American flags TRAC hands out to local dignitaries.

* Left a cross-country trail of more than $20,000 in unpaid bills, including hotel rooms, flights, FDNY shirts, business cards and even prescription drugs.

The Post spoke to four former TRAC business associates who said they felt "used" by the group after it "misrepresented" itself and left unpaid bills.

"I put my reputation on the line for this group, and believed in it," said one. "But the truth is, they play on people's emotions and good will, manipulating them where they're most vulnerable for nothing but their own gain."

Bellone conceded TRAC owes money, but chalked some of it up to "miscommunications" and "mix-ups" and said, "We've either paid or are working to pay off all our bills."...

MEQUON - Michael Bellone, the self-proclaimed "honorary New York firefighter," who spoke to 100-200 people at Concordia University about the events of 9-11 is a "fraud," according to New York Fire Marshal Conrad Tinney.

Tinney was one of the fire marshals who arrested Bellone, 51, of Brooklyn, N.Y., on Sept. 27, for having an FDNY Scott air tank, harness, regulator and mask. He was charged with grand larceny, criminal impersonation and possession of stolen property, but the charges were later dropped after Bellone returned the items.

Bellone told FDNY investigators the equipment was given to his charity - Trauma Response Assistance for Children (TRAC) Team - but didn’t tell FDNY fire marshals who donated the items.
"The charges may have been dropped, but the investigation is continuing," Tinney said. "We know he has a door off one of our engines destroyed in the attacks and some tools as well."

Bellone spoke Sept. 22 at a Concordia event organized by Student Life after an alum was in Oconomowoc during the week of Sept. 11 where Bellone spoke. It is unknown how much Concordia officials paid Bellone for his presentation.

"Concordia is very disappointed to learn that this presentation might not have been legitimate. Our students were very interested in the subject matter and obviously had we known what we know now about Michael Bellone we would not have allowed him to speak on campus," said Heidi Fendos, a spokesman for the university.

Tinney said he couldn’t elaborate any more on the investigation, but said Bellone volunteered at Ground Zero as a "citizen" and as a "volunteer" and collaborated on a book about the experience, and later, displayed some of the equipment at speeches to schoolchildren and adults across the country.

"It wasn’t until two years later that we began getting complaints about him," Tinney said. "We have one honorary firefighter and that is a child from the Make-A-Wish Foundation. Aside from the child, it is normally the chiefs and those above who are made honorary firefighters and he (Bellone) isn’t one. He’s saying he was made an honorary firefighter by New York Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta. That’s a fallacy."

After taking complaints, FDNY investigators questioned Bellone and discovered the breathing apparatus and other gear were missing from the fire department’s Mask Service Unit since Oct. 1, 2001.

Three years later, Tinney said Bellone was warned to return all of the FDNY equipment he had in his possession.

"We figured common sense would prevail and he would stop on his own," Tinney said. "There were times when he would show up at different events wearing New York Fire Department gear."

Tinney said investigations revealed Bellone has given more than 700 presentations across the country.

"The bottom line is that I have a problem with individuals who prey on the emotions of the general public based on a tragedy," Tinney said.

September 28, 2005 Wednesday
The New York Post

Fire marshals yesterday busted the chairman of a controversial Ground Zero charity for possessing stolen FDNY property...

An FDNY source said Bellone's group is not registered with the state as a charitable organization.

September 28, 2005 Wednesday
Daily News, New York, Sports Final Edition

FIRE MARSHALS ARRESTED a self-proclaimed "honorary firefighter" for allegedly touring the country with pilfered FDNY gear to promote a 9/11 book, officials said yesterday.

Michael Bellone, 51, of Brooklyn, who volunteered at Ground Zero and later collaborated on a book about the experience, showed off the equipment during speeches to schoolchildren, authorities said.

After fielding complaints, FDNY investigators questioned Bellone and discovered that a breathing mask, air tank and other gear he was using had been missing from the department since October 2001, officials said.

Bellone said the items were given to his charity - Trauma Response Assistance for Children (TRAC) Team - but would not identify who did so, sources said.

"It's very ghoulish," said a fire source. "He may have helped firefighters at the time, but now he's making a living on this."...

Now the picture doesn’t look as good, although this may not be complete. We couldn’t find a record of what happened after Bellone’s arrest: perhaps the case never got to trial? Plus, whatever Mr Bellone’s troubles, it’s worth remembering that he only verified a story that was told by Nicholas DeMasi. 

If we just pay attention to the first story, though, it suggests the TRAC team were in financial trouble in April, around six months before the black box story materialised. Which sounds suspiciously convenient, but isn’t really, because the main reason TRAC owed money is they’d had the book published already. If the “we found the black boxes” story was created to boost sales then you might have expected them to mention it on release, not around a year later.

Confused yet? We are too. The central story of the boxes being found doesn’t seem plausible to us, and there are murky stories around the book where the claim appeared, but the incentive to make it up doesn’t seem very strong, either.

A December 2005 story in CounterPunch didn’t really help ( ). They quoted an NTSB source as saying:

"Off the record, we had the boxes," the source says. "You'd have to get the official word from the FBI as to where they are, but we worked on them here."

The source isn’t named, so there’s no way to check or verify this information, and it does seem a little odd. If the boxes were recovered, and sent to the NTSB (indicating there was a genuine investigation going on), then why wasn’t that announced originally? If there’s supposed to be a big coverup, then why has someone at the NTSB decided to reveal it? If they want the truth to come out, then why not leak something more substantial, copies of emails or documents to support the claims? And to a media outlet that would get them more attention? Because in reality, although this is a step closer to significant evidence, it’s not there yet.

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