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Flight 93 voice recorder found in Somerset County crash site

Saturday, September 15, 2001

By Matthew P. Smith, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Investigators last night found the cockpit voice recorder from United Flight 93, a discovery that could help authorities determine what happened in the final seconds before the hijacked Boeing 757 crashed in Somerset County.

The discovery of the recorder is important because what it recorded may shed more light on a growing theory that passengers aboard the plane struggled with the hijackers and may have prevented them from hitting a target in Washington, D.C.

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The cockpit voice recorder, one of two black boxes aboard the plane, was found 25 feet below ground in the crater created when the plane struck the ground in Stonycreek.

FBI spokesman Bill Crowley said the recorder was found about 8:25 p.m. and was being flown to the National Transportation Safety Board offices in Washington.

The plane's other black box, the flight data recorder, which records information about the aircraft's speed, altitude, position and other information, was found in roughly the same spot on Thursday.

But investigators were much more anxious to find the cockpit voice recorder, because it could have picked up conversations in the cockpit and even some sounds from the passenger cabin. If it survived the crash intact and was not turned off by the hijackers, investigators could hear what was said from the cockpit for the last 30 minutes of the flight.

"It's a very encouraging development," Crowley said last night.

It was not known how soon investigators would learn whether the recorder survived the crash and if so, when anything might be obtained from the device, which records conversations and radio transmissions from the plane's cockpit.

"It appeared to the investigators to be in fairly good condition," Crowley said.

Even if it survived the crash, it's possible that the recorder was turned off by the hijackers. The device can be shut off by flipping a labeled circuit breaker in the cockpit.

Several of the passengers aboard Flight 93 managed to make cell phone calls to their families after the plane was hijacked and said that they planned to try to regain control of the jetliner.

Several people, notably Republican U.S. Sens. Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania and U.S. Rep. John Murtha, D-Johnstown, believe the hijackers intended to dive the plane into a target in Washington, such as the White House or the U.S. Capitol.

The jetliner went down Tuesday in rural Shanksville, after leaving Newark, N.J., for San Francisco. Radar showed the plane on route and heading over Cleveland when it abruptly turned back east, began losing altitude and flying erratically toward Maryland before it crashed.

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