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Investigation pursues the missing elements of Flight 93 story

Sunday, October 28, 2001

The final moments of United Flight 93 remain a mystery, even to some of those who have heard the cockpit tape that records what they believe was a struggle to regain control of the plane.

"They really aren't sure what they have," said one ranking law enforcement official shortly after the voice tape was heard by investigators.

Most airplane crashes are followed by release of a transcript of the flight's final moments -- ordinarily conversation between pilot and first officer and between the cockpit and nearest air traffic control center. But most airplane crashes are investigated by the National Transportation Safety Board, which is relatively open about its process. Not so the FBI, which is heading the investigation into Flight 93.

Some details have come out in bits and pieces. Selected news outlets have been given access to information that suggests a voice was heard saying "Get out of here," but, again, it is not clear if that was a United employee telling an intruder to leave, or an intruder telling a passenger to leave.

Until the contents of the cockpit recorder and the flight data recorder are released, just what happened in the last seconds of Flight 93 will remain an enigma.

Despite repeated requests, United Airlines declined to answer any questions about Flight 93 or to make personnel available to describe the airline's efforts to make contact with the airplane shortly after it was hijacked and its transponder, which sends controllers a plane's location and altitude, turned off.

"We're working to rebuild passenger volume and return to profitability," a United spokesman said.

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