Investigators early this morning recovered from the wreckage of the Pentagon the voice and data recorders of American Airlines Flight 77, which was hijacked Tuesday morning and crashed into the U.S. military’s headquarters, killing at least 190 persons.
Pentagon officials said the recorders were found around 3:40 a.m. under mounds of rubble in the collapsed part of the building, where just a few pieces of the plane remain.
Arlington County Fire Department Deputy Chief James Schwartz said the FBI found the recorders as its agents worked side by side with rescue workers.
The recorders, also known “black boxes,” were taken to the National Transportation Safety Board’s office in Washington, but were there only a short time; FBI agents reclaimed the black boxes early this morning. CNN has reported the voice recorder was damaged, but the data recorder was intact.
Those recorders are essential pieces in the FBI’s investigation. The voice recorder will have captured the flight crew’s last words; the data recorder will have information about the jetliner’s flight pattern. They also will determine whether the White House was an intended target of the terrorists, as White officials have said.
More remains of the 126 Pentagon personnel and 64 persons on board the jetliner were taken away this morning by Army Huey helicopters to Dover Air Force Base in Dover, Del. The remains of 38 persons were turned over to family yesterday, according to a military source.
Defense Department officials have encouraged family members of the deceased to have closed-casket funerals because the bodies are unrecognizable. Most of the remains are charred and were only identifiable by chemical testing or personal effects located near them when they were killed.
This morning, rescue crews worked through heavy wind and rain, and even though the sun came out around midday, the chilly temperatures remained.
While the weather and a late-night fire last night in the collapsed area have slowed crews down, they remain determined to find survivors, Montgomery County Fire Department Assistant Chief Tom Carr said.
But Chief Carr offered a bleak assessment of the effort so far, as rescuers search deeper and farther into the destruction.
“We’re not finding any live victims at this point,” said Chief Carr, the county’s point man for the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s Urban Search and Rescue Task Force.
At least three cranes that are several stories high have been removing chunks of concrete and heavy debris throughout the day. More than a dozen trucks have come and gone from the attack site for the third day, hauling off the wreckage.
Rescuers were being aided by three crews of 400 from the Army’s Old Guard, a division that typically has ceremonial duties.
At any given point as many as 1,000 persons are crawling and sifting through the attack site, where the jetliner penetrated three of the Pentagon’s five rings.
From a hilltop near Henderson Hall, the Marine Corps’ headquarters, at least 100 persons came to show their respects and pray for the dead.
More than 50 yellow and red roses were laid out on the grassy slope, and dozens of hard-to-find American flags were planted in the ground.
But it was the words written on a white sheet, tied to the gate of nearby Arlington National Cemetery, that best summed up the feelings of onlookers, rescuers and the media assembled at a nearby gas station: “We are Americans. We are free. We are not afraid. God bless America.”