From Phil Hirschkorn
Wednesday, 28 May 2004
NEW YORK (CNN) — Family members of the 246 victims onboard the four planes hijacked September 11, 2001, have been invited to hear recordings of the final telephone calls of the passengers and crew.
The Justice Department will host a two-hour meeting in Princeton, New Jersey on June 4 to play the recordings, family members and officials said.
Two years ago relatives of those killed on United Airlines Flight 93, the plane that crashed in rural southwest Pennsylvania, heard the 30-minute cockpit voice recording that, families said, confirmed their loved ones resisted the hijackers.
The Justice Department sent invitations to the closed-door meeting as early as March. The government has scheduled a second briefing for July 14 in Boston, Massachusetts, with closed-circuit transmission to locations in Washington and Los Angeles, California.
Part of the families’ registration form for the event was a non-disclosure agreement. Those who attend will be asked not to discuss the contents of the tapes.
One reason for the gag order is the pending trial of alleged September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui, where the tapes could be introduced as evidence.
Prosecutor intent aside, it is unclear that any of the tapes could be played at the indefinitely delayed Moussaoui trial.
U.S. District Judge Leonie Brinkema in late 2002 barred the Flight 93 recording, saying it had "marginal evidentiary value" in the Moussaoui case and agreed with defense lawyers that it would be prejudicial toward the defendant.
The government would not disclose and did not reveal in its letters to families what recordings will be played.
But the independent September 11 commission in a January staff statement highlighted 11 — not a complete list — calls from the planes to people on the ground:
# On American Airlines Flight 11, the plane that crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center with 81 passengers and 11 crew onboard, flight attendants Betty "Bee" Ong and Madeline "Amy" Sweeney made calls.
# On United Airlines Flight 175, which crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center with 56 passengers and nine crew onboard, flight attendant Robert Fangman and passengers Peter Hanson and Brian Sweeney made calls.
# On American Airlines Flight 77, which crashed into the Pentagon with 58 passengers and six crew onboard, flight attendant Rene May and passenger Barbara Olson, wife of Solicitor General Ted Olson, made calls.
# On United Airlines Flight 93, which crashed in Shanskville, Pennsylvania, with 37 passengers and seven crew onboard, flight attendants Ceecee Lyles and Sandy Bradshaw, and passengers Todd Beamer and Jeremy Glick made calls.
The commission played an excerpt of one of these calls — from Ong’s taped 23-minute call to an airline reservation center — but it was unclear whether the four other flight attendant calls, or any passenger calls, were preserved on recordings.
Two years ago, in April 2002, the government invited relatives of the 40 Flight 93 victims to hear a 30-minute cockpit voice recording.
Adhering to a government admonition not to divulge the details, the families said at the time the recording confirmed that passengers fought the hijackers who had commandeered the flight scheduled between Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, California.
Flights 11 and 175 had left from Boston for Los Angeles. Flight 77 left Washington-Dulles for Los Angeles.
Along with the 246 victims on the four planes, the 19 hijackers who commandeered the airliners died in the crashes.
CNN’s Terry Frieden and Abighail Brigham contributed to this report.