Jet part believed to be wreckage from 9/11 attacks under scrutiny
NEW YORK — Coroner’s officials entered a narrow, closely guarded alley in Lower Manhattan early Tuesday to begin searching the area around a newly discovered chunk of a jet airliner to determine if human remains from the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks might be buried there.
Four days after surveyors stumbled upon the piece of metal, police have corrected some of the information initially released about it. It is not a piece of landing gear, as originally thought, but a piece of a wing.
And a length of rope found entwined around the piece, which Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly had said could point to someone having intentionally lowered the chunk into the alley, was actually left there by police.
A statement from the police spokesman, Deputy Commissioner Paul Browne, said crime scene detectives learned that police officers responding to the report of the wreckage last week wrapped the rope around the part to move it as officials looked for a serial number or other identifying marks.
Browne also said that a Boeing Co. technician had confirmed that the jet piece is part of a wing flap system from a Boeing 767. Both of the jets that were hijacked and crashed into the World Trade Center towers in 2001 were Boeing 767s, and the gear is believed to have come from one of those jets, but the aircraft maker has not been able to determine which of them might have produced it.
Since the attacks, jet parts have been found near where this latest gear turned up, about 2 1/2 blocks from where the World Trade Center towers stood. But this latest discovery was unusual because of the space in which the gear was found, and because of the history of the building adjacent to the alley.
Kelly said the piece of wreckage is about 5 feet long and just about 17 inches wide; the alley is less than 24 inches wide, meaning the trajectory was such that the metal had to have dropped at precisely the right second and angle to plummet into the narrow space without hitting buildings on either side of the alley.
The find also occurred behind a building with a controversial past in New York City. It once housed a Burlington Coat Factory, which never reopened after the Sept. 11 attacks. The next owner sparked protests from some victims’ families when he announced plans to turn it into an Islamic cultural center and mosque. Since the cultural center opened in 2011, it has operated quietly.
Now, however, attention has been refocused on the building, with police standing guard outside and passers-by snapping photographs. On Tuesday, a tent was erected on the sidewalk to give medical examiners and inspectors a place to work as they remove piles of dirt and other material. Kelly has said the jet part could be removed Wednesday and handed over to the police department.
The part would remain in police custody until a decision was made on its final disposition, Browne said. Several other jet parts recovered since the Sept. 11 attacks have been added to museum collections and are considered historical artifacts.
More than 2,600 people perished when the twin towers collapsed. Yet, despite years of combing through the tons of resulting dust and debris, no trace has been found of more than 1,000 of those victims. That nags at survivors, who yearn for any physical remnant of their loved ones and say it would be disrespectful of the dead to not follow up new leads.