I will stick my neck out and declare it a hoax: Jurors in the al-Moussaoui
trial were shown alleged cockpit voice recordings of the final stages of the
hijacking of United Airlines flight 93. It was played to the court accompanied
by a video showing gruesome pictures of charred bodies, so it was intended to
stir emotions rather than to provide hard evidence. The defence team's objections
to the type of evidence were over-ruled.
It took the authorities a long time to come up with evidence from the
flight recorders which they had earlier stated were not recoverable. It seems
to me they still did a rather sloppy job when replacing the real recordings
with this dramatic production. Here is why:
First of all, Cockpit voice recordings and recordings of air traffic communications
are separated, yet in this case they appear together. I only have the transcript
to go by since the actual recordings have not been released. I cannot establish
from the transcript
at what volume certain parts of it appear. It is possible that the crew instead
of using headsets would have switched air traffic communications onto the cabin
loud speakers so that they would also be audible in the cockpit. It does, however,
not explain why we can hear communications from air traffic control and another
plane on the frequency, but we cannot hear the communications by flight 93 crew
to air traffic control, although those should have been a lot more audible.
According to the transcript air traffic control received a communication that
there was a bomb on board, but we do not hear the pilots stating so. Air traffic
control ask another plane on the frequency whether this is what they heard and
they confirm. This means that the pilots must have stated so on the frequency.
Air traffic control could not have gauged this information from the transponder
code selected by the pilots as this would not be accessible to the crew of the
third plane nor would it be specific. There is a transponder code for hijacking,
but not for a bomb on board. Air traffic control could not have taken this information
from what the hijackers said either, since to transmit a message to air traffic
control the pilot has to press a push-to-talk button and the noise cancelling
microphone will not pick up anything from the background.
However, let's assume, unlikely as this is, that they did pick up what the
hijackers said according to the transcript, namely: "Ladies and Gentlemen.
Here the captain, please sit down keep remaining seating. We have a bomb on
board. So sit." Here the script writers for the audio/video presentation
made their biggest blunder. According to the script those remarks were made
in Arabic. Air traffic could have got them translated, although not instantaneously,
and they would have had to figure out what language they were dealing with first,
but there is no chance that the crew of Executive Jet 956, the third plane on
the frequency, could have understood those remarks.
The script writers made sure that there is plenty of Arabic in the recording
to firmly establish the origin of the hijackers. They also add plenty of Bismillahs
and Allahu akbars to show that these are Muslim fanatics. With the above quoted
remark they have, however, gone over the top by making the translation sound
foreign as well. Either they had a very incompetent translator or they weren't
sure whether they should script this remark in Arabic or English - "keep
remaining seating" sure does not sound like a good translation.
There is a problem with this opening sentence being in Arabic. From the content
one would assume that it is addressed to the plane's passengers as it starts
with "Ladies and Gentlemen." From the context it is said in the cabin
upon first encounter with the captain. You can't talk from the flight deck to
the passengers except over the intercom system, so it is unclear who the addressees
of these sentences are meant to be. But neither crew nor passengers would have
understood Arabic. If the remarks were made in conversation to fellow hijackers
then they would hardly begin with "Ladies and Gentlemen" nor would
they bother to inform them that they had a bomb on board.
Later in the tape we are treated with some more drama which would suit a Hollywood
movie but not the real world of flying. It seems the hijackers discovered that
there was a fight in the cabin. To control the situation one of them suggests
to cut off the oxygen. What a folly! Breathing at high altitude in modern aircraft
is achieved through cabin pressurisation not through the supply of oxygen. You
can depressurise the aircraft, of course, but this would be gradual not sudden.
And if you did it would affect both the passengers and the crew, so the hijackers
would then need oxygen to cope with the thin depressurised air on the flight
But we are made to believe that the hijackers were stupid. They tried to take
control of the plane but didn't really know how to fly it. One of them is heard
to instruct the other with short commands like "pull it down", "up,
down, up, down", "down, push, push, push, push", "hey, give
it to me". In the end, I suppose this explains why the flight crashed just
like it happens on Microsoft flight simulator when you mess about with a 757.
To emphasise the loss of control they suddenly all repeatedly say "Allahu
akbar", but not the Shahadah.
Nice try, I say, but there is no doubt in my mind that, once more, we are being
taken for a ride.
There is an unofficial transcript
of Flight 93 available which was released by AirDisasters.com, not by the government.
In that transcript the remarks about the bomb are made in English by the hijackers
and a little later made again by the captain. A careful comparison of both texts
reveals numerous discrepancies to the wording and the sequence of what is being
said. There is no way both can be correct, ergo somebody is making things up.
If Moussaoui's defence team don't tear this evidence to shreds, then
they are working for the prosecution.