Families hear tape from hijacked Flight 93
PRINCETON, New Jersey (CNN) -- Relatives of the 40 people killed when a hijacked plane crashed into a Pennsylvania field on September 11 heard the plane's cockpit voice recording for the first time Thursday.
The FBI played the 30-minute tape in closed sessions inside a Princeton, New Jersey, hotel and afterward offered on-site counseling.
Families of the two pilots and five flight attendants on board the hijacked plane were able to hear the recordings during a morning session. A second session, in the afternoon, was held for families of the 33 passengers.
"We really don't have any expectations. We're just going in there knowing that it's going to be a difficult experience, but at the same time it's going to be a healing experience," said John Beaven, whose father, Alan Beaven, was among the victims. "We're just keeping an open mind as to what to expect."
Each family was permitted to send four people, two of whose travel and lodging expenses will be paid by the government. An FBI spokesman said some families chose not to hear the recording.
The participating family members were asked to sign a release excusing the government from any responsibility for emotional distress the family may experience.
United Flight 93, en route from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco, California, was the last of the four hijacked commercial jetliners to crash September 11, but the only one to miss its target.
Four hijackers took over the jet after two planes had struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center and as a third plane zeroed in on the Pentagon.
News of the unfolding terrorist plot reached Flight 93 passengers when they were able to make outgoing cell phone calls. Numerous relatives who received calls have reported that their loved ones resolved to take control of the plane.
Before the sessions, family members said they expected the cockpit voice recorder to lend further insight into what happened.
"I'll distinctly be listening for my husband's voice," said Deena Burnett, whose husband, Tom, called four times from the airplane. "I hope that I hear it, yet I don't know if I'm prepared to hear his voice."
In his last call, Burnett -- a businessman and former high school quarterback -- told his wife, "We're going to do something."
"He instilled in me the confidence he would be home later that day," Deena Burnett said.
The FBI has asked the families not to discuss the tape with the media. It is expected the tape will be used as evidence in the terrorism conspiracy trial of Zacarias Moussaoui, a 33-year-old Frenchman of Moroccan descent who prosecutors allege may have been the intended fifth hijacker aboard Flight 93.
Moussaoui, who underwent pilot training in the United States and allegedly trained in al Qaeda camps inside Afghanistan, was incarcerated in Minnesota on immigration charges a month before the attacks.
All commercial airliners are equipped with a cockpit voice recorder that runs in a 30-minute loop, erasing each previous half-hour of conversation. Its purpose is to provide investigators a record of everything pilots say in the last half-hour preceding a crash.
Access to cockpit voice recorders is usually restricted to government crash investigators and parties suing over plane crashes.
Neither the tapes nor transcripts are expected to be made public anytime soon.
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