The FBI has seized tape of an emergency cell-phone call from a man locked in the bathroom of a Boeing 757, minutes before the passenger jet plowed into a strip mine in Somerset County, Pa., earlier today.
The call was received by the Westmoreland County 911 about 9:58 a.m. and claimed the plane had been hijacked. Westmoreland immediately alerted the Federal Aviation Administration.
Upon hearing of the tape, the FBI arrived “quite rapidly,” according to Daniel Stevens, the emergency service’s public information officer.
WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh first reported the existence of the tape from the Newark-to-San Francisco United Airlines flight.
“We’re not releasing any information on the tape,” said Stevens, who confirmed that the FBI had taken possession of the recording.
The FBI is treating the crash site as a crime scene, according to WTAE, and FAA investigators are en route from Chicago and will be taken by bus to the scene at Stonycreek Township, about 60 miles east of Pittsburgh.
Rumors abound about the downing of the plane, including some fingering the U.S. military in shooting down the flight.
“It makes sense if you think about it,” said WTAE Assignment Editor Peggy Drazal, who’s been fielding a wide assortment of scenarios since the disaster. “Why would terrorists down the plane in the woods when bigger targets are around?”
Another angle, Drazal said, is that the pilot may have resisted the hijackers’ aim and downed the plane before it could cause any damage beyond the loss of the 45 passengers onboard.
Westmoreland County 911 is planning to release further details about the FBI’s seizure of the tape later tonight.