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New York officials seek human remains amid debris from Boeing jet

  • 51Park_wedge.jpg

    The chunk of landing gear was found in this narrow alley between buildings on Park Place and Murray Street. (NYPD)

  • 51Park_landingear.jpg

    Surveyors hired by the owner of 51 Park Place in lower Manhattan discovered in a small alley behind the building this piece of landing gear from one of the two commercial planes that were flown into the World Trade Center by terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. (NYPD)

The medical examiner's office plans to search for Sept. 11 human remains in an alley behind a mosque near the World Trade Center where landing gear from the type of Boeing jet used in the attacks was suddenly discovered.

The chief medical examiner's spokeswoman, Ellen Borakove, said the area first will be tested as part of a standard health and safety evaluation for possible toxicity. She said sifting for human remains is to begin Tuesday morning.

Police said Saturday that detectives had been in contact with officials at Chicago-based Boeing Co. who confirmed the wreckage was from a Boeing 767. Police have said the landing gear had a clearly visible Boeing identification number.

The American Airlines and United Airlines planes hijacked by Islamic extremists in 2001 were Boeing 767s. Boeing spokesman John Dern said he could not confirm whether the ID matched the American Airlines plane or the United Airlines plane.

Workers discovered the landing gear part on Wednesday between a luxury loft rental building and a mosque that in 2010 prompted virulent national debate about Islam and freedom of speech because it's just blocks from ground zero.

On Saturday, yellow police tape blocked access to a metal door that leads to the hidden alley behind the planned Islamic community center, known as Park51.

Retired fire department Deputy Chief Jim Riches, who lost his son in the terrorist attacks, visited the site on Saturday. He said the latest news left him feeling "upset."

"The finding of this landing gear," he said, "just goes to show that we need federal people in here to do a comprehensive, full search of lower Manhattan to make sure that we don't get any more surprises," as happened in 2007 when body parts were discovered in nearby sewers and manhole covers.

Of the nearly 3,000 victims, Riches noted, about 1,000 families have never recovered any remains.

The New York Police Department has declared the alley a crime scene where nothing may be disturbed until the medical examiner's office completes its work. It's unclear how long that may take, Borakove said.

The piece of wreckage was discovered by surveyors inspecting the planned Islamic community center on behalf of the building's owner, police said.

The twisted metal part -- jammed in an 18-inch-wide, trash-laden passageway between the buildings -- has cables and levers on it and is about 5 feet high, 17 inches wide and 4 feet long, police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Friday.

"It's a manifestation of a horrific terrorist act a block and a half away from where we stand," he said after visiting the alley.

The commissioner noted that a piece of rope intertwined with the part looks like a broken pulley that may have come down from the roof of the Islamic community center.

When plans for the center became public in 2010, opponents said they didn't want a mosque so close to where Islamic extremists attacked, but supporters said the center would promote harmony between Muslims and followers of other faiths.

The building includes a Muslim prayer space that has been open for three years. After protests died down, the center hosted its first exhibit last year. The space remains under renovation.

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