NEW YORK – The only videotape known to have captured both planes slamming into the World Trade Center (search), and only the second image of the first strike, has surfaced on the eve of the second anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The footage, obtained by The New York Times, was taken by a Czech immigant construction worker whose son at one point came close to accidentally erasing the rare, chilling footage, the newspaper reported on its Web site Saturday.
Federal officials investigating the trade center collapse are trying to obtain a copy of the hourlong tape, which could cast light on the cause of the north tower's collapse by helping to determine factors including the exact speed at which the first plane traveled, The Times said.
The only other known footage of the first plane's impact came from a French film crew making a documentary about a probationary firefighter.
Pavel Hlava, an immigrant construction worker from the Czech Republic (search), shot footage of the first plane hitting the north tower as a sport utility vehicle he was riding in entered the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel en route to lower Manhattan.
Hlava, who made the tape looking at the camera's relatively low-resolution LCD display, told the Times he did not see the first plane as he focused on the towers. But the tape shows a whitish object hitting the tower, followed by dust spurting from the tower's side and a silvery, expanding cloud.
Passing through the tunnel, Hlava, his brother and his boss heard a radio report that a small private plane had hit the World Trade Center, straight ahead outside the tunnel. That hardly prepared them for what they saw when they emerged: the north tower, looming over them, bursting with flames.
As Hlava continued filming, the second jet shrieked behind him. He caught the plane as it shot into the south tower, exploding into an orange fireball and sending papers flying in every direction. Later, after crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, he focused on the buildings again as the south tower tilted to one side and collapsed.
Hlava and his brother, Josef, unsuccessfully tried to sell the tape in New York and in the Czech Republic, the newspaper said.
Hlava said through a Czech-language translator that language difficulties hindered his ability to sell or release the tape to the media. He also said that so much time had passed that he had doubted there was still interest in the tape.
"All his friends, they told him, 'Hey, you made a mistake. You waited too long,"' translator David Melichar told The Times.
Hlava's boss, who was driving the SUV, also had strong objections to selling the tape, Melichar said.
Hlava and Melichar's numbers are not listed and attempts by The Associated Press to reach them were unsuccessful.
In the weeks and months after the attack, the tape sat in Hlava's apartment in the Ridgewood section of Queens.
On one occasion, Hlava said he noticed that his son was playing with the video camera and erasing the tape. Hlava snatched the camera away before either of the plane impacts were erased.
A friend of Hlava's wife obtained a copy of the tape and traded it to another Czech immigrant to pay off a bar tab. Another woman learned of the existence of the copy brought it to the attention of a freelance news photographer who took the tape to The Times.
The photographer, Walter Karling (search), who now describes himself as Hlava's agent, said it had not been sold to any television station. The Times said it had not paid for the tape.
Karling's number was not published and he could not be reached for comment by The Associated Press.
The tape is scheduled to be shown Sunday morning on the ABC program "This Week."