WASHINGTON, May 6— At least six air traffic controllers who dealt with two of the hijacked airliners on Sept. 11, 2001, made a tape recording a few hours later describing the events, but the tape was destroyed by a supervisor without anyone making a transcript or even listening to it, the Transportation Department said Thursday.
The taping began before noon on Sept. 11 at the New York Air Route Traffic Control Center, in Ronkonkoma, N.Y., where about 16 people met in a basement conference room known as the Bat Cave and passed around a microphone, each recalling his or her version of the events of a few hours earlier. The recording included statements of 5 or 10 minutes each by controllers who had spoken by radio to people on the planes or who had tracked the aircraft on radar, the report said.
Officials at the center never told higher-ups of the tape’s existence, according to a report made public on Thursday by the inspector general of the Transportation Department.
A quality-assurance manager at the center destroyed the tape several months after it was made, crushing the cassette in his hand, cutting the tape into little pieces and dropping them in different trash cans around the building, according to the report. The tape had been made under an agreement with the union that it would be destroyed after it was superseded by written statements from the controllers, the report said.
The quality-assurance manager told investigators that he had destroyed the tape because he thought making it was contrary to Federal Aviation Administration policy, which calls for written statements, and because he felt that the controllers ”were not in the correct frame of mind to have properly consented to the taping” because of the stress of the day.
None of the officials or controllers were identified in the report.
The inspector general, Kenneth M. Mead, said that keeping the tape’s existence a secret, and then destroying it, did not ”serve the interests of the F.A.A., the department, or the public,” and would raise suspicions at a time of national crisis.
The value of the tape was not clear, Mr. Mead said, because no one was sure what was on it, although the written statements given later by five of the controllers were broadly consistent with ”sketchy” notes taken by people in the Bat Cave. (The sixth controller did not give a statement, apparently because that controller did not speak to either of the planes or observe them on radar.)
Mr. Mead had been asked by Senator John McCain, the Arizona Republican who is chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, to look into how well the aviation agency had cooperated with the federal commission investigating the Sept. 11 attacks. Mr. McCain said in a statement that he looked forward to ”appropriate disciplinary actions” and that he might investigate this matter further.
A spokesman for the 9/11 commission, Al Felzenberg, said Mr. Mead’s report was ”meticulous” and ”came through the efforts of a very conscientious senator.” Mr. Felzenberg said that the commission would not comment now on the content of the report, but that it ”does speak to some of the issues we’re interested in.”
The quality-assurance manager destroyed the tape sometime in December 2001, January 2002 or February 2002. By that time he and the center manager had received an e-mail message from the F.A.A. instructing officials to safeguard all records and adding, ”If a question arises whether or not you should retain data, RETAIN IT.”
The inspector general ascribed the destruction to ”poor judgment.”
An F.A.A. spokesman, Greg Martin, said that ”we have taken appropriate disciplinary action” against the quality-assurance manager.