First Sept 11 damages trial to hear cockpit tapes

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NEW YORK, Sep 13 (Reuters) Tapes of the final moments before one of the hijacked airliners in the September 11 attacks crashed into the ground in Pennsylvania may be played at the first case over damages from the attacks to go to trial, a judge ruled.

The last four minutes of the recording of United Airlines Flight 93 with sounds of passengers trying to force entry into the cockpit and to retake the airplane in 2001, was ruled admissible by US District Judge Alvin Hellerstein yesterday.

The first of 41 cases left filed by September 11 victims who sued airlines and their security contractors for wrongful death is set to begin September 24. That case was filed by the wife of Patrick Driscoll, 70, who died aboard United Flight 93.

The recordings have not been released publicly but were played in court at the trial of convicted September 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui in 2006.

In a bid to encourage further settlements, the judge ruled in July that the first trials would only address damages and a second separate trial would address liability.

The plaintiff's lawyer, Donald Migliori, said the recordings that will be played, which will also include the voice of one or two of the hijackers saying they have a bomb on board, was the most important evidence at the trial.

He said most of the plaintiffs were ''glad the process is starting'' but frustrated the issue of damages will be decided before liability, which decides who is responsible.

''The remaining families want to be telling their stories in the full context as to why the aviation defendants should be held accountable for letting the hijackers on board with impermissible weapons,'' he said.

Reuters SZ VP0420

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