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NOAA aerial photo of lower Manhattan taken June 11, 1999.October 30, 2001 — NOAA's aircraft flew five missions totaling more than 16 hours over the World Trade Center after the events of Sept. 11 to aid in the recovery efforts. NOAA's Citation jet mapped ground zero using aerial photography and Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) technology. The flights began Sept. 23 and ended Oct. 15. Each flight lasted about four hours. Teams from NOAA's National Geodetic Survey and Aircraft Operations Center worked on scene at the request of the U.S. Defense Department. The NOAA jet also few a mission over the Pentagon. (Click NOAA aerial photo for larger view of lower Manhattan, New York, taken June 11, 1999.)

[Click here for more imagery.]

After the initial flights of Sept. 23 and 26, the NOAA jet few three more missions where the entire area of lower Manhattan was mapped using the LIDAR equipment, which was furnished by Optech Inc. of Toronto, Canada. The images were rendered by the U.S. Army from the data collected by NOAA's aircraft.

LIDAR image of lower Manhattan, New York.The data collected by the LIDAR equipment helped to produce 3-D images of the site where crews continue their recovery and cleanup efforts. These images help to identify the height of the rubble so that the appropriate cranes can be used to remove it. The data collected from the fly-overs provide building and utility engineers the information needed to locate original foundation support structures, elevator shafts and basement storage areas. This allows the crews to pinpoint their digging and recovery efforts. (Click LIDAR image of lower Manhattan, New York, rendered Sept. 27, 2001 by the U.S. Army Joint Precision Strike Demonstration from data collected by NOAA. Credit "NOAA/U.S. Army JPSD. Please note this is a large image.)

NOAA's jet also took high-resolution photos of the area. These photos show ground zero in great detail. It also allows the recovery crews to see how far debris fell from the site. The plane flew at an altitude of between 3,000 and 7,000 feet during its various fly-overs.

The mission over the World Trade Center site proved to be an emotional one for the NOAA crew. Lt. CDR Brad Kearse, who piloted the plane, said that as the aircraft neared ground zero everyone fell silent. "It was quietest flight that I can ever remember. No one said a word for more than three-and-a-half hours. The crew went about its business of mapping the site and occasionally looking out the window to view the devastation below."

NOAA, as well as other federal agencies, is now doing an inventory of its assets to see how they can help in the effort of homeland security.

Relevant Web Sites
NOAA's Citation Aircraft

Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) — with sample images

NOAA's Coastal Aerial Photography

NOAA's Remote Sensing Research and Development

Media Contacts:
Greg Hernandez, NOAA, (202) 482-3091 or Jeanne Kouhestani, NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, (301) 713-3431 ext. 220