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Associated Press photos
This photo provided Friday by the New York City Police Department shows a piece of landing gear that authorities believe belongs to one of the airliners that crashed into the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.

Part of 9/11 plane found wedged between buildings

AP
This photo provided by the New York City Police Department shows officers investigating the space where the debris was found.

NEW YORK – A rusted 5-foot-tall piece of landing gear believed to be from one of the hijacked planes destroyed in the Sept. 11 attacks has been discovered wedged between a mosque site and a luxury high-rise apartment building near the World Trade Center.

The twisted metal part has cables and levers on it and is about 3 feet wide and 1.5 feet deep. It includes a clearly visible Boeing Co. identification number, New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said Friday.

"The odds of this being wedged between there is amazing," Browne said, adding it was not surprising that it went undiscovered for more than a decade given the location. "It had to have fallen just the right way to make it into that space."

Browne said other World Trade Center wreckage had been discovered nearby, possibly even at the same buildings, in years past.

Police detectives and National Transportation Safety Board investigators will determine whether the equipment is from the American Airlines plane or the United Airlines plane that slammed into the twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, destroying the towers and killing thousands of people.

The piece of equipment was discovered Wednesday by surveyors inspecting the lower Manhattan site of a planned Islamic community center, at 51 Park Place, on behalf of the building's owner, police said. The inspector was on the roof and noticed the debris and then called 911. Police secured the scene, documenting it with photos.

The spot where the landing gear was found is about three blocks from ground zero. When plans for the mosque and community center were first announced several years ago, a furor erupted. Opponents protested that putting a Muslim facility near ground zero showed disrespect. Supporters cited freedom of religion and said it wasn't too close to where Islamic extremists attacked on Sept. 11.

In a statement, Sharif El-Gamal, the president of Soho Properties, which owns 51 Park Place, said workers called the city and the police as soon as they discovered the landing gear. He said the company is cooperating with the city and the police to make sure the piece of equipment "is removed with care as quickly and effectively as possible."

The medical examiner's office will complete a health and safety evaluation to determine whether to sift the soil around the buildings for possible human remains, police said.

Patricia Riley, whose sister Lorraine Riley was killed in the Sept. 11 attacks, said the landing gear discovery was "very strange."

"Twelve years later we are still finding remnants of the attack on our country," she said. "... For years to come we'll continue to find things that we didn't see before. Hopefully they'll serve as a reminder that we have to stay vigilant."

Outside the Islamic center building, known as Park51, a police officer stood next to the door on Friday and a police barricade was set up to contain the many journalists who had gathered to try to see the piece of the plane.

The landing gear could not be seen from the sidewalk so commuters rushed by and looked quizzically at the gathering.

The Park51 space, a former Burlington Coat factory, is a five-story, mildly rundown building. The piece of plane is wedged in an alley space between that building and 50 Murray St., which is a luxury loft rental building.

Associated Press writers Tom Hays, Jennifer Peltz and Colleen Long contributed to this report.

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