NEW YORK - A rusted piece of landing gear believed to be from one of the hijacked planes destroyed in the Sept. 11 attacks has been discovered near the World Trade Center wedged between a luxury apartment building and a mosque site that once prompted virulent national debate about Islam and free speech.
The twisted metal part, jammed in an 18-inch-wide sliver of open space between the buildings, has cables and levers on it and is about 17 inches wide and 4 feet long, New York Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said Friday.
"It's a manifestation of a horrific terrorist act a block and a half away from where we stand," he said. "So, sure, it brings back terrible memories to anyone who was here or who was involved in that event."
Kelly edged down the narrow passageway to look at the object Friday evening, noting there is also a piece of rope intertwined with the part in what looks like a broken pulley that may have come down from the roof of the site of the planned Islamic community center, at 51 Park Place.
The piece of equipment was discovered Wednesday by surveyors inspecting the lower Manhattan site of a planned Islamic community center on behalf of the building's owner, police said.
It includes a clearly visible Boeing Co. identification number, New York Police Department spokesman Paul Browne said.
"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," he said.
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 nearly 3,000 people.
Donna Marsh O'Connor, who lost her daughter Vanessa Lang Langer in the attacks and is a member of September 11th Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow, called the landing gear discovery "bizarre."
O'Connor is a supporter of the Islamic center and said the fact that the plane fragment was found there "makes me think that this was the right place for a center that was going to heal the divide."