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Local Men Find Airliner Black Box 31 Years After Bolivian Crash

SOMERVILLE (CBS) -- "I ended up pitching this idea to Isaac," said Dan Futrell.

It was an idea that was so out-there it might just be possible - solve one of the great plane crash mysteries by finding the wreckage.

"In the column that says 'reason it was not found' was high altitude and inaccessible terrain. And, in my head I went 'what the...,'" said Futrell.

As he and his friend Isaac Stoner watched on TV the search for the missing Malaysian airliner, he looked up other plane crashes. He read about the unsolved crash of Eastern Airlines Flight 980 into the side of Bolivia's Mount Illimani in 1985. With no black box or bodies found, there were plenty of conspiracy theories.

"I said 'Hey we should try and go find this thing. It's also at 20,000 feet. We've never been that high,' " said Futrell.

The two friends set off earlier this year to find what no one else had. They found the debris field about 1,000 feet below the believed crash site. They think melting glaciers revealed much of the wreckage.

In a video Stoner took on the trip, he said into the camera, "We found human remains, gave them a proper burial, found a million other plane parts."

Bolivian black box find
Isaac Stoner (L) and Dan Futrell with pieces of the black box from Eastern Airlines Flight 980 in Bolivia. (WBZ-TV)

Among the plane parts were six pieces of the black box, which is really orange. They found their holy grail, part of the voice recording stuck in the ice. They brought it back the U.S. The feds' first response was not what they anticipated.

"You effectively violated international law. We advise you to send it back to Bolivia," said Stoner.

They had traveled too far. They went on a campaign to get Bolivia interested, and give the OK for the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) to take a look. This week, the two said the agency reached out finally saying they could see what if anything is on the tape.

As Futrell and Stoner wait, their journey alone has already provided closure for the families.

"All of them at the end essentially said, 'Hey, thanks for doing that,' " said Futrell.

They said the NTSB is picking up the black box in the first week in January. The NTSB is not commenting.

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