to Live as the Towers Died
May 26, 2002 By THE NEW YORK
was reported and written by Jim Dwyer, Eric
Lipton, Kevin Flynn, James Glanz and Ford
They began as calls
for help, information, guidance. They quickly
turned into soundings of desperation, and anger,
and love. Now they are the remembered voices of
the men and women who were trapped on the high
floors of the twin towers.
From their last
words, a haunting chronicle of the final 102
minutes at the World Trade Center has emerged,
built on scores of phone conversations and e-mail
and voice messages. These accounts, along with the
testimony of the handful of people who escaped,
provide the first sweeping views from the floors
directly hit by the airplanes and above.
reporters for The New York Times, these last words
give human form to an all but invisible strand of
this stark, public catastrophe: the advancing
destruction across the top 19 floors of the north
tower and the top 33 of the south, where loss of
life was most severe on Sept. 11. Of the 2,823
believed dead in the attack on New York, at least
1,946, or 69 percent, were killed on those upper
floors, an analysis by The Times has found.
Rescue workers did
not get near them. Photographers could not record
their faces. If they were seen at all, it was in
glimpses at windows, nearly a quarter-mile up.
Yet like messages
in an electronic bottle from people marooned in
some distant sky, their last words narrate a world
that was coming undone. A man sends an e-mail
message asking, "Any news from the
outside?" before perching on a ledge at
Windows on the World. A woman reports a colleague
is smacking useless sprinkler heads with his shoe.
A husband calmly reminds his wife about their
insurance policies, then says that the floor is
groaning beneath him, and tells her that she and
their children meant the world to him.
No single call can
describe scenes that were unfolding at terrible
velocities in many places. Taken together though,
the words from the upper floors offer not only a
broad and chilling view of the devastated zones,
but the only window onto acts of bravery, decency
and grace at a brutal time.
Eight months after
the attacks, many survivors and friends and
relatives of those lost are pooling their
recollections, tapes and phone records, and 157
have shared accounts of their contacts for this
article. At least 353 of those lost were able to
reach people outside the towers. Spoken or written
at the hour of death, these are intimate, lasting
words. The steep emotional cost of making them
public is worth paying, their families say, for a
clearer picture of those final minutes.
Many also hope the
history of the day is enlarged beyond memorials to
the unquestioned valor of 343 firefighters and 78
other uniformed rescuers. It is time, they say, to
account for the experiences of the 2,400 civilians
who also died that day. Iliana McGinnis, whose
husband, Tom, called her from the 92nd floor of
the north tower, said, "If they can uncover
even one more piece of information about what
happened during those last minutes, I want
Some details remain
unknowable. Working phones were scarce. The
physical evidence was destroyed. Conversations
were held under grave stress, and are recalled
through grief, time and longing. Even so, as one
fragile bit of information elaborates on the next,
they illuminate conditions on the top floors.
strongly suggests that 1,100 or more people in or
above the impact zones survived the initial
crashes, roughly 300 in the south tower and 800 in
the north. Many of those lived until their
Even after the
second airplane struck, an open staircase
connected the upper reaches of the south tower to
the street. The Times has identified 18 men and
women who used it to escape from the impact zone
or above. At the same time they were evacuating,
at least 200 other people were climbing toward the
roof in that tower, unaware that a passable
stairway down was available, and assuming -
incorrectly - that they could open the roof door.
"The belief that they had a rooftop option
cost them their lives," said Beverly Eckert,
whose husband, Sean Rooney, called after his
futile trek up.
trapped on floors untouched by the airplanes. Even
though the buildings survived the initial impacts,
the twisting and bending of the towers caused
fatal havoc. Stairwells were plugged by broken
wallboard. Doors were jammed in twisted frames.
With more time and simple tools like crowbars,
rescue workers might have freed people who simply
could not get to stairways. In the north tower, at
least 28 people were freed on the 86th and 89th
floors by a small group of Port Authority office
workers who pried open jammed doors. Those
self-assigned rescuers died.
In both towers,
scores of people lost chances to escape. Some
paused to make one more phone call; others, to
pick up a forgotten purse; still others, to
perform tasks like freeing people from elevators,
tending the injured or comforting the distraught.
The crises had
identical beginnings and endings in each tower,
but ran different courses. At least 37 people, and
probably well over 50, can be seen jumping or
falling from the north tower, while no one is
visible falling from the south tower, in a
collection of 20 videotapes shot by amateurs and
professionals from nearby streets and buildings.
Both towers had similar volumes of smoke and heat,
but in the north tower, about three times as many
people were trapped in roughly half the space.
Scores were driven to the windows of the north
tower in search of relief. In the south tower,
people had more opportunities to move between
The impact zones
formed pitiless boundaries between those who were
spared and those who were doomed. Even at the
margins, the collisions were devastating: the
wingtip of the second plane grazed the 78th floor
sky lobby in the south tower, instantly killing
dozens of people waiting for elevators. In all,
about 600 civilians died in the south tower at or
above the plane's impact. In the north tower,
every person believed to be above the 91st floor
The farther from
the impact, the more calls people made. In the
north tower, pockets of near-silence extended four
floors above and one floor below the impact zone.
Yet remarkably, in both towers, even on floors
squarely hit by the jets, a few people lived long
enough to make calls.
To place these
fragmentary messages in context, The Times
interviewed family members, friends and colleagues
of those who died, obtained times of calls from
cellphone bills and 911 records, analyzed 20
videotapes and listened to 15 hours of police and
fire radio tapes.
The Times also
interviewed 25 people who saw firsthand the
destruction wreaked by the planes, because they
escaped from the impact zone or above it in the
south tower, or from just below it in the north.
North Tower, 107th
Floor, Windows on the World, 2 hours 28 minutes to
greeting was particularly sunny, like the day, as
Liz Thompson arrived for breakfast atop the
tallest building in the city, Ms. Thompson
remembers thinking. Perhaps Ms. Eng had matched
her mood to the glorious weather, the rich blue
September sky that filled every window. Or perhaps
it was the company.
occupied many of the tables in Wild Blue, the
intimate aerie to Windows that Ms. Eng helped
manage, according to two people who ate there that
morning. As much as any one place, that single
room captured the sweep of humanity who worked and
played at the trade center.
executive director of the Lower Manhattan Cultural
Council, was eating with Geoffrey Wharton, an
executive with Silverstein Properties, which had
just leased the towers. At the next table sat
Michael Nestor, the deputy inspector general of
the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and
one of his investigators, Richard Tierney.
At a third table
were six stockbrokers, several of whom came every
Tuesday. Ms. Eng had a treat for one of them,
Emeric Harvey. The night before, one of the
restaurant's managers, Jules Roinnel, gave Ms. Eng
two impossibly-hard-to-get tickets to "The
Producers." Mr. Roinnel says he asked Ms. Eng
to give them to Mr. Harvey.
Sitting by himself
at a window table overlooking the Statue of
Liberty was a relative newcomer, Neil D. Levin,
the executive director of the Port Authority. He
had never joined them for breakfast before. But
his secretary requested a table days earlier and
now he sat waiting for a banker friend, said Mr.
Levin's wife, Christy Ferer.
Every other minute
or so, a waiter, Jan Maciejewski, swept through
the room, refilling coffee cups and taking orders,
Mr. Nestor recalls. Mr. Maciejewski was one of
several restaurant workers on the 107th floor.
Most of the 72 Windows employees were on the 106th
floor, where Risk Waters Group was holding a
conference on information technology.
Already 87 people
had arrived, including top executives from Merrill
Lynch and UBS Warburg, according to the conference
sponsors. Many were enjoying coffee and sliced
smoked salmon in the restaurant's ballroom. Some
exhibitors were already tending to their booths,
set up in the Horizon Suite just across the
A picture taken
that morning showed two exhibitors, Peter Alderman
and William Kelly, salesmen for Bloomberg L.P.,
chatting with a colleague beside a table filled
with a multi-screened computer display. Stuart Lee
and Garth Feeney, two vice presidents of Data
Synapse, ran displays of their company's software.
Down in the lobby,
107 floors below, an assistant to Mr. Levin waited
for his breakfast guest. But when the guest
arrived, he and Mr. Levin's aide luckily boarded
the wrong elevator, Ms. Ferer would learn, and so
they had to return to the lobby to wait for
Upstairs, Mr. Levin
read his newspaper, Mr. Nestor recalled. He and
Mr. Tierney were a little curious to see whom Mr.
Levin, their boss, was meeting for breakfast. But
Mr. Nestor had a meeting downstairs, so they
headed for the elevators, stopping at Mr. Levin's
table to say goodbye. Behind them came Ms.
Thompson and Mr. Wharton. Mr. Nestor held the
elevator, so they hopped in quickly, Ms. Thompson
Then the doors
closed and the last people ever to leave Windows
on the World began their descent. It was 8:44 a.m.
North Tower, 91st
Floor, American Bureau of Shipping, 1 hour 42
minutes to collapse
The impact came at
8:46:26 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing
767 measuring 156 feet from wingtip to wingtip and
carrying 10,000 gallons of fuel, was moving at 470
miles an hour, federal investigators estimated. At
that speed, it covered the final two blocks to the
north tower in 1.2 seconds.
The plane ripped a
path across floors 94 to 98, directly into the
office of Marsh & McLennan Companies,
shredding steel columns, wallboard, filing
cabinets and computer-laden desks. Its fuel
ignited and incinerated everything in its way. The
plane's landing gear hurtled through the south
side of the building, winding up on Rector Street,
five blocks away.
Just three floors
below the impact zone, not a thing budged in Steve
McIntyre's office. Not the slate paperweight
shaped like a sailing ship. Not the family
snapshots propped up on a bookcase. Mr. McIntyre
found himself in front of a computer that was
Then came the
A powerful shock
wave quickly radiated up and down from the impact
zone. The wave bounced from the top to the bottom
of the tower, three or four seconds one way and
then back, rocking the building like a huge boat
in a storm.
"We got to get
the hell out of here," yelled Greg Shark, an
American Bureau of Shipping engineer and
architect, who was bracing himself in the swaying
while he stood outside Mr. McIntyre's office.
Somehow, they were
alive. Only later would the two men realize the
slender margin of their escape. In their accounts
of hunting for a way out, they provide a survey of
a border territory, an impregnable zone through
which the people imprisoned above would never
Mr. McIntyre, Mr.
Shark and nine other employees, all uninjured,
hustled out of the A.B.S. reception area in the
northwest corner and turned left toward the
elevators and stairways in the tower's core.
recalls peering into a dim, shattered stairwell,
billowing with smoke. He heard nothing but water
cascading down the stairs, as if he had
encountered a babbling brook on a mountain hike.
The water almost certainly came from severed
sprinkler pipes. Seeing and hearing no one else in
the stinking gloom, he looked up.
The stairwell was
blocked from above - not by fire or structural
steel, but by huge pieces of the light gypsum
drywall, often called Sheetrock, that had enclosed
the stairwell to protect it. In huge hunks, the
Sheetrock formed a great plug in the stairwell,
sealing the passage from 92, the floor above.
Going down the stairs, it made a slightly less
"This is no
good," Mr. McIntyre would remember saying.
Mr. McIntyre could hardly have known it, but he
stood at a critical boundary. Above him, across 19
floors, were 1,344 people, many of them alive,
stunned, unhurt, calling for help. Not one would
Below, across 90
floors, thousands of others were also alive,
stunned, unhurt, calling for help. Nearly all of
Bad as this
staircase was, the two other emergency exits were
worse, Mr. McIntyre later said. So he went back to
that first staircase, northwest of the building's
center. He stepped inside and immediately slipped
down two flights of grimy gypsum. Unhurt, he stood
and noticed lights below. He remembers calling:
"This way!" His A.B.S. colleagues joined
the exodus from 91.
One floor above
them, on the 92nd floor, employees of Carr Futures
were doing exactly what the A.B.S. people had
done: hunting for a way out.
They did not
realize they were on the wrong side of the rubble.
On the 92nd floor,
Damian Meehan scrambled to a phone at Carr Futures
and dialed his brother Eugene, a firefighter in
the Bronx. "It's really bad here - the
elevators are gone," Mr. Meehan told him.
"Get to the
front door, see if there's smoke there,"
Eugene Meehan recalled urging him. He heard his
brother put the phone down, then followed the
sounds drifting into his ear. Yelling. Commotion,
but not panic.
A few minutes
later, Damian Meehan returned and reported that
the front entrance was filled with smoke.
"Get to the
stairs," Eugene remembered advising him.
"See where the smoke is coming from. Go the
Then he heard
Damian for the last time.
`We've got to go.' Or he said, `We're going,'
" Eugene Meehan said. "I've been racking
my brains to remember.
"I know he
said, `We.' "
North Tower, 106th
Floor, Windows on the World, 1 hour 28 minutes to
"What do we
do? What do we do?"
Doris Eng, the
restaurant manager, called the Fire Command Center
in the lobby repeatedly with that question,
according to officials and co-workers. Just
minutes after the plane hit, the restaurant was
filling with smoke and she was struggling to
direct the 170 people in her charge.
Many in the crowd
made their living providing information or the
equipment that carried it, communications experts
taking part in the morning's conference in the
ballroom. But with thickening smoke, no power and
little sense of what was going on, the restaurant
was fast becoming an isolation zone, where people
scrambled for bits of news.
CNN," Stephen Tompsett, a computer scientist
at the conference, e-mailed his wife, Dorry, using
his BlackBerry communicator. "Need
Videos from two
amateur photographers show that the smoke built
with terrifying speed at the top of the building,
cascading thicker from seams in windows there than
from floors closer to the plane. Early on, Rajesh
Mirpuri called his company, Data Synapse,
coughing, and said he could not see more than 10
feet, his boss, Peter Lee, would remember. Peter
Alderman, the Bloomberg salesman, also told his
sister about the smoke, using his BlackBerry to
send an e-mail message: "I'm scared."
Ms. Eng and the
Windows staff, following their emergency training,
herded people from the 107th floor down to a
corridor on the 106th near the stairs, where they
used a special phone to call the Fire Command
Center. The building's policy was to immediately
evacuate the floor on fire and the one above it.
People farther away, like those in Windows on the
World, were to leave only when directed by the
command center "or when conditions dictate
quickly deteriorating, though. Glenn Vogt, the
restaurant's general manager, said that 20 minutes
after the plane hit, his assistant, Christine
Olender, called him at home. She got his wife
instead, Mr. Vogt said, because he was on the
street outside the trade center. Ms. Olender told
Mrs. Vogt that they had heard nothing on how to
leave. "The ceilings are falling," she
said. "The floors are buckling."
Within 20 minutes
of the crash, a police helicopter reported to its
base that it could not land on the roof. Still,
many put their hopes on a rescue by someone, some
"I can't go
anywhere because they told us not to move,"
Ivhan Carpio, a Windows worker, said in a message
he left on his cousin's answering machine. "I
have to wait for the firefighters."
however, were struggling to respond. No one in New
York had ever seen a fire of this size - four and
five floors blazing within seconds. Commanders in
the lobby had no way of knowing if any stairwells
were passable. With most elevators ruined,
firefighters were toting heavy gear up stairwells
against a tide of evacuees. An hour after the
plane crash, they would still be 50 floors below
authorities fielded calls from the upper floors.
"There's not much you could do other than
tell them to go wet a towel and keep it over your
face," said Alan Reiss, the former director
of the world trade department of the Port
Authority. But the plane had severed the water
line to the upper floors. Mr. Maciejewski, the
waiter, told his wife in a cellphone call that he
could not find enough to wet a rag, she recalled.
He said he would check the flower vases.
The room had almost
no water and not much air, but there was no
shortage of cellphones or BlackBerries. Using them
and a few intact phone lines, at least 41 people
in the restaurant reached someone outside the
building. Peter Mardikian of Imagine Software told
his wife, Corine, that he was headed for the roof
and that he could not talk long, she recalled.
Others were waiting for one of the few working
Garth Feeney called
his mother, Judy, in Florida. She began with a
breezy hello, she later recalled.
Mr. Feeney responded, "I'm not calling to
chat. I'm in the World Trade Center and it's been
hit by a plane."
The calm manner of
the staff could not contain the strain. Laurie
Kane, whose husband, Howard, was the restaurant's
comptroller, said she could hear someone
screaming, "We're trapped," as they
finished their final conversation. Gabriela
Waisman, a conference attendee, phoned her sister
10 times in 11 minutes, frantic to keep the
connection. Veronique Bowers, the restaurant's
credit collections manager, kept telling her
grandmother, Carrie Tillman, that the building had
been hit by an ambulance.
"She was so
confused," Mrs. Tillman said.
North Tower, 104th
Floor, Cantor Fitzgerald, 1 hour 27 minutes to
Just two floors
below Windows, the disaster marched at an eerily
deliberate pace, the sense of emergency muted. The
northwest conference room on the 104th floor held
just one of many large knots of people in the five
floors occupied by Cantor Fitzgerald. There, the
smoke did not become overwhelming as quickly as at
Windows. And the crash and fires were not as
immediately devastating as they had been a few
floors below, at Marsh & McLennan.
In fact, Andrew
Rosenblum, a Cantor stock trader, thought it would
be a good idea to reassure the families. With his
wife, Jill, listening on the phone from their home
in Rockville Centre, N.Y., he announced to the
room: "Give me your home numbers," his
Betterly," Mr. Rosenblum said into his
cellphone, reeling off a phone number. "James
Ladley." Another number. As the list grew,
Mr. Rosenblum realized that 40 or 50 colleagues
were in the room, having fled the smoke.
"Please call their spouses, tell them we're
in this conference room and we're fine," he
said to his wife. She remembers scribbling the
names and numbers on a yellow legal pad in her
kitchen, as the burning towers played on a 13-inch
television in a cubbyhole near the backdoor.
handed pieces of paper with the numbers to friends
who had shown up. They went either to the leafy,
fenced-in backyard, where the dog wandered among
them, or to the front lawn, calling the families
group, including Jimmy Smith, John Salamone and
John Schwartz, sat on the eastern side of the bond
trading area, in one of the open areas, according
to John Sanacore, one of the group who was not at
work that day. The spot offered expansive views of
the Empire State Building.
On the opposite end
of the bond area, overlooking the Hudson River,
other traders were gathered. John Gaudioso, who
normally worked in that section but was on a golf
outing that morning, recalled that Ian Schneider
sat at the head of a string of desks where he led
a global finance group. Michael Wittenstein, John
Casazza and Michael DeRienzo were all in that
area, and, like Mr. Schneider, were using land
lines at their desks to take calls from concerned
customers and loved ones, according to six people
who spoke with them. "The building rocked
like it never has before," said Mr.
Schneider, who was there for the 1993 bombing, in
a phone call with his wife, Cheryl.
In the equities
trading area in the southern part of the 104th
floor, looking toward the Statue of Liberty, there
was a third group. Here, Stephen Cherry and Marc
Zeplin pushed a button at their desk to activate
the squawk box, a nationwide intercom to other
Cantor offices around the country. "Can
anybody hear us?" Mr. Cherry asked. A trader
in Chicago who was listening in later said that
she managed to reach a firehouse near the trade
center. "They know you're there," the
trader told them.
Mike Pelletier, a
commodities broker in a Cantor office on the 105th
floor, reached his wife, Sophie Pelletier, and was
then in touch with a friend who told him that the
airplane crash had been a terrorist attack. Mr.
Pelletier swore and shouted the information to the
people around him, Mrs. Pelletier said.
Centre, on the front lawn of the Rosenblums'
house, Debbie Cohen dialed the numbers on the
yellow pieces of paper she had been handed by Jill
don't know me, but I was given your number by
someone who is in the World Trade Center,"
she said. "About 50 of them are in a corner
conference room, and they say they're O.K. right
South Tower, 98th
Floor, Aon Corp., 57 minutes to collapse Those in
the south tower were still spectators, if wary
ones. "Hey Beverly, this is Sean, in case you
get this message," Sean Rooney said on a
voice mail message left for his wife, Beverly
Eckert. "There has been an explosion in World
Trade One - that's the other building. It looks
like a plane struck it. It's on fire at about the
90th floor. And it's, it's - it's horrible.
Even in Mr.
Rooney's tower, people could feel the heat from
the fires raging in the other building, and they
could see bodies falling from the high floors.
Many soon began to leave. The building's staff,
however, announced that they should stay - judging
that it was safer for the tenants to stay inside
an undamaged building than to walk onto a street
where fiery debris was falling.
would change at the very moment that Mr. Rooney,
who worked for the insurance company Aon, was
leaving a second message for his wife, at 9:02
is Sean again," he said. "Looks like
we'll be in this tower for a while." He
paused, as a public announcement in the background
could be heard.
here," Mr. Rooney continued. "But
--" He stopped again to listen: "if the
conditions warrant on your floor you may wish to
start an orderly evacuation."
"I'll talk to
you later," Mr. Rooney said. "Bye."
As Mr. Rooney
spoke, United Flight 175 was screaming across New
South Tower, 81st
Floor, Fuji Bank, 57 minutes to collapse Yes,
Stanley Praimnath told the caller from Chicago, he
was fine. He had actually evacuated to the lobby
of the south tower, but a security guard told him
to go back. Now, he was again at his desk at Fuji
Bank. "I'm fine," he repeated.
As he would later
tell his story, those were his final words before
he spotted it.
A gray shape on the
horizon. An airplane, flying past the Statue of
Liberty. The body of the United Airlines jet grew
larger until he could see a red stripe on the
fuselage. Then it banked and headed directly
take over!" he remembers yelling, dropping
under his metal desk.
At 9:02:54, the
nose of the jetliner smashed directly into Mr.
Praimnath's floor, about 130 feet from his desk. A
fireball ignited. Steel furnishings and aluminum
plane parts were torn into white-hot shrapnel. A
blast wave hurled computers and desks through
windows, and ripped out bundles of arcing
electrical cables. Then the south tower seemed to
stoop, swinging gradually toward the Hudson River,
ferociously testing the steel skeleton before
Through most of
both towers, the staircases were tightly
clustered, and in the north tower, they were all
immediately severed or blocked by the blast. Along
the impact zone of the south tower, floors 78 to
84, however, the stairs had to divert around heavy
elevator machinery. So instead of running close to
the building core, two of the stairways serving
those floors were built closer to the perimeter.
One of them, on the northwest side, survived. A
report in USA Today this month also suggested that
the surviving stairway might have been shielded by
stairway survived, it made all the difference to
Stanley Praimnath, who, huddled under his desk,
could see a shiny aluminum piece of the plane,
lodged in the remains of his door.
The plane, entering
at a tilt, raked across six floors. Three flights
up was the office of Euro Brokers, on the 84th
floor. Most of the company's trading floor there
was annihilated. Yet even there - at the
bull's-eye of the airplane's impact - other people
were alive: Robert Coll, Dave Vera, Ronald
DiFrancesco and Kevin York, among others. Within
minutes, they headed to the closest stairwell, led
by Brian Clark, a fire warden on the 84th floor,
who had his flashlight and whistle.
A fine powder mixed
with light smoke floated through the stairwell. As
they approached the 81st floor, Mr. Clark would
recall, they met a slim man and a heavyset woman.
"You can't go down," the woman screamed.
"You got to go up. There is too much smoke
and flame below."
changed everything. Hundreds of people came to a
similar conclusion, but the smoke and the debris
in the stairwell proved less of an obstacle than
the fear of it. This very stairwell was the sole
route out of the building, running from the top to
the bottom of the south tower. Anyone who found
this stairwell early enough could have walked to
opportunity hardly read that way to the band of
survivors who stood on the 81st floor landing,
moments after the plane crash. They argued the
alternatives, with Mr. Clark shining his
flashlight into his colleagues' faces, asking
each, "Up or down?" The debate was
interrupted by shouts on the 81st floor.
"Help me! Help
me!" Mr. Praimnath yelled. "I'm trapped.
Don't leave me here!"
With no further
discussion, the group in the stairs turned in
different directions. As Mr. Clark recalls it, Mr.
Coll, Mr. York and Mr. Vera headed up the stairs,
along with the heavyset woman, the slim man and
two others he knew from Euro Brokers but could not
identify. Mr. York and Mr. Coll hooked arms to
support the woman, Mr. Clark recalled. One of them
said: "Come on, you can do it. We're in this
Mr. Clark and Mr.
DiFrancesco headed toward the man yelling for
help. Mr. Praimnath saw the flashlight beam and
crawled toward it, over toppled desks and across
fallen ceiling tiles. Minutes earlier, this had
been Fuji Bank's loan department, employee lounge
and computer room. Finally, he reached a damaged
wall that separated him from the man with the
sides, they ripped at the wall. A nail penetrated
Mr. Praimnath's hand. He knocked it out against a
hard surface in the darkness. Finally, the two men
could see each other, but were still separated.
jump," Mr. Clark told Mr. Praimnath, whose
hand and left leg were now bleeding. "There
is no other choice." As Mr. Praimnath hopped
up, Mr. Clark helped boost him over the obstacle.
They ran to the stairwell and headed down. The
steps were strewn with shattered wallboard. Flames
licked in through cracks in the stairwell walls.
Water from severed pipes poured down, forming a
They moved past the
spot with the heavy smoke that the woman had
warned Mr. Clark against. Perhaps the draft had
shifted; maybe the smoke had not been all that bad
to begin with. In any case, the stairs were clear
and would be clear as late as 30 minutes after the
south tower was hit.
DiFrancesco took a detour in search of air,
climbing about 10 floors, where he found the first
group to go upstairs. They could not leave the
stairwell; the doors would not open. Exhausted, in
heavy smoke, people were lying down, Mr.
DiFrancesco included. "Everyone else was
starting to go to sleep," he said. Then, he
recalled, he sat up, thinking, "I've got to
see my wife and kids again." He ran down.
South Tower, 78th
Floor, Elevator Sky Lobby, 54 minutes to collapse
Mary Jos cannot say
for sure how long she was lying there,
unconscious, on the floor of the sky lobby,
outside the express elevator. Her first
recollection of stirring is when she felt searing
heat on her back and face. Maybe, she remembers
thinking, she was on fire. Instinctively, she
rolled over to smother the flames. She saw a blaze
in the center of the room, and in the elevator
That was terrifying
enough. Then, below the thick black smoke and
through clouds of pulverized plaster, she
gradually noticed something worse. The 78th floor
sky lobby, which minutes before had been bustling
with office workers unsure whether to leave the
building or go back to work, was now filled with
The ceilings, the
walls, the windows, the sky lobby information
kiosk, even the marble that graced the elevator
banks - everything was smashed as the second
hijacked plane dipped its left wingtip into the
In an instant, the
witnesses say, they encountered a brilliant light,
a blast of hot air and a shock wave that knocked
over everything. Lying amid the deathly silence,
burned and bleeding, Mary Jos had a single
thought: her husband. "I am not going to
die," she said, remembering her words.
In the 16 minutes
between attacks, those in the south tower scarcely
had time to absorb the horrors they could see
across the plaza and decide what to do. To map
their choices about movements is to see the
geography of life and death.
Before the second
plane hit, survivors said, the mood in the sky
lobby was awkward: relief at the announcements
that their building was safer than walking on the
street, and fear that it really wasn't. In these
critical moments, people milled about, trying to
decide. Be at trading desks for the opening of the
market, or grab a cup of coffee downstairs? At
Keefe, Bruyette & Woods, nearly the entire
investment banking department left and survived.
Nearly all the equities traders stayed and died.
One of them,
Stephen Mulderry, spoke to his brother Peter, and
described the blaze in the north tower he could
see from a window. Still, the word had come from
the building management that his tower was
"secure" - and his soundless phone was
blinking for his attention. "He said, 'I got
to go - the lights are ringing and the market is
going to open,"' Peter Mulderry recalled.
In the moments
before the second impact, everyone in the 78th
floor sky lobby was poised between going up or
down. Kelly Reyher, who worked on the 100th floor
at Aon Corporation, stepped into a local elevator
headed up. He wanted to get his Palm Pilot,
figuring it might be a while before he could
return to his office. Judy Wein and Gigi Singer,
also both of Aon, debated whether to go back and
get their pocketbooks from their 103rd floor
office. But Howard L. Kestenbaum, their colleague,
told them to forget about it. He would give them
As some office
workers spoke nervously of the loved ones they
were rushing to rejoin, there was even a bit of
humor. "I have a horse and two cats,"
Karen E. Hagerty, 34, joked, as she was squeezed
out of an elevator spot.
At the instant of
impact, a busy lobby of people - witness estimates
range from 50 to 200 - was struck silent, dark,
all but lifeless. For a few, survival came from
having leaned into an alcove. Death could come
from having stepped back from a crowded elevator
As Ms. Wein came
to, she had her own battered body to deal with:
her right arm was broken, three ribs were cracked
and her right lung had been punctured. In other
words, she was lucky. All around her were people
with horrific injuries, dead or close to it. Ms.
Wein yelled out for her boss, Mr. Kestenbaum. When
she found him, she said, he was expressionless,
motionless, silent. Ms. Hagerty, who had joked
about the cats at home, showed no signs of life
when a colleague, Ed Nicholls, saw her. And
Richard Gabrielle, another Aon colleague, was
pinned to the ground, his legs apparently broken
by marble that had fallen on them.
Ms. Wein tried to
move the stone. Mr. Gabrielle cried out from pain,
she said, and told her to stop.
who could move, did. Ms. Wein found Vijayashanker
Paramsothy and Ms. Singer, neither of whom had
life-threatening injuries. Kelly Reyher, who had
been on his way to get his Palm Pilot, managed to
pry open the elevator doors with his arms and his
briefcase. He crawled out of the burning car and
found Donna Spira 50 feet away. Her arm fractured,
her hair burned, Mrs. Spira could still walk.
A mysterious man
appeared at one point, his mouth and nose covered
with a red handkerchief. He was looking for a fire
extinguisher. As Judy Wein recalls, he pointed to
the stairs and made an announcement that saved
lives: Anyone who can walk, get up and walk now.
Anyone who can perhaps help others, find someone
who needs help and then head down.
In groups of two
and three, the survivors struggled to the stairs.
A few flights down, they propped up debris
blocking their way, leaving a small passageway to
A few minutes
behind this group was Ling Young, who also
survived the impact in the sky lobby. She, too,
said she had been steered by the man in the red
bandanna, hearing him call out: "This way to
the stairs." He trailed her down the stairs.
Ms. Young said she soon noticed that he was
carrying a woman on his back. Once they reached
clearer air, he put her down and went back up.
Others never left.
The people who
escaped said Mr. Paramsothy, who had only been
scraped, remained behind. Ms. Young said that
Sankara Velamuri and Diane Urban, colleagues of
Mrs. Jos from the State Department of Taxation and
Finance, tried to help two more seriously injured
friends, Dianne Gladstone and Yeshavant Tembe,
both also state employees.
All five of these
people would die.
Of the dozens of
people waiting in the sky lobby when the second
plane struck, 12 are known to have made it out
North Tower, 104th
Floor, Cantor Fitzgerald; 106th Floor, Windows on
the World; 53 minutes to collapse
So urgent was the
need for air that people piled four and five high
in window after window, their upper bodies hanging
out, 1,300 feet above the ground.
They were in an
Elsewhere, two men,
one of them shirtless, stood on the windowsills,
leaning their bodies so far outside that they
could peer around a big intervening column and see
each other, an analysis of photographs and videos
On the 103rd floor,
a man stared straight out a broken window toward
the northwest, bracing himself against a window
frame with one hand. He wrapped his other arm
around a woman, seemingly to keep her from
tumbling to the ground. Behind the unbroken
windows, the desperate had assembled. "About
five floors from the top you have about 50 people
with their faces pressed against the window trying
to breathe," a police officer in a helicopter
Now it was
unmistakable. The office of Cantor Fitzgerald, and
just above it, Windows on the World, would become
the landmark for this doomed moment. Nearly 900
would die on floors 101 through 107.
In the restaurant,
at least 70 people crowded near office windows at
the northwest corner of the 106th floor, according
to accounts they gave relatives and co-workers.
"Everywhere else is smoked out," Stuart
Lee, a Data Synapse vice president, e-mailed his
office in Greenwich Village. "Currently an
argument going on as whether we should break a
window," Mr. Lee continued a few moments
later. "Consensus is no for the time
Soon, though, a
dozen people appeared through broken windows along
the west face of the restaurant. Mr. Vogt, the
general manager of Windows, said he could see them
from the ground, silhouetted against the gray
smoke that billowed out from his own office and
By now, the
videotapes show, fires were rampaging through the
impact floors, darting across the north face of
the tower. Coils of smoke lashed the people braced
around the broken windows.
In the northwest
conference room on the 104th floor, Andrew
Rosenblum and 50 other people temporarily managed
to ward off the smoke and heat by plugging vents
with jackets. "We smashed the computers into
the windows to get some air," Mr. Rosenblum
reported by cellphone to his golf partner, Barry
But there was no
As people began
falling from above the conference room, Mr.
Rosenblum broke his preternatural calm, his wife,
Jill, recalled. In the midst of speaking to her,
he suddenly interjected, without elaboration,
"Oh my God."
South Tower, 97th
Floor, Fiduciary Trust; 93rd Floor, Aon Corp.; 21
minutes to collapse
careful!" shouted Alayne Gentul, the director
of human resources at Fiduciary Trust, as Edgar
Emery slipped off the desk he had been standing on
within the increasingly hot and smoky 97th floor
of the south tower.
Mr. Emery, one of
her office colleagues, had been trying to use his
blazer to seal a ventilation duct that was
belching smoke. To evacuate Fiduciary employees
who worked on this floor, Mr. Emery and Mrs.
Gentul had climbed seven floors from their own
Now the two of
them, and the six or so they were trying to save,
were all in serious trouble.
As Mrs. Gentul
spoke to her husband on the phone - he could
overhear what was happening - Mr. Emery got up and
spread the coat over the vent. Next, he swung a
shoe at a sprinkler head, hoping to start the flow
sprinklers aren't going on," Mrs. Gentul said
to her husband, Jack Gentul, who listened in his
office at the New Jersey Institute of Technology
in Newark, where he is a dean. No one knew the
plane had cut the water pipes.
"We don't know
whether to stay or go," Mrs. Gentul told her
husband. "I don't want to go down into a
fire," she said.
Among the doomed,
the phone calls, messages and witnesses make
clear, were many people who had put themselves in
harm's way by stopping to offer a hand to
colleagues or strangers. Others acted with great
tenderness when all else was lost.
Mrs. Gentul and Mr.
Emery of Fiduciary, whose offices stretched from
the 90th to the 97th floors, had made their own
fateful decisions to help others.
When the first
plane hit across the plaza, the fireball billowed
across the western facade of the 90th floor, where
Mr. Emery was in his office. "I felt the heat
on my face," said Anne Foodim, a member of
human resources who worked nearby.
Mr. Emery, known
for steadiness, emerged, the lapels on his blue
blazer flapping as he waved people out. "Come
on, let's go," he said, escorting five
employees into a stairwell, including Ms. Foodim,
who recounted the events. They walked down 12
floors, reaching the 78th floor and the express
elevator, with Mr. Emery giving encouragement.
"If you can
finish chemo, then you can get down those
steps," Mr. Emery told an exhausted Ms.
Foodim, who had just completed a round of
chemotherapy. When they finally reached a packed
elevator on the 78th floor, Mr. Emery made sure
everyone got aboard. He squeezed Ms. Foodim's
shoulder and let the door close in front of him.
Then he headed back up, joining Alayne Gentul.
Like Mr. Emery,
Mrs. Gentul herded a group out before the second
plane hit. A receptionist, Mona Dunn, saw her on
the 90th floor where workers were debating when or
if to leave. Mrs. Gentul instantly settled the
question. "Go down and go down orderly,"
she said, indicating a stairway.
"It was like
the teacher saying, 'It's O.K., go,'" Mrs.
Gentul and Mr. Emery went to evacuate six people
on the 97th floor who had been working on a
computer backup operation, Mrs. Gentul told her
Mr. Emery was
hunting for a stairwell on the 97th floor when he
reached his wife, Elizabeth, by cellphone. The
last thing Mrs. Emery heard before she lost the
connection was Alayne Gentul screaming from
somewhere very near Ed Emery, "Where's the
stairs? Where's the stairs?"
Another phone call
was under way nearby. Edmund McNally, director of
technology for Fiduciary, called his wife, Liz, as
the floor began buckling. Mr. McNally hastily
recited his life insurance policies and employee
bonus programs. "He said that I meant the
world to him and he loved me," Mrs. McNally
said, and they exchanged what they thought were
their last goodbyes.
Then Mrs. McNally's
phone rang again. Her husband sheepishly reported
that he had booked them on a trip to Rome for her
40th birthday. "He said, 'Liz, you have to
cancel that,'" Mrs. McNally said.
On the 93rd floor,
Gregory Milanowycz, 25, an insurance broker for
Aon, urged others to leave - some of them survived
- but went back himself, after hearing the
announcement. "Why did I listen to them - I
shouldn't have," he moaned after his father,
Joseph Milanowycz, called him. Now he was trapped.
He asked his father to ask the Fire Department
what he and 30 other people should do. His father
said he passed word from a dispatcher to his son
that they should stay low, and that firefighters
were working their way up. Then, he says, he heard
his son calling out to the others: "They are
coming! My Dad's on the phone with them. They are
coming. Everyone's got to get to the ground."
Even when the
situation was most hopeless, the trapped people
were still watching out for one another. On the
87th floor, a group of about 20 people from Keefe,
Bruyette & Woods took refuge in a conference
room belonging to the New York State Department of
Taxation and Finance. During the final minutes,
Eric Thorpe managed to get a call to his wife,
Linda Perry Thorpe, who was waiting to hear from
him at a neighbor's apartment. No one spoke from
the tower. Instead, Ms. Thorpe and the neighbor
listened to the ambient noise.
everything in the background," Mrs. Thorpe
recalled, including, she said, gasping.
"Someone asks, 'Where is the fire
extinguisher?' Someone else says, 'It already got
thrown out the window.' I heard a voice asking,
'Is anybody unconscious?' Some of them sounded
"One man went
berserk, screaming. I couldn't understand that he
was saying anything. He just lost it.
another person soothing him, saying, 'It's O.K.,
it'll be O.K.'"
South Tower, 105th
Floor, 14 minutes to collapse
Minutes after the
second plane struck the south tower, Roko Camaj
called home to report that a throng had gathered
near the roof, according to his son, Vinny Camaj.
"I'm on the 105th floor," Roko Camaj
told his wife. "There's at least 200 people
The promise of
sanctuary on the roof had seemed so logical, so
irresistible, that scores of people chased their
fates up the stairs. They were blind alleys.
Mr. Camaj, a window
washer who had been featured in a children's book,
carried the key to the roof, his son said. That
key alone would not open its door: a buzzer also
had to be pressed by the security staff in a
command post on the 22nd floor. And the post had
been damaged and evacuated.
The roof seemed
like an obvious choice - and the only one - to
people on the upper floors. A police helicopter
had evacuated people from the roof of the north
tower in February 1993, after a terrorist bomb
exploded in the basement. For a variety of
reasons, though, the Port Authority, with the
agreement of the Fire Department, discouraged
helicopters as part of its evacuation plan. Police
commanders ruled out a rooftop rescue that
Whatever the wisdom
of the policy, it came as a shock to many people
trapped in the towers, according to their families
and summaries of 911 calls. Only a few realized
that Stairway A could take them down to safety,
and that information never circled back upstairs
from those escaping or from the authorities. Frank
Doyle, a trader at Keefe, Bruyette & Woods,
called his wife, Kimmy Chedell, to remind her of
his love for her and the children. She recalls he
also said: "I've gone up to the roof and the
rooftop doors are locked. You need to call 911 and
tell them we're trapped."
The 105th floor was
the last stop for many of those who had climbed
toward the roof, a crowd dominated by Aon
employees. At 9:27, a man called 911 and said a
group was in the north conference room on the
105th floor. At 9:32, a man on the 105th floor
called 911 and asked that the roof be opened. At
9:38, Kevin Cosgrove, a fire warden for Aon,
called 911, then rang his brother.
Sean Rooney called
Beverly Eckert. They had met at a high school
dance in Buffalo, when they were both 16. They had
just turned 50 together.
He had tried to go
down but was stymied, then had climbed 30 floors
or so to the locked roof. Now he wanted to plot a
way out, so he had his wife describe the fire's
location from the TV pictures. He could not fathom
why the roof was locked, she said. She urged him
to try again while she dialed 911 on another line.
He put the phone down, then returned minutes
later, saying the roof door would not budge. He
had pounded on it.
worried about the flames," Ms. Eckert
recalled. "I kept telling him they weren't
anywhere near him. He said, but the windows were
hot. His breathing was becoming more
caving in. Floors were buckling. Phone calls were
being cut off. He was alone in a room filling with
smoke. They said goodbye.
telling me he loved me."
could hear the loud explosion."
North Tower, 92nd
Floor, Carr Futures, 28 minutes to collapse
asked Jeffrey Nussbaum. "What was that
explosion?" Twenty miles away in Oceanside,
N.Y., Arline Nussbaum could see on television what
her son could not from 50 yards away. She recalls
their last words:
tower just went down," Mrs. Nussbaum said.
God," her son said. "I love you."
Then the phone went
The north tower,
which had been hit 16 minutes before the south,
was still standing. It was dying, more slowly, but
just as surely. The calls were dwindling. The
number of people falling from windows accelerated.
That morning, the
office of Carr Futures on the 92nd floor was
unusually busy. A total of 68 men and women were
on the floor that morning, 67 of them associated
About two dozen
brokers for Carr's parent company had been called
to a special 8 a.m. meeting. When the building
sprang back and forth like a car antenna, door
frames twisted and jammed shut, trapping a number
of them in a conference room.
The remaining Carr
employees, about 40, migrated to a large,
unfinished space along the west side. Jeffrey
Nussbaum called his mother, and shared his
cellphone with Andy Friedman. In all, the Carr
families have counted 31 calls from the people
they lost, according to Joan Dincuff, whose son,
Christopher, died that morning.
Carr was two floors
below the impact, and everyone there had survived
it; yet they could not get out. Between 10:05 and
10:25, videos show, fire spread westward across
the 92nd floor's north face, bearing down on their
At 10:18, Tom
McGinnis, one of the traders summoned to the
special meeting, reached his wife, Iliana
McGinnis. The words are stitched into her memory.
really, really bad," he said.
said Mrs. McGinnis, who had been hoping that his
meeting had broken up before the airplane hit.
"This is bad for the country; it looks like
World War III."
Something in the
tone of her husband's answer alarmed Mrs.
"Are you O.K.,
yes or no?" she demanded.
"We're on the
92nd floor in a room we can't get out of,"
Mr. McGinnis said.
you?" she asked. Mr. McGinnis mentioned three
old friends - Joey Holland, Brendan Dolan and
you," Mr. McGinnis said. "Take care of
Caitlin." Mrs. McGinnis was not ready to hear
your cool," she urged. "You guys are so
tough, you're resourceful. You guys are going to
get out of there."
understand," Mr. McGinnis said. "There
are people jumping from the floors above us."
It was 10:25. The
fire raged along the west side of the 92nd floor.
People fell from windows. Mr. McGinnis again told
her he loved her and their daughter, Caitlin.
up," Mrs. McGinnis pleaded.
"I got to get
down on the floor," Mr. McGinnis said.
With that, the
phone connection faded out.
It was 10:26, two
minutes before the tower crumbled. The World Trade
Center had fallen silent.
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