Oh my God, they are jumping
THE news passed down 5th Avenue by relay.
At 9am in midtown the orderly procession
of office workers had not heard nor seen
anything, but there was growing curiosity
about the funnel of black smoke downtown.
As lines formed on the edges of the
pavement, a middle-aged man came sprinting
towards them; he was pointing at the twin
towers and imitating a plane's movement.
Word rustled through the crowd of a plane
crash, then of two.
People jump to their deaths from the
burning World Trade Centre
Further down the avenue, workers were now
pouring out on to the pavements and the
talk was more informed, more incredible.
Cars parked and turned on their radios
full blast, around which people clustered.
Word was passed around in disbelief.
People began reaching for their cellphones
and moving slowly, wide-eyed towards the
scene. The evidence of this hellish
scenario was burning in front of them.
The tower on the left had a cavernous hole
at the top of the building and volcanic
smoke, a terrible pall of black and white,
raced in all directions. In contrast, the
downward line of flame was almost
mathematical; it lit up each floor by
turn, window after window a bright red
Now the structure of the building was
literally melting, great drips of metal
and showering glass. "The
architecture is not meant to let that
happen," said one man wonderingly.
"I mean, this should not
"How do they put that out?"
asked his female companion. An
ancient-looking fire engine came rattling
past, a pitiful answer. The crowd gathered
in downtown Thompson Street had seen the
first, then the second plane hit the twin
Jason Griffith, a property manager, said
he was on his way to the gym when the
first plane crashed. "I said out
loud, that plane is flying too low, it is
going to hit the building." He
watched the explosion that followed in
"I have a friend who works inside
there, so I've been trying to call him.
You know, my cellphone isn't working
though." The crowd was beginning to
speculate reluctantly about those in the
tower. "Well, I think they will be
evacuated," said a woman seeking
reassurance in the grim expressions of
those around her.
As the smoke and flames consumed the upper
floors of the buildings, the crowd began
to whisper and shudder, clicking their
cameras to record the scene that their
eyes could scarcely believe. The most
powerful nation on earth was under deadly
Brent Yonehara, a law student from Los
Angeles had just heard about the attempted
bombing of the Pentagon.
"I can't believe this. I was on my
way to school and I saw this plane coming
right over, just over the buildings. I
could see the markings on it. I thought it
was out of control but then it righted
itself and went straight for the tower.
And now they've hit the Pentagon. Are we
The question was repeated through the
crowd. "Are we safe? Is this
war?" A woman with a baby whispered
to her husband that he should get a supply
of water from one of the few shops that
These are sophisticated people, city
people. Their fear showed itself in
contained gestures. Most people simply
looked up, their hands to their mouths as
a couple of fighter planes flew over the
towers. The noise came from the screaming
sirens, and the car radios.
Then the first tower collapsed, suddenly,
quietly, absolutely, in a cloak of glass
and ash. The crowd screamed and surged
forward towards it. "Holy shit. It's
gone. The whole building has gone,"
one man shouted. "It just came down
like it was nothing," said another.
Now people were bursting into tears, and a
group of students crouched terrified on
the pavement. "I'm so cold,"
cried one girl. But there was another
horrible distraction. A woman pointed at
the second tower. "Oh my God, they
A figure, as small as a bird, tumbled down
the side of the tower. More silhouettes
followed - four, five, six. The crowd
watched with tears streaming down their
faces; these desperate figures hurtling
towards their death.
"But couldn't they get out? Couldn't
they have hung on?" asked one woman
through a stream of tears. They could not
have waited. Ten minutes later the second
tower folded as quickly as the first.
The famous skyline of New York, reproduced
throughout the city on walls and in
pictures and postcards, had been
devastated within a matter of hours. The
crowd continued to stare frozenly at the
Following those screams, the watching
crowd became once more low key in its
shock. Only one middle-aged black man, who
was carrying a bottle of vodka, railed
noisily: "What is the matter with you
all? Don't you see what has happened? This
bad, bad place. This evil world."
Those around him ignored him, isolated in
their sense of shock but as his cries grew
louder and more accusing, a young
preppie-looking man turned on him.
"Just shut up will you. Why are you
shouting? Just shut up."
The black man reeled round to face him.
"I'm shouting because my mother is in
The young man reached out to him.
"I'm so sorry. I'm so sorry," he
said and the two of them hugged each
other, a small, human gesture against epic
shock and grief.
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