Half the Conversation
Conveys Horror of 9/11
ELLEN BARRY / Los Angeles Times 1apr2006
1) Why Indeed Did the WTC Buildings
Collapse? Professor Steven E. Jones 19mar2006
NEW YORK — It was 9:50 a.m., and the caller simply refused to hang up. He was trapped on the 105th floor of one of the World Trade Center towers, and the 911 dispatcher was trying to get him off the phone.
"Just stay where you are. Don't do nothing. Just stay where you are," said the dispatcher, identified only as Fire Department 408. "We're coming. Yeah. Hang up, sir. We're on the way." But the man would not hang up. Finally, Fire Department 408 thought of something else to say.
"I swear to you," he said. "I swear to you, we'll get someone up to you."
Nine hours of recordings released by the city of New York on Friday evoke the horror and confusion that swept through emergency services the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. Addressing callers as "hon," "sir" or sometimes "lady," dispatchers repeated one message — like a mantra — to people who couldn't breathe and were beginning to panic: Sit tight; we're coming.
The recordings, which do not include the words of the callers, show that people stuck in the towers received contradictory and sometimes misleading advice. Some dispatchers recommended opening windows, not realizing the panes were sealed shut; other emergency operators warned urgently against breaking the glass.
Dispatchers repeatedly instructed callers to stay where they were, put wet towels over their heads and under the doors, to stay low and not to panic — the standard procedure for emergencies in high-rise buildings. Only a handful advised that they try to get out of the buildings.
David Rosenzweig, president of the dispatchers union, said he would give the same orders today, because "if the fire is below you, there's nowhere to go. The exits are like chimneys.
"Right up until the time the building collapsed, they had hope," he said. "If they went in the stairwell, they were dead."
New York officials fought hard to prevent the release of the recordings, which were requested by the New York Times in 2002 under the state's Freedom of Information Law. The city argued that other records sought by the paper contained information needed to prosecute Zacarias Moussaoui, and that the last moments of the victims in the towers were intensely personal and should remain private.
Lawyers for the Times, joined by a group of victims' relatives, made the case that the recordings contained important information about how emergency services functioned in the crisis. The New York State Court of Appeals in March 2005 ordered the city to release the operators' words but said the victims' appeals could be redacted.
Norman Siegel, a lawyer who represented the family members, on Friday said the operators' comments were "inconsistent and contradictory" and said they proved that the operators were not properly trained or not working from a uniform script. But he took pains to praise their compassion.
"We do not want the 911 operators to become scapegoats," he said. "The 911 operators were themselves in the dark."
Sally Regenhard, founder of the Skyscraper Safety Campaign, whose son Christian was a New York City firefighter who died on Sept. 11, agreed. "The operators desperately tried to manage a situation that they were not trained to manage."
Police and fire officials, meanwhile, said the recordings gave them reason to be proud. In a statement, Police Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly said they "remind us once again of the remarkable performance of our 911 operators, who displayed professionalism and compassion under the most trying of circumstances, often staying on the line with anguished callers until the very end."
Between 8:46 a.m., when the first plane hit, and 10:28 a.m., when the second building collapsed, 130 calls were made to 911 from inside the World Trade Center. On some floors, as many as 100 people clustered together while one person called.
The calls were patched through to dispatchers at four locations. Four dispatchers were answering calls from headquarters in Central Park, several miles uptown from the site of the attack, and 17 dispatchers were stationed at centers in the Bronx Zoo, at Forest Park in Queens and at Prospect Park in Brooklyn, Rosenzweig said.
At times, dispatchers in the recordings sounded confused about what was taking place. One dispatcher tried to explain his situation to a caller: "I don't know anything more than what people calling in tell me. I don't have any access to a radio or TV or anything. I don't know."
Although the Fire Department and Port Authority police ordered an evacuation of both towers at 8:59 a.m., there is no mention of the order in the dispatchers' recordings. Instead, at 9:17 a.m., dispatchers received word over the public address system that the fires had subsided. At 10:15 a.m., after the south tower collapsed, one dispatcher appeared not to know about it, asking, "It's still standing, right?"
Glenn Corbett, who teaches a fire-safety course based on the events of Sept. 11, said the dispatchers — had they been given better information by officials on the scene — could have helped lead some people to safety. Although there were no clear exits from the top of the north tower, one stairwell in the south tower was passable. Corbett said the dispatchers were handicapped by their isolation.
"All they knew was something bad happened in the buildings," said Corbett, assistant professor of fire science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. "Can you imagine not knowing, sitting in a blank-walled building in Central Park? You don't have good information to tell the people."
Rosenzweig said the dispatchers performed "far beyond what I had expected," using the same protocol they had used in a successful evacuation during the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. But the experience of working Sept. 11 was so traumatizing that many could not return to their jobs.
"I had lots of people that basically changed their occupation," he said. "They don't want to talk to people that are dying."
The first calls came in seconds after the first plane crashed into the north tower, and they were marked by confusion. One dispatcher, told that a man had jumped from the tower, asked the caller, "Which window, which floor?"
At 9:09 a.m., another offered this explanation to a caller: "They're saying it might be a terrorist attack. It would have to be, because what are the odds of two planes crashing into the same buildings, OK?"
In some cases, dispatchers remained on the line for long minutes, trying to communicate with callers who were gradually overcome. Dispatcher 8685 stayed with a man on the 105th floor of a tower from 9:17 to 9:22.
"Oh, wow," the dispatcher said, when told that 60 people were huddled together and that the stairwell had collapsed. Then he issued orders: "Listen. Everybody wet the towels. Listen. Lie on the floor. Everybody wet the towels; put it over your head."
The dispatcher listened to the caller repeat his or her words to the crowd, then said, "Oh, my God…. Oh, my God. You can't breathe at all?"
Seconds later, the dispatcher told the man to calm down.
"I know it's hard to breathe. I know it is," the dispatcher said. "OK, listen, listen, listen to me, listen to me; OK? Listen, don't — Try not to panic. You can save your air supply by doing that, OK?"
Finally, the dispatcher tried to reassure the caller.
"Everybody is downstairs already. It's just a matter of getting up there and getting you out." The man indicated that the fire was coming up from beneath them. The dispatcher told the group to "find another staircase and see if you can make it upstairs." Then the caller hung up.
"Ain't this terrible? Oh, my God," the fire dispatcher said.
There was little time to reflect, but at 9:52, Dispatcher 8695 was able to speak for a moment with a colleague on the line.
"It's an awful thing, an awful, awful, awful thing to call somebody and tell them you're going to die," said the dispatcher, who had just spoken to a group on the 86th floor of one of the towers. "That's an awful thing. I hope — I hope they're all right, because they sound like they went — they passed out because they were breathing hard, like snoring, like they're unconscious."
For most of the morning, though, the dispatchers spoke in calm voices. As late as 10:17, a dispatcher identified as Fire 528 pleaded with a man on the 97th floor of the north tower to relax.
"I understand your concern, sir, and I understand your panic, but we are there in the building," the dispatcher said. "I understand. Please," said the dispatcher. "Stop talking, and let the air — you're losing your oxygen. So try to be quiet and remain calm, OK?"
It was 10:18 a.m. "Please," the dispatcher said. Ten minutes later, the building collapsed.
In terror's grip
Some quotes from 911 operators during recorded phone conversations Sept. 11, 2001:
8:46 a.m.: American Airlines Flight 11 hits the north tower
8:48 a.m.: "You saw an explosion at the twin towers?"
8:58 a.m.: Port Authority police mobilize; city police and fire departments send major emergency alerts
8:58 a.m.: "He jumped out which window, which floor? Do you know?"
9 a.m.: "OK, if you feel your life is in danger, do what you must do. I can't give you any more advice than that."
9:03 a.m.: United Airlines Flight 175 hits the south tower
9:09 a.m.: "They're saying it might be a terrorist attack. It would have to be, because what are the odds of two planes crashing into the same buildings, OK?…. OK. I can't believe this. It's got to be — It's got to be hell."
9:10 a.m.: "I've got a guy on the 106th floor and he wants to know how to deal with a hundred people. He wants some directions. I don't know."
9:17 a.m.: "We are trying to get up there, sir. Like you said, the stairs are collapsed, OK? Put the wet towels under your head and lie down, OK? I know it's hard to breathe. I know it is."
9:26 a.m.: "All I can tell you to do is sit tight, because I have almost every fireman in the city coming out."
9:35 a.m.: "We have a caller. He's not on the line. States there's a male hanging out the World Trade Center, the window by the antenna tower."
9:47 a.m.: "You're not by yourself…. I don't know anything more than what people are calling and telling me. I don't have access to a radio or TV or anything."
9:53 a.m. "I'm still here. The Fire Department is trying to get to you. OK, try to calm down."
9:59 a.m.: South tower collapses
10:17 a.m.: "I understand your concern, sir, and I understand your panic, but we are there in the building. We're getting there as soon as we can."
10:28 a.m.: North tower collapses
Source: Associated Press
Times staff writers Lynn Marshall in Seattle and Robert Lee Hotz in New York and the Associated Press contributed to this report.
source: http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/la-na-audio1apr01,1,659054.story 1apr2006
911 calls from WTC touched operators
Helpless dispatchers tried to be reassuring
AMY WESTFELDT / AP 1apr2006
NEW YORK — Emergency operators listening to trapped callers' heartbreaking pleas from the burning World Trade Center repeatedly said help was on the way while they struggled with crashing computers, utter confusion and their own emotions, several hours of 911 calls released Friday show.
In releasing the 130 calls, city officials edited out the voices of those who sought help. But the police and fire dispatchers often repeated the callers' words, reflecting the fear and chaos of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
The first call came seconds after terrorists flew a hijacked jetliner into the north tower of the trade center at 8:46 a.m. A second plane struck the south tower 17 minutes later, and by 10:28 a.m. both towers had collapsed, leaving 2,749 people dead.
Dispatchers assured the callers—most of them on floors above the burning plane wreckage—that help was coming or already was there. In many cases, they had little to offer but compassion.
"OK, ma'am. All right," a fire dispatcher told a caller at 9:05 a.m., two minutes after the second tower was hit. "Well, everybody is there now. We're trying to rescue everybody. OK?"
Twelve minutes later, another dispatcher told a frantic caller trapped on the 105th floor of the south tower to instruct people to put wet towels over their mouths, lie on the floor and not open the windows.
"We are trying to get up there, sir. Like you said, the stairs are collapsed, OK?" the dispatcher said.
The transcripts and nearly nine hours of audio recordings were released after The New York Times and relatives of Sept. 11 victims sued to get them. An appeals court ruled last year that the calls of victims in the burning twin towers were too intense and emotional to be released without their families' consent.
As a result, the transcripts held long blank spaces where the callers' words would have appeared.
Often, it was clear from conversations between Police and Fire Department operators that they were not sure what had occurred. At one point a police operator told a fire dispatcher a helicopter had hit one of the towers.
The operators managed generally to maintain their composure as word spread that what initially appeared to be an accident was a terrorist attack.
Sirens screamed in the background as the callers pleaded for help. Although there were no voices, their desperation was evident in heavy, audible breathing on the other end of the operators' calls.
source: http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/chi-0604010065apr01,1,1200284.story?coll=chi-newsnationworld-hed 1apr2006
'Can only imagine. It's chaos here'
BRIAN KATES / New York Daily News 1apr2006
With Reporting by HEIDI EVANS, ROBERT GEARTY, BRIAN KATES, CAITLIN KELLY, GREG B. SMITH, CHRISTINA BOYLE, JONATHAN LEMIRE AND ALISON GENDAR
In the hell that erupted on Sept. 11, 2001, police and fire dispatchers remained calm and compassionate - but were helpless to aid doomed victims enveloped by the shadow of death at the World Trade Center. Almost none of the 130 callers who dialed 911 was told to evacuate the twin towers. And again and again, the callers were assured that help was coming and to stay put, emergency recordings revealed yesterday.
"We're on - we're on the way," a dispatcher told a frantic caller on the 105th floor of the south tower.
"We will get to you. I can't stay on the line, sir. We'll get to you as soon as we can," the dispatcher said at 9:36 that morning. "I swear to you. I swear to you, we'll get somebody up to you."
Twenty-three minutes later, the south tower fell. In the end, 2,749 people would be killed.
Only 28 of the 130 people who called 911 from inside the World Trade Center have been identified by city officials. Of those 28 callers, all but one died.
The partial recordings released by court order yesterday - running 8 hours, 35 minutes - include only the voices of police, fire and Emergency Medical Service dispatchers and operators.
The city has refused to release the voices of those trapped or their identities without their families' consent.
But even without half of the tragic story, the desperation, panic and heroism that took place are evident.
Calls flooded into 911 from the moment American Airlines Flight 11 exploded into the north tower at 8:46 a.m.
"We just had a plane or something crash into the World Trade Center," a dispatcher reported at 8:47 a.m. "... this is no BS."
"My God, my God. They said an airplane crashed over here. ... Oh, Lord," another Fire Department operator told a colleague. "This makes me feel so bad, I can't take it. ... Poor babies."
Seconds later, another call came in from the north tower.
"What building are you in, sir, One or Two?" the operator asked. "... sit tight. Do not leave, okay? There is a fire, or an explosion or something in the building. All right? I want you to stay where you are."
"We're there," the operator reassured later. "We're coming up to get you ... just sit tight."
Sirens wailed in the background as callers looked for information. Amid the chaos, the dispatchers generally remained calm, even when they weren't sure what had happened.
"Did you hear it was a confirmed helicopter or a plane?" a dispatcher asked an operator just before 9 a.m.
"They said it's a helicopter," the operator said. "They're not sure. But most people are saying helicopter."
The horror escalated quickly, and the city's 911 system, which Mayor Bloomberg has since vowed to improve, became overwhelmed.
At 9:05 a.m., an operator told another dispatcher about a call from a woman at a bank near Ground Zero.
"She states that on the northwest side there's a woman hanging from - an unidentified person hanging from the top of the building."
"We have quite a few calls," the dispatcher said.
"I know," the operator responded. "Jesus Christ ... I can imagine. I can only imagine. It's chaos here."
At 9:08 a.m., five minutes after the second plane slammed into the south tower, a dispatcher told a caller: "Okay. All right. If it gets really bad, call us back."
"I understand, I understand your panic and your fear," a dispatcher said. "We are in the building and we are doing the best we can."
"Remain calm. Stop using up all your oxygen in the room," another dispatcher advised.
When the operators told panicked callers to stay put, they were following emergency protocol that stipulated only the areas immediately around fires in skyscrapers should be evacuated. No one initially believed the towers would collapse.
But as the magnitude of the attacks became clear, some operators seemed to know that the massive rescue effort could not save everyone.
After telling a caller on the 86th floor of the north tower to "stay calm," an operator added: "I feel so bad that we can't do more. You don't know. Oh, boy. God forbid."
Another dispatcher is heard talking to a colleague: "It's an awful, awful, awful thing to call somebody and tell them you're going to die."
Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said yesterday the NYPD operators "displayed professionalism and compassion under the most trying of circumstances, often staying on the line with anguished callers until the very end."
The New York Times and relatives of Sept. 11 victims sued to get the recordings released. An appeals court ruled last year that the calls of victims and their identities should be kept private.
A New York State Supreme Court Justice ruled Wednesday that names of victims spoken or spelled out should be released. The city appealed the decision and the case is pending.
The parents of Christopher Hanley, one of 28 people who identified himself on the calls, released the audio of his call this week. Another family member, a Brooklyn father, told the Daily News on Monday that he would listen to the 911 call that his son made. But he feared the unedited recording could be too painful for his wife.
Several victims' family members pledged to continue their battle yesterday at a midtown law office, while offering praise for the dispatchers.
"I really feel for the dispatchers," said Maureen Santora, whose firefighter son, Christopher Santora, 23, was killed. "I don't know how they must have done their job."
Of the 20 dispatchers who answered calls on 9/11, only eight are still working.
"I don't think the City of New York could've had a better, more professional group of workers on the job that day," said dispatchers union President David Rosenzwig.
"These are unsung heroes."
source: http://www.nydailynews.com/news/local/story/404871p-342888c.html 1apr2006