Dramatic and previously unreleased details of the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York have been made public. The release follows a court order that overruled the city’s efforts to keep some records of the World Trade Centre attack private.
The audio tapes, transcripts of emergency workers’ radio dispatches and oral histories by rescuers recount the harrowing and grim moments when thousands of people were trapped and died in the flames and debris of the twin towers.
“Can anybody hear me? I’m a civilian. I’m trapped,” says one panicked voice on a Fire Department radio dispatch tape. “I can’t breathe much longer. Save me. I don’t have much air. Please help me. I can barely breathe.”
On another tape, an emergency worker shouts: “The World Trade Center has collapsed. Urgent. Urgent. Everybody get out.”
The city’s Fire Department released roughly 15 hours of radio transmissions and oral histories by more than 500 firefighters and paramedics taken following the attacks, which killed almost 3,000 people in the towers, including 343 firefighters.
Some family members have voiced hopes that the transcripts and tapes would help determine whether doomed firefighters failed to hear orders to evacuate or chose to keep trying to save people in the rubble despite the deadly consequences.
The city initially sought not to release many of the transcripts, arguing that some oral histories were made with promises of confidentiality and that some details would upset the families of those who died.
After legal action by The New York Times and several victims’ families, a state Court of Appeals earlier this year ordered the release of much of the information.
Some tapes detail efforts by frustrated emergency units to reach one another. Controversy has arisen over failures of the police and fire departments to communicate with one another and possible problems with rescuers’ radios.
Amid heavy static and sirens on one tape, a dispatcher can be heard saying: “You’re totally unreadable. Your radio’s not coming in.”
“Right now we’re all alone,” says another voice on a Fire Department tape. “The second building came down. I can’t see so we have no contact with anybody at this time.”
Calls to other units are greeted with silences, and others with frantic cries and complaints that the smoke and debris was too thick to reach the attack site.
“Have them mobilize the Army! We need the Army in Manhattan!” cried one voice.
“Everybody try to calm down,” another voice responded.
One paramedic recalls seeing a street next to the Trade Center littered with body parts. An ambulance driver can be heard saying: “All I want to know is where is the nearest triage? We got an ambulance full of people, and we are being bombarded with so many we can’t handle.”
An oral history by Chief Fire Marshal Louis Garcia recounts how he thought he heard gunshots from the collapsed buildings.
“Police officers that were trapped were shooting their guns off to try to draw attention to where they were trapped.”