WORLD / America

Cries for help out of 9/11 tapes
(AP)
Updated: 2006-04-01 09:26

American 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.

Sally Regenhard, holds a photo of her son Christian, a New York City probationary firefighter who died on Sept. 11, 2001 while her husband Al Regenhard listens to compact discs of emergency calls on that day that were released in New York, Friday March 31, 2006.[AP]
Sally Regenhard, holds a photo of her son Christian, a New York City probationary firefighter who died on Sept. 11, 2001 while her husband Al Regenhard listens to compact discs of emergency calls on that day that were released in New York, Friday March 31, 2006.[AP]

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 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 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. "I know it's hard to breathe. I know it is."

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 that a helicopter had hit one of the towers.

The operators managed generally to maintain their composure even as word spread that what initially appeared to be a tragic accident was actually a choreographed terrorist attack involving two planes and both towers.
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