Skip to comments.The Great Rescue Of September 11 /How heroes saved countless lives when terror struck
Posted on 11/11/2001 2:14:18 AM PST by kattracks
Nearly 5,000 people perished in 100 minutes on Sept. 11 a loss of life the enormity of which is matched only by its cruel and relentless speed.
So began the city's darkest hours.
But at the same time a series of interlocking heroics saved lives by the dozens, and by the hundreds, and just one at a time, in what may be the greatest rescue effort in American history.
An estimated 25,000 people escaped from the World Trade Center from the time the first hijacked plane crashed into Tower 1, at 8:47 a.m., until both towers crumbled to the ground.
Thousands of firefighters, cops, medics and civilians assisted in the rescue; hundreds gave their lives.
Many of those who took part dwell on the people they couldn't get out. "When you think about the 5,000 who died, you always wish you'd done more," said Sgt. Dominick Amendolare of the Emergency Service Unit.
Still, he acknowledges, "When you sit back and look at it, a good job was done by everybody."
Two months after the attack, as the shock fades and grieving continues, authorities are piecing together the events of those first hours, chronicling scenarios of who was where, what they did, how people died and how an astounding number of people survived.
Those official reports full of dry detail, and dozens of personal accounts, still vivid after eight weeks, form this anatomy of a rescue.
The Port Authority estimates about 50,000 people are in the World Trade Center during a typical workday; the agency believes that when the attack began, there were about 25,000 in the twin towers, and thousands more coming off PATH trains, heading to the subway and strolling in the 75 stores in the mall.
Transit Police Officers Michael Mazziotti and Eric Romero were on the 20th floor of 1 World Trade Center. They had escorted Janet Kent, 54, from the subway station to her office at Blue Cross-Blue Shield because her motorized wheelchair was damaged as she exited the E train.
"The building shook and the cops said, 'Get out, we've been hit by a plane,'" Kent said. "They got my co-worker, who has asthma, all the way down, then came all the way back up and got people out. They saved many lives."
Mazziotti said he yelled at those who stopped to grab coats or handbags.
"The floor emptied in about 15 minutes and we went up to 26, stopping at each floor to make sure floors cleared," Mazziotti said. "We walked around. Our radios were dead. We helped people down the stairs, told them to cover mouths with scarves, handkerchiefs, in the smoke. At the 18th floor, I met firefighters from Engine 6. ... They continued up."
Thousands of people were moving through the lobby of Tower 1 at the moment a fireball came down from the crashed plane, said Port Authority Police Capt. Anthony Whitaker, who was there greeting the familiar faces he saw every day.
He called for a full alert, and within 10 minutes 200 Port Authority cops arrived. The Port Authority and FDNY Deputy Chief Peter Hayden ordered the entire World Trade Center complex evacuated.
Engine 10 and Ladder 10 on Liberty St. were the first units to arrive; four of the firehouse members would later perish.
At 8:50, a third alarm was sent by Battalion Chief Joseph Pfeifer. "We have a lot of floors on fire at the World Trade Center," he said. Port Authority emergency cops were assigned to fire chiefs and firefighters who started up the stairwells.
The first NYPD Emergency Service Unit to arrive, ESU Truck 1, pulled up to Tower 1 at 8:50.
"There were dead bodies in the plaza, but it still looked nice, with aluminium chairs set up for a ceremony or something; the chairs weren't disturbed yet," Amendolare said. "But when we got in it was chaotic and debris started falling, and at every thunderous roar people would stop in their tracks."
ESU cops worked their way up, checking the floors, giving first aid to those with respiratory problems or chest pains, and reaching the 31st floor.
"The stairwell was packed but orderly," Amendolare said. "The civilians were telling us to be careful, God bless you; civilians were helping each other."
Four floors above, at 9:26 a.m., Ladder 3 Capt. Patrick Brown reported "numerous burn victims on the stairs." Brown, a Fire Department legend who was memorialized at St. Patrick's Cathedral on Friday, remains among the missing.
Stop the Train
PATH Deputy Director Victoria Cross Kelly was on the concourse when she saw a dozen cops ordering people to leave the building; she immediately called trainmaster Richie Moran at the control center in New Jersey. Unaware of the magnitude of the crisis, she nevertheless knew commuters had to be stopped before disembarking from trains and flooding the concourse area.
Moran directed an incoming train with some 900 passengers through the Trade Center station and back to Hoboken. He told the crew of another train to unload at Exchange Place, the last stop in New Jersey, and bring the train into the Trade Center for evacuations. The Port Authority estimates about 3,000 people were removed from the danger zone.
Meanwhile, ESU Inspector Ronald Wasson divided his officers into four teams of five or six, with two teams entering each tower. They carried rescue harnesses, airpacks, ropes, hand tools, hydraulic tools and medical equipment. After the second tower was hit at 9:07 a.m., and it became clear the disaster was an attack, they brought machine guns and extra handguns.
The two teams in Tower 2 made their way to the 20th floor, telling employees to remain calm and orderly, giving oxygen to civilians and out-of-breath firefighters. About 500 FDNY members were now in the towers.
Firefighters Joseph Graziano of Ladder 13 and Bill Casey of Engine 21 each lent a shoulder to an injured man and took him down the stairs, saying, "We're not going to leave you" over and over. They got him out a minute before the building came crashing down at 10 a.m.
Martin Glynn, 57, a trader at Eurobrokers on the 84th floor of Tower 2, said he made his way down to the 40s and looked out a window to see pools of blood the size of blankets in the plaza, and enormous flames.
"A guy jumped ... we made eye contact," Glynn said.
When he and the other escapees got to the lobby, "I began to shudder, knowing what was out there. Then, I saw Officer Moira Smith. She was intense, but calm.
"'Don't look, keep moving,' she told us; she was shielding you from seeing the destruction. People would have backed up and caused a logjam, she was looking everybody in the eye. No doubt she saw the situation and thought people would stop. She saved hundreds of people."
Smith, of the 13th Precinct, was last heard from somewhere between the fifth and third floors, assisting an asthma patient. She didn't make it out.
"Heroism is not only running into flames," Glynn said. "It's doing your job in the face of horror."
Also in Tower 2 was Richard Rescorla, 62, a retired Army colonel whose battlefield valor in Vietnam was celebrated in the the 1992 best seller "We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young."
Rescorla, head of security at Morgan Stanley retail operations on the 44th floor, ordered 2,700 employees out, using a megaphone, as soon as Tower 1 was hit. He profanely ignored announcements over the public address system telling people Tower 2 was secure, to remain in place.
Rescorla had conducted regular evacuation drills and "his calm coaxing of the staff helped people maintain their composure," said Richard Mainey, head of corporate security for Morgan Stanley. Only six of their employees including Rescorla died in the attack.
"Without his professionalism, the outcome could have been much worse," Mainey said.
From the 20th floor, ESU Sgt. Rodney Gillis must have known a collapse was imminent. "He radioed, 'Clear the air, emergency transmission,'" Wasson said.
When the building came down, Gillis and 9 ESU cops died in cascading horror.
Now certain they had only a matter of minutes, the cops and firefighters across the plaza in Tower 1 scrambled to evacuate people.
"I just kept telling them to continue moving," said ESU Officer Dave Norman. "I was proud of the people. I was looking at their faces. I don't know if this one made it out or didn't."
On the 31st floor, Norman encountered Rescue 1 Firefighter David Weiss, yelling for medical gear.
"There were four firemen having chest pains. They were on the floor. We administered oxygen and took vital signs," Norman said.
Meanwhile, down below, clearing the exits became more difficult.
Port Authority Police Capt. Kathy Mazza began shooting out the floor-to-ceiling glass walls on the mezzanine of Tower 1 to allow people to escape.
"She evacuated hundreds of people," said PA spokesman Alan Hicks, "She stopped the bottleneck at the revolving doors." Mazza would be one of 37 Port Authority cops to die.
Norman said his team members were rigging slings with electrical tape and oxygen bottles for the stricken firefighters.
"Weiss said they were attempting to make a push to go higher. ... No one got out from Rescue 1," Norman said.
At about the same time, members of Chinatown's Ladder 6 were working their way down from the 27th floor with Josephine Harris, who was in a wheelchair. Port Authority cop David Lim was assisting.
Firefighter Bill Butler handed off his tools, and slung Harris' arm around his shoulder as he put his hand around her waist.
Another firefighter, Tommy Falco, was coaxing her. "Come on, come on, Josephine we have to keep going," he said.
At the fourth floor, the building began to crack and cave in on them. They wound up on top of a mountain of debris.
"We were on the sixth floor, and we were standing on what was now the top of the building," said Lim.
Josephine Harris and her rescuers all survived. She is now known as the Guardian Angel of Ladder 6.
Norman said he also passed Port Authority Public Safety Director Fred Morrone on one of the floors.
"We're getting out; building 2 collapsed," Norman told him.
"Yeah, I know; thanks," Morrone said, staying put. He never made it out.
Crystal Tyson, 31, who worked on the 49th floor of Tower 1, fell as she fled down the stairs and was hyperventilating.
"A maintenance man or engineer was helping me; then in the lobby I ran into Transit Police Officer Ramon Suarez. ... Each of them took my arm; Suarez sat me on the curb. He got oxygen from an ambulance and gave another lady water," Tyson said.
"He told me to calm down, everything's going to be all right; then he said, 'I'll be right back.'"
Suarez rescued another, returned to the building again and never came back.
"I never saw him again," Tyson said. "I remember his face. He was wearing a gold chain and smiling, trying to make me calm down, but he was serious. He was upbeat and caring."
Over the Water
Kenneth Davis, 39, an EMS paramedic, went to the Staten Island ferry terminal at the Battery as soon as he saw the first plane hit and made his way to Ground Zero.
"You could hear the alarms of the firefighters' airpacks, signaling they were out of air, you could hear moaning and you couldn't get in to help," he said.
"We pointed people in the right direction; they were running into walls, hurt, people lying there with broken legs, hundreds of people. We had to drag them or carry them.
"We told them to go down the block and don't stop .... I stepped on an amputated leg, a leg with a shoe and ragged piece of pants. An upper part of a body was lying nearby. I taped up my knee. We were giving oxygen and bandages, using their clothing to stop the bleeding."
At the terminal, he put people on ferries to get them to Staten Island hospitals, working until 10:30 that night. "Everyone worked together and got it done on such a scale," Davis said.
EMS Emergency Medical Technician Michael Kenna said he and partner Charlie Vitale got at least 50 bloodied people into ambulances.
"The magnitude was amazing, but we reacted to each one," Kenna said. "You don't join this business to lose patients. Just one loss is too much."
Steven Craver, a St. Vincent's Medical Center paramedic, pulled up outside Tower 1 and saw two women, one with third-degree burns, the other with a broken wrist, the bone protruding.
"I did as much as could, rinsed the burns and wrapped the wrist to stop her from bleeding to death," Craver said. He placed those two and four other victims in an ambulance and sped to the hospital.
He dropped them off at the emergency room and turned around, grabbing water and filter masks, sheets and towels, fully expecting to transport many more burn victims.
But as he returned around 10:30, Tower 1 collapsed. Craver treated the wounded on the sidewalk before packing his ambulance "guys jumped on the running boards" and speeding away from the debris avalanche.
Nearby, other rescuers also improvised.
ESU Officers Mark DeMarco and William Beaury went to evacuate the Customs House, and when Tower 1 collapsed debris crashed through the roof. The cops escaped and sent people down an alley to Vesey St. and toward safety.
Police Officer Ricardo Cabrera fired his pistol seven times at a plate glass door, allowing 60 panicked people to escape from 33 Maiden Lane, which had filled with rubble, smoke and cement dust.
Officer Ryan Baldwin of the 1st Precinct helped get injured people on a city bus. "The driver was cool; he took 40 people to Beekman Hospital," Baldwin said.
Then a man approached him. His face was cut, his nose torn off. He was saying, "I can't see." Baldwin had the man hold onto his belt as he led him through the dust cloud to a patrol car.
'Everything We Had'
At 10 a.m., the order came over for any uniformed personnel to report to Battery Park City to move evacuated civilians from the area.
"We responded with everything we had," said Capt. Kenneth Kelleher of the NYPD harbor unit. Sixteen police boats went to the seawall on the west side of the tip of Manhattan, the North and South coves, to take people to New Jersey.
He said each craft made about 10 trips across the Hudson River. The unit's 55-foot launch holds about 40 people. Smaller boats hold 20.
"We took 3,000 to 4,000 people across," Kelleher said. "Our main focus was to make sure people were safe. We asked people to comfort each other. Some people were rushing to get on, and they fell in the water.
"People were stranded; there were no rails," Kelleher said. "They were wandering around. Some were injured. We took 100 who were injured with bruises and cuts."
Staten Island ferries, which can hold about 6,000 people per boat, New Jersey ferries, dinner and tour boats, and 35 tugboats all joined the effort. Coast Guard Lt. Mike Day estimates that half a million people were taken from lower Manhattan by 6 p.m., the bulk of them in the first hours after the towers collapsed.
Buses Join the Effort
Transit Police Chief Michael Ansbro ordered buses from the 14th St. garage to line up on West St., and used them to evacuate much of lower Manhattan.
"Fifty to 60 buses went back and forth to Brooklyn." Ansbro said. "We certainly saved people from being in that environment. All the buildings were emptying. Hundreds of thousands were coming out, so it saved possible stampeding."
He remembers seeing a cop walk out of the smoky haze.
"It was the most pathetic sight," Ansbro said. "He had a foot of soot on his shoulders, and he was crying that people were stuck on the subway."
Ansbro and other officers followed the cop's footprints in the dust to the E train, where it enters the Trade Center near the PATH. No one was trapped down there.
"We had given the signal and the TA stopped all the trains," Ansbro said.
Cops also directed people through the subways to Broadway.
"The mere fact of keeping people away, stopping traffic, getting people out of the buildings, saved lives," Ansbro said.
The Police Department lost 23 officers that day.
So Many Affected
Eight paramedics and emergency medical technicians died in the disaster. Patrick Bahnken, head of the paramedics' union, estimates 2,500 patients were taken by ambulance from Ground Zero.
The FDNY said 5,830 people were treated in 73 hospitals in the city; about 500 were admitted with serious injuries.
About 1,000 others were treated in New York hospitals outside the city, and New Jersey emergency rooms treated 826 patients, according to the city Fire Department.
Emergency workers treated 243 people at M*A*S*H-style stations set up all over downtown.
"The sheer bravery and courage shown during this rescue and evacuation mission, especially in the face of our losses, can never be duplicated," said Fire Commissioner Thomas Von Essen.
His department, which lost 343 members, can document that members got as high as the 55th floor. Some may have gotten higher, but transmissions from handheld radios used to track firefighters' locations were lost.
FDNY sources said some rescue units may have used rolled-up hoses and begun dousing the inferno in Tower 1; searchers found burned hoses in the debris, and some people reported that water was being put on the fire.
Back From the Dead
Pasquale Buzzelli and Lenny Ardizzone were returned to the living on the afternoon of Sept. 11. They were among the last of the rescued.
Buzzelli, 32, project manager for the Port Authority, was descending Tower 1 with a group of people when, at the 22nd floor, the building began to sway, and then collapsed.
He dove into the corner of a stairwell, all 6-feet-2 and 275 pounds, in the fetal position.
He and Ginelle Guzman survived; 14 others with them died.
"I knew once the walls cracked the building was going down," Buzzelli said. He wound up on a pile, waking up at 2:30 p.m., four hours later. He had fractured his right foot, and could not get down from the mountain of steel and concrete. He faded in and out of consciousness.
He heard firefighters calling someone's name and said, "Help! I'm up here!"
"Holy Christ, we have a civilian up here," a firefighter yelled.
Five firefighters from Staten Island's Rescue 5 came up the mountain of rubble and strapped him in a cradle of ropes.
"They said, 'We're going to get you out of here,'" Buzzelli recalled. He was passed down from one firefighter to another until he reached the bottom of the pile.
Then they strapped him to a stretcher and passed him along out of the rubble field.
"It's hard for me to believe myself; I never believed in miracles before ... but I do now," Buzzelli said.
Guzman, 32, would be the last person rescued. She was pulled from the rubble at 12:30 p.m. Sept. 12, some 26 hours later. She is undergoing rehabilitation for her legs.
Ardizzone, a maintenance supervisor, was trapped 30 feet beneath 7 World Trade Center with broken bones in his arms and legs and his head split open.
At about 3 p.m., Firefighter Brian Harvey from Engine 236 heard his cries for help and crawled through a 3-foot-wide opening into a crater. Ardizzone was 300 feet back, perched on the edge of a 40-foot drop, covered in rubble.
Harvey rolled Ardizzone onto his back, and Firefighters Peter Strahl and Anthony Palminteri stabilized his broken limbs, and crawled to a clear area where they splinted Ardizzone's bones amid flames.
After an hour, they got a stretcher basket in and carried him out. Twenty minutes later, at 5:25, 7 World Trade Center collapsed.
"Those firemen are angels from heaven," said Ardizzone's wife, Barbara. "I can't wait for the day that Lenny is well enough so that we can go hug them. I pray for those guys every night."
Now, that is an American.
We CANNOT let the "networks" SMOTHER this information.
ALL of these stories MUST be told, for generations to come!
May God bless these heroes!