March 31, 2006
More than four years after terrorists attacked the World Trade Center in New York, voices from inside the towers are now being heard. The calls poured into New York City's dispatch center on September 11th. Transcripts of tapes of 130 of them were released Friday. Listeners can hear the voices of the operators, but not those who made the calls--the words of the victims were considered too emotional to be released without family consent.
"Sir, if you can get out of the building, then get out of the building. If you can't, just remain there and someone will get you," said one operator.
Calls flooded New York's 911 center. Dispatchers were audibly overwhelmed.
"My God, my God," exclaimed one operator. "They said an airplane crashed over there. Oh, lord. This makes me feel so bad, I can't take it...Poor baby."
The calls reveal confusion, and a lack of communication. Some dispatchers had no idea the towers had fallen. They advised victims to escape, others to stay put. One recommends opening the windows, when the windows of the World Trade Center didn't open.
"You do what you think is best," advised one operator. "We are getting millions-millions of calls, sir. All I can say to do is stay near a window. Stay low, put a towel by the door."
The tapes were released after the New York times and a group of family members sued.
"We were dead men walking on 911," said Al Fuentes, a 9/11 survivor. "And I believe we're dead men walking now, still."
What would have saved lives, then and in the future say survivors and family members, is better systems and planning.
"They had no structure to communicate this to the fire department," said Sally Regenhard, the mother of a 9/11 victim. "Even if they did, there was no way for the fire department people on the ground to communicate upstairs to firefighters. 9/11 was a disgrace!"
Families say they will continue to fight to get the voices of the callers released. The City of New York has repeatedly argued that the release of the audio tapes re-victimizes other families. So far just one family has chosen to release the words of their son who died in the terrorist attacks.