Thursday, July 12, 2012

Building Narratives

September 11, 2001, Chicago Tribune, Skyline symbols of economic might, Engineers shocked by towers’ collapse, By Blair Kamin,
September 12, 2001, Los Angeles Times, 2 Planes Hit Twin Towers at the Weakest Spot,
September, 12 2001, Jerusalem Post, WTC architect: Collapse 'unbelievable' by Michal Meyer and Stuart Winer,
September 21, 2001, New York Times, The Evacuation That Kept a Horrible Toll From Climbing Higher, by Dean E. Murphy and Clifford J. Levy,

October 4, 2001, The [New Jersey] Suburban, Former tennis champ tells of making narrow escape, by Vincent Todaro, Staff Writer,

October 4, 2001, 60 Minutes, Inside WTC 1, Stranger Returns Louis Lesce’s Briefcase, Two Businessmen Carry Disabled Woman To Safety,

September 16, 2001, The New York Times, Tower Disaster Forces Two Men to Make Difficult Decisions,
by Mary Williams Walsh

NEW YORK -- John Paul DeVito was just sitting down to some paperwork and a second cup of coffee after meeting with a client. Harry Ramos, just back from a week's leave after the death of his mother-in-law, was exchanging greetings with his assistant.

Then, at 8:48 a.m. Tuesday, their building, 1 World Trade Center, lurched violently, like a ship in high seas. DeVito was nearly knocked off his chair. Ramos braced himself in a doorway.

Lighting fixtures pulled loose from the ceiling, crashing on the floor. Papers flew. Smoke poured in through holes that suddenly opened overhead. Several employees screamed.

DeVito and Ramos had no idea what had happened. A bomb, everybody guessed. One man rushed to the firm's south-facing windows and looked out, only to see a crowd gathering 87 floors below in Battery Park City, staring up at the tower.

Neither DeVito nor Ramos realized there was a gaping gash in the glass and steel just above them, where a Boeing 767 had slammed into the building. All they knew was that their office at the May Davis Group, a small investment bank, was filling with smoke.

DeVito called his wife, Marilyn, and told her he and his staff were in danger. "I love you, Mar," he said. "I love our kids. Take care of the kids."

She didn't answer. She was crying.

DeVito, his firm's chief operating officer, and Ramos, the head trader, were two ordinary people among the thousands caught in the World Trade Center on Tuesday morning, and like countless others they were thrust into chaos and forced to make extraordinary choices. One chose to lead his own staff out of the building, troubled as he did by the thought that he was abandoning his duty to safeguard the firm, even answer the phones. The other chose to stop and try to save the life of a stranger.

Now, one is at home, ecstatic about life itself and wondering how he could have dreamed of staying at his office command post instead of guiding his staff down the stairs to safety. He is, he says, a different person, able to recognize the courage and selflessness in regular people. The other is missing in the rubble, memorialized in the constant tremble in the voices of his family and friends.

The men, each with 25 years on Wall Street, trying to slug out a living in a bear market: DeVito, the 45-year-old son of immigrants, with two school-age daughters, living in Chappaqua. And Ramos, whose 46th birthday is today, the father of two sons, one 5, the other 4 months old, living in Newark. Before entering the securities business, he trained to be a carpenter.

About a thousand feet below, Owen May, one of the firm's two founders, was driving up in his car. He heard an explosion, but assumed it had come from the construction site across from the World Trade Center. Then he glanced up.

May began counting the floors up, trying to calculate whether the billowing smoke was above or below his firm. Grabbing his cellular phone, he called the office. A sales associate answered, in panic.

"I don't know what to do!" she exclaimed. "There's a bunch of us up here."

"I know somebody will come to you," May said. Then the line went dead.

May stared at the building, screaming, "My people! My people!" As he watched, the second plane slammed into the other tower.

Upstairs, DeVito was trying to corral his 12 frightened employees, shouting that they had to walk down.

Some thought they should stay. Others agreed to leave but wanted to gather their things. But which things? What to take down 87 floors?

Some grabbed fire extinguishers. Some tried to pack up their desktop computers. Some ripped up their shirts to make face masks. DeVito found a gallon jug of water and helped people wet their makeshift bandannas. Then he decided to bring along the jug.

Everybody made for the stairs except for Hong Zhu, an investment banker, who was frozen with fear. He told the others he would wait for help. Ramos cajoled him to the stairwell door.

Then DeVito had misgivings. Should he lead his employees down to safety? Or stay? He decided to take the lead in going down. The others formed a human chain behind him, each putting a hand on the shoulder of the person in front, and descended into the gathering smoke.

Nine floors down, the stairwell ended. Emerging into a hallway to look for the next flight of stairs, the group saw wires dangling from cracked ceilings. Sparks popped. Small fires burned everywhere. Office workers were milling in confusion. The smoke was thickening.

DeVito's group began to lose its will. DeVito was still thinking he should be upstairs. He said so to a trainee, Jason Braunstein.

"John! What about your family?" the young man admonished him.

"How do you know what to do?" thought DeVito. Was it his duty to keep his employees together? Or should he just get out of the building as fast as he could?

He decided to herd his employees into the next stairwell. But some straggled, and Ramos was staying behind, directing confused strangers into the stairwell.

More people were crowding into the stairwell, though they stopped to let burn victims pass. In the crush, the May Davis employees let go of each other, and DeVito soon realized he couldn't see everybody any more. He pounded the walls with frustration.

Below the 50th floor, the May Davis group spotted the first firefighters, rushing up the stairs lugging oxygen tanks and other heavy equipment. DeVito thought he would never forget their unflinching expressions.

"Do you want some water?" he asked, offering his jug.

"I don't need no water," one answered and kept going.

Braunstein touched DeVito's arm. "John," he said, "this is a good sign. They wouldn't be sending these men up if it wasn't safe."

Back on the 53rd floor, Zhu was trailing far behind. He saw his firm's head trader, Ramos, leaning over a very heavy man, named Victor, who seemed unable to move. Zhu stopped, wanting to help.

"Why don't you lean on both of our shoulders?" Zhu suggested. They helped Victor to his feet and struggled with him down one flight. Then Zhu saw that the elevator appeared to be working. They descended to the 44th floor. But there it stopped.

They started struggling down the stairs again. When Ramos went ahead to scout, Victor cried out in fear. "Harry, please help," he begged.

"Don't worry, we're not leaving you," Ramos said. On the 39th floor, Ramos spotted an open door -- a credit union. They decided to go in and rest.

The phone rang while they were sitting there. Zhu answered. It was a customer, worried about his account.

"What do you mean accounts?" shouted Zhu. "We need help!" But the caller kept on demanding whether his money was safe. Zhu hung up on him.

DeVito was glad to be alive, glad he had decided to help others to safety, thrilled to have watched other ordinary people performing simple acts of courage under tremendous pressure.

"If you had seen what it was like in that stairway, you'd be proud," he said later. "There was no gender, no race, no religion. It was everyone, unequivocally, helping each other.

"I'm sick and tired of hearing on Wall Street that the good guy always finishes last. It's not just that everyone is out for money.

"I'm so proud of being American," he added. "Does this make us stronger? Damn right.

In the days since, May Davis employees have spent their energies checking in with one another, meeting at homes to exchange stories. Most of all, they have been calling the city's hospitals and checking the lists of Trade Center survivors, trying to find Ramos.

September 21, 2001, New York Times, The Evacuation That Kept a Horrible Toll From Climbing Higher, by Dean E. Murphy and Clifford J. Levy,

When two airplanes struck the towers of the World Trade Center 15 minutes apart on Sept. 11, there was virtually no hope for hundreds of people on the 30 or so floors immediately consumed by flames or cut off from escape routes.

But over the next 60 to 90 minutes, with glass and twisted metal falling from the sky and people struggling simply to understand what was happening, the fate of people on scores of other floors was at stake in a pair of buildings whose previous experience with an emergency evacuation had been judged as seriously flawed.

Now, 10 days after the assault and with the benefit of reconstructing a partial sequence of events through interviews with rescuers and evacuees, a sizable truth is emerging and sinking in: though some 6,000 are still missing, with most presumed dead, thousands more were evacuated safely before both of the buildings collapsed, the authorities say.

For some, escape came through planning; for others, by virtue of improvisation. Luck certainly played a role for some, and confusion just as clearly doomed others. But throughout, calm prevailed for most.

By most measures, then, the exodus — through lit stairwells and in orderly, often courteous fashion — was a vast improvement over the chaotic flight from the two buildings following the terrorist bombing in 1993, fire officials and witnesses said.

"I dodged the bullet twice," said Michael Lyons, a stock trader for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter on the 60th floor of the south tower, who was also at his desk in 1993 when a bomb exploded under the trade center. Mr. Lyons was coming down the elevator when the first plane struck the neighboring tower.

"I keep saying it, and I firmly believe it: If we didn't have the bombing eight years ago, I think people would have been more lax about it," he said. "There were warning systems and sirens and an evacuation plan. There is no doubt about it, we absolutely learned a lot from 1993."

Michael G. Cherkasky, president of Kroll Inc., a security consultant for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and Larry Silverstein, the developer who took control of the center in July, agreed.

"We have looked at it objectively — the stairways were burned, there just weren't opportunities to escape for certain people — and then we looked at who we think could have gotten out and, overwhelmingly, those people got out," Mr. Cherkasky said.

There was, undeniably, regret over decisions that produced deadly consequences.

An announcement over the public address system in 2 World Trade Center, the second tower to be struck, some time after the first plane attack said the danger had been confined to the other tower. That sent some people back to their desks. Others continued to move downstairs, but did so in a more relaxed way, waiting for elevators instead of tackling the stairs and taking the time to turn off computers, gather purses and briefcases, or use the bathroom.

Fifteen minutes after the attack on the north tower, the second plane hit the south tower. The south tower collapsed less than an hour later.

"I know for a fact that announcement killed at least four people in my company," said Steve Miller, who worked on the 80th floor at Mizuho Capital Markets. "They were the senior Japanese management. When the announcement came on, they went back up. The rest of us kept going down."

Robert Eisenhardt, a system administrator at Aon Consulting, a division of the Aon Corporation, said some of the 200 missing Aon employees were undoubtedly those who chose to take the elevators after hearing that the building was safe.

"We yelled as much as we could, `Time to go!' and then went down," said Mr. Eisenhardt, who was a member of the company's fire emergency team. "There were those who stayed behind to guide the others out. They stood by the elevators to help get people on."

Roselyn Braud, who was working in the subterranean operations control center in the south tower, said she tried to urge people who called from the elevators to use the stairs instead.

"We told them to use the stairway, don't go in the elevator," she said. "Get to the nearest exit out. When our tower got hit, we were still talking on the phones with people."

A former Port Authority official said it was standard procedure under a protocol with the Fire Department to first evacuate only those people who were immediately in danger or near the danger.

Mr. Silverstein, the developer, said it was not known who made the public address announcement in the south tower, but a security guard at the center said it was the function of the fire command officers in the building's main lobby.

Mr. Cherkasky said that with debris falling from the north tower, and firefighters, police and medical personnel arriving at the center, there was a good argument for keeping people put in the south tower.

"At this particular stage, while some who were watching could have said, `It's a terrorist attack,' it certainly didn't cross anybody's mind that there would be another plane," he said. "When we are trying to reconstruct the assessment, we think that the assessment, from the facts that were known, was right. Obviously, tragically, a completely unforeseeable event occurred."

But as the unforeseeable unfolded, interviews with dozens of survivors indicate, much that was remarkable took place: a blind man made it 78 floors down to safety, even crossing through ankle-deep water at the end; one Aon employee who was on the 101st floor of the south tower ignored the announcement and made it to the street before the building became the first to fall; order was so strictly enforced on stairwells that anyone who tried to cut the line was reprimanded; Morgan Stanley, with 3,500 workers at the center, including many on several floors of the south tower, lost just a handful of people; and people even made it out of the north tower after its twin had collapsed.

In 1993, the stairwells were dark, ventilation was poor and people spent hours trapped in elevators or trying to get down the stairs. Later, a new fire alarm system was installed, battery-powered lights were mounted in the stairwells and glow-in-the-dark paint was even used on the stairwell walls.

Determining with any precision how many people made it out of the two buildings is difficult because Port Authority officials say that even now it is not known how many people — workers, visitors, deliverymen — were inside when the first plane struck at 8:48 a.m.

The Port Authority estimated that as many as 30,000 people could be in the two towers at the height of a typical workday.

But Sept. 11 was one of the first days of school for many children whose parents took them to school before going to work. It was also Primary Day, and some workers undoubtedly stopped to vote on their way to work. Workers in the buildings said the morning rush on a typical day occurred between 8:30 and 9 a.m., but might have been delayed that morning.

On the other hand, thousands of people visited the buildings every day, and some had already arrived that morning. About 100 people were eating breakfast at the World Trade Center Club on the 107th floor of the north tower. Six customers had also arrived for a sales demonstration at the 78th-floor suite of Quantum ATL, which makes backup tapes of corporate data, in the same building.

When American Airlines Flight 11 struck about 20 floors above them, David Frank and Michael Hingson, salesmen for Quantum ATL, felt the building lurch violently.

There was smoke in the hallways and unthinkable confusion. Mr. Frank, a salesman visiting from Los Angeles, joined Mr. Hingson and the customers and headed for the stairs. The door was blocked, but a building official with a towel covering his mouth and nose quickly pried it open.

Mr. Hingson, who is blind, followed his guide dog, Roselle. After about 40 flights down, the route became congested and nerves began to fray. Mr. Hingson found it hard to breathe because of the jet fumes. His dog was exhausted. Sounds of crying echoed in the stairwell. But there was no panic. People shared bottles of water, and when the first firefighters passed, the crowd cheered.

"The people in the stairwell were incredibly gracious and civil," Mr. Frank said.

The evacuation of Mr. Frank and Mr. Hingson, while unique in some details, was typical of many accounts in both towers. For the most part, people followed the directions of security officers and other building officials. They policed one another in the stairwells, preventing pushing and offering comfort, if only in words, to those who had the greatest difficulty.

Driving the hundreds of escapes was a complex set of factors, some emotional, some circumstantial and some the result of lessons learned from 1993.

At Mizuho Bank, preparations for a disaster like that on Sept. 11 were so thorough that employees had emergency escape packs — with flashlights, masks and glow sticks — strapped to their office chairs. The company held regular fire drills and Mr. Miller, a computer specialist for one of the bank's divisions, Mizuho Capital Markets, said company officials were running through the offices of the south tower within a minute of the strike at the north tower.

"They were saying, `It is a bomb! Get out!' " Mr. Miller said. "We have people who were in the building in 1993, so there is an undercurrent, an awareness of what this could be like. This time, nobody wanted to be trapped at the top."

But even the best-laid plans required improvisation. Mr. Miller said that when he reached the 55th floor or so, congestion in the stairwell was so great that the line had ground to a halt. At that point, he stepped out of the stairwell into some offices and heard the announcement saying it was safe to return to work.

Mr. Miller said he saw his Japanese bosses turn back upstairs. Several co-workers considered doing the same, he said, but quickly changed their minds. As for himself, Mr. Miller said he was consumed with getting out of the building, especially after he heard some people near the window begin screaming that people were falling from the north tower.

"I was thinking that there is a real difference of opinion here about what my eyes are seeing and what the announcement was saying," he said.

Mr. Miller asked a maintenance worker to direct him to another staircase, and by 9:25 a.m., he had made it out of the building. Judging by the jam in the first staircase, Mr. Miller said he was haunted by the question of how many people might not have made it to the lobby.

Morgan Stanley had a fire plan, but Sean J. Pierce, who worked on the 73rd floor of the south tower, said routine fire drills were often not taken seriously, and until a few months ago, he did not even know where to find the stairway door.

Mr. Pierce found the door during a recent dry run, when there was a small fire in the basement and the office was evacuated.

"There is a staircase, and it's kind of hidden," he said. "There was not even a knob on that door. It looked like a wall. It was a like a secret hallway. It looked like one of those things like in an old cartoon, when you push a book and the wall opens."

Like many of those from the south tower who survived, Mr. Pierce ignored the announcement about returning to work. He described the descent as uneventful.

"When you turn on the news, you see all that mass hysteria," he said. "It was 100 percent the exact opposite end of the spectrum. People were very slowly going down the stairs, very lackadaisical. Still drinking their coffee."

For others, getting out alive or being trapped had nothing to do with fire drills or grandiose plans. Survival came down to luck and location.

On the 86th floor of the north tower, Louis G. Lesce, a consultant, was preparing to teach a career development course to some Port Authority employees. He was reviewing his notes in a large conference room when the first plane struck his building. Six people were there with him.

"I asked someone there, `Can you tell me the evacuation process?' and he just looked at me," Mr. Lesce said. "He had no clue."

When Mr. Lesce opened the door, black smoke poured in. He and the others smashed windows to get some fresh air, and after calling his wife on the telephone, Mr. Lesce decided to stay put, along with the others.

"We were waiting for the smoke to clear, not knowing what the hell to do," he said. "And then someone came to the door and said, `Come on out and follow us.' "

The procession to the stairwell and downstairs went without a glitch.

"Those people, I think they were security officers, were fabulous," he said. "They were glued to the ground. None of them tried to go ahead of us. They looked at you and watched you go. They said, `Single file and no talking.' It reminded me of grammar school."

On the same floor, James Gartenberg, a real estate broker with the Julien Studley firm, was frantically making phone calls, eventually reaching a reporter at The New York Times. "The fire door is blocked," he said in one of several conversations. "It either closed from the force of the explosion or as a fire precaution. The elevators are completely blown out."

Patricia Puma, who was working in the same office, said: "The wall in the ladies' room started to crack — it looked like an earthquake. The noise and debris falling outside the building are frightening.

"It looked like the explosion came up through the elevator," said Ms. Puma, 33, of Staten Island. "It looks like the firewall came down and I believe the stairs are on the other side of it."

Mr. Gartenberg said he and Ms. Puma considered climbing across the debris to reach the stairs, but "more debris fell, so we backed off."

As he hung up for the last time, Mr. Gartenberg asked that his location be given to rescuers. "I'm not the easiest guy to reach," he said. "We need air."

About a half-hour later, the building collapsed. The whereabouts of Mr. Gartenberg and Ms. Puma are unknown.

October 4, 2001, The [New Jersey] Suburban, Former tennis champ tells of making narrow escape, by Vincent Todaro, Staff Writer,

EAST BRUNSWICK — All the sports training in the world couldn't have prepared him for this.

Robert Chess, 27, who as a student at East Brunswick High School was the state's first-singles tennis champion, was at the start of a normal business day at the World Trade Center Sept. 11, and was getting ready to leave tower one to trade at the New York Mercantile Exchange.

He wound up leaving much sooner than he had anticipated.

Chess, now a Jersey City resident, was on the 85th floor around 8:45 a.m. when a hijacked plane struck the tower a couple floors above his office.

An employee of S&W Trading, Chess would normally spend about a half-hour each morning at the company’s World Trade Center offices. A natural gas options trader who spends most of his days at the New York Mercantile Exchange, he also paid afternoon visits to the towers, which served as his company’s offices.

"I was just sitting there in the morning, just drinking coffee and going over morning analyzers," he said. "My boss had just remarked that he saw a plane coming in really low. He said he saw the plane make a turn near the Empire State Building and bear near our building. I didn’t think much of it.

"The next thing, I heard him scream and he watched the plane just disappear over our heads."

Chess was with about 20 co-workers in the office when the plane struck. He, like many others, was not completely aware of what was happening, nor did he know that the crash was part of a terrorist attack. After hearing his boss, though, he did know a plane had struck — something many people did not know at the time.

"Obviously, there was a lot of damage done to the offices. The ceiling crumpled, and the walls did too. .... We just tried to get out as quickly as possible."

He and others from his office would soon discover, however, that the floor by the elevator bank had collapsed. The workers went scurrying for the stairwell, but it was pitch dark.

"The floor was on fire, pipes had burst, water was flowing all over the place, and there were fires in the walls. I grabbed a trading jacket to put over my mouth. It was pitch dark, but eventually we found the stairwell," Chess said.

It was probably best for the workers that they didn’t realize the extent of the damage, because it kept them fairly calm during their escape. In fact, it wasn’t until Chess was about 30 floors down the stairs when the real panic set in.

"The first 30 floors (down), it wasn’t bad," he said. "None of the floors above (the 85th floor) were getting out because there was no way down. That’s why people were jumping out windows."

Older people were having a hard time getting down the stairs, and firefighters were busy racing up the stairwells with full gear, he said.

"A lot of people thought it was a bomb. We were some of the few who knew it was a plane because we saw it. We still didn’t know it was a terrorist attack, though.

"It was more calm than you’d think. It was pretty civilized. No one was really panicking," he said.

About the time he reached the 50th floor, however, another hijacked plane struck the next tower, and they heard a loud explosion.

"We didn’t know what the second plane was. We didn’t know what anything was," he said.

He wasn’t sure what was causing the destruction, but the thought of terrorism did cross his mind because of the 1993 attack.

"It felt more likely that it was an accident," he said.

He finally made it to the ground floor, which he and other survivors described a horrifying scene with body parts and pieces of the plane.

As he stood at the base of the building, the other twin tower collapsed.

"I sprinted as fast as I could, and ran down a subway station stairwell to take cover from the falling debris," he said.

He was alive, but not safe. A large cloud of soot hovered over the station, and there was no light and no clean air to breathe.

"There was no way to breathe. There was no air. It was just ash and soot," he said.

He ran back the way he had come into the station, but the stairwell was blocked by debris.

"It was pitch black. I sat in the corner and felt my way around the wall. Another stairwell was open, so I went that way."

After getting out of the station, he walked away from the towers. A policeman helped him into an ambulance, and he was taken to the hospital to have his lungs checked.

Chess was OK, and he was fortunate enough to make it home that evening. He has since returned to the mercantile exchange.

He said he would prefer to put the events of Sept. 11 in the past and forget about them, but just as for so many others, they represented a life-changing occurrence.

September 11, 2001, Chicago Tribune, Skyline symbols of economic might, Engineers shocked by towers’ collapseBy Blair Kamin, 12:18 PM CDT

The World Trade Center, a symbol of American economic might, survived one terrorist attack in 1993. It was designed to withstand the impact of a jet, but both its towers collapsed this morning after planes rammed them.

The structural engineer who designed the towers said as recently as last week that their steel columns could remain standing if they were hit by a 707.

Les Robertson, the Trade Center’s structural engineer, spoke last week at a conference on tall buildings in Frankfurt, Germany. He was asked during a question-and-answer session what he had done to protect the twin towers from terrorist attacks, according to Joseph Burns, a principal at the Chicago firm of Thornton-Thomasetti Engineers.

Burns, who was present, said that Robertson said of the center, “I designed it for a 707 to smash into it.”

Burns, whose firm did the structural engineering for the Petronas Twin Towers in Malaysia -- the world’s tallest buildings -- said Robertson did not elaborate on the remark. Robertson could not be reached early today.

Completed in 1972 and 1973, the 110-story twin towers were the fifth and sixth tallest buildings in the world. One World Trade Center, finished in 1972, was briefly after its construction the world’s tallest building. The towers have been called “a monumental gate to New York and the United States.”

They withstood the 1993 attack, when a bomb-laden van exploded, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000.

Closely spaced steel columns that ringed their perimeter held up the World Trade Center towers. Chicago’s Aon Center (formerly the Amoco Building), completed in 1973, uses a similar support system, known to structural engineers as a “tube.”

Shocked by the building’s collapse, structural engineers pointed to fire as the likely cause of the structural failure.

“Fire melts steel,” Burns said. In addition, he said, the impact of the plane could have severely damaged the building’s sprinklers, allowing the fire to rage, despite fireproofing supposed to protect steel columns and beams.

“You never know in an explosion like that whether they (the sprinklers) get cut off,” Burns said.

Architects Minoru Yamasaki and Associates, in association with Emery Roth & Sons, designed the World Trade Center.

The structural engineers were the firm of Skilling, Helle, Chrstiansen, Robertson. The developer was The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Today’s attack marked the second time that a plane has crashed into a New York City skyscraper, although the first incident was an accident.

In 1945, a B-25 flying at 200 miles per hour slammed into the 78th and 79th floors of the Empire State Building, gouging an 18-by-20-foot hole 913 feet above the streets of Manhattan. The pilot, Lt. Col. William F. Smith Jr., had been heading from New York’s LaGuardia Airport to Newark, N.J., when he became disoriented.

Fourteen people died in the crash and the fire that followed -- three people in the plane and 11 in what was then the world’s tallest building.

Like the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, which also was struck by a plane, provided a sizable and symbolic target.

The Pentagon is the world’s largest office building, with a total of 6.5 million square feet, serves as headquarters for the world’s most powerful military. Sears Tower, by comparison, has about 3.5 million square feet of office space.Copyright © 2001, Chicago Tribune

September, 12 2001, Jerusalem Post, WTC architect: Collapse 'unbelievable'by Michal Meyer and Stuart Winer,

JERUSALEM (September 12) - Aaron Swirsky, one of the architects of the World Trade Center, yesterday expressed disbelief on hearing of the collapse of the twin towers. Swirsky told JPostRadio the buildings had been designed with "accidents" in mind.

"The terrorism was different in those days, but there was always the possibility of an accident with a plane hitting the building. The building was designed like a pipe structurally, with the main structure in the perimeter of the building." This meant that a hole in the building would not collapse the whole structure. The fact that the buildings did collapse he described as "incredible."

Swirsky said the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center made a big hole in one building. "The intent was to topple the building, but because of the design it didn't. But now... it is unbelievable." He said the collapse may have been due to the size of the plane, bigger than the architects had ever planned for.

The floors above the crash sites would have been safe, at least at first, said Twirsky. "What is really tragic is the building was designed with each floor as a hermetic unit, as to evacuate a building like that is a nightmare. Imagine you are on the 100th floor and there is no elevator, so each floor is designed to be safe; but when it collapses then that whole theory goes up in smoke."

The buildings had no sprinklers, because each floor could be sealed off from the others in case of a fire. "There are shutters that would shut off the vertical openings [between floors] so that the fire couldn't travel from one floor to the other. That was the theory. When the danger had subsided they could evacuate."

After the planes crashed into the buildings, Swirsky said people in the floors above would have been trapped. They would have been unable to escape. The buildings were not designed to allow for a quick exit in case of emergency. Afterward, those trapped would have fallen with the buildings when they collapsed.

Oct. 19, 2001, CBS News / 48 Hours: Inside WTC 1Stranger Returns Louis Lesce’s Briefcase,
Two Businessmen Carry Disabled Woman To Safety,


CBS---Michael Benfante helped carry a wheelchair-bound woman out of the towers.

(CBS) Before the impact of Flight 11 was felt around the world, it was felt first in Tower One.

"It was more of a baloooooom…sounded like an explosion, then a series of other explosions like gas was being ignited,” Louis Lesce, an employment counselor, tells 48 Hours Correspondent Richard Schlesinger.

"Outside the door, the entire ceiling just collapsed and things started hitting the window and the place started filling with smoke."

Lesce, who was working on the 86th Floor of Tower One, adds, “I don’t know what happened. I still don’t know what happened, but I got caught in two explosions.”

He had just gotten to work when Flight 11 hit. “We thought it was a Piper Cub, you know, someone flown off course,: he recalls. “Could not think of a passenger… think of the people in the plane, no choice. That is to me, the saddest part of the whole story.”

The end of Flight 11 was the beginning of terror for Lesce and so many others.

Lesce and a group of six others gathered in a conference room. The billowing smoke made it hard to breath. They broke windows to get some air, but quickly decided they had to escape.

“We went into a stairwell, “ he says, “and I think the frightening thing there - frightening thing for me - was the sound of the siren. It was so loud and so close. This 'woo-ah, woo-ah'.”

Once they got moving, the stairs were orderly - an eerie calmness. Lesce, who’s had a quadruple bypass, used his mind to help his body.

“I remember going down, thinking of my fourth-grade teacher, Sister Thomas, who said ‘Hands on the rail, single file, and no talking Mr. Lesce,.’ “ he recalls.

Lesce says he will never forget those coming up the stairs as he was going down.

“I remember one fireman, he stopped on that stair with me. We were just eye to eye, “ he says. “I remember his eyes, they were blue. And he looked at me and he said, with his eyes, ‘I’m gonna do my job.’”

Lesci made it down the stairs and out, and then found himself alone.

“I walk out - never ran in this whole thing, “ he says. “I was the last man on earth. Picture yourself standing in white ash, you have pockets of fire around you. Not a sound. No blue sky, no birds, no grass, nothing. And you see a fireman, and then you see some blue sky”.

In the tumult, Lesce lost his briefcase. “I was to find ,” he says, “when I came home from the hospital, a message on the answering machine saying, ‘Hi, my name is Peter. I’m a survivor, I hope you’re a survivor, too. I have your briefcase.’ “

This week, Lesce celebrated his birthday. “Sixty four years old…and still here,” he says, marvelling at something that wouldn’t have seemed all that extraordinary before Sept. 11.

Such acts of kindness were not unusual that day.

Michael Benfante works for Network Plus, a communications firm on the 81st floor of Tower One.

That morning, he says, he saw an “explosion…a light flash out my window. The whole doorway - the entrance to my office - blew open.”

After the impact of Flight 11, he calmed his staff then led them through the smoke and debris to the stairwell.

“I heard people shouting, he says. “I stopped at 68…there was a woman in a wheelchair.”

Benfante and coworker John Cequeira didn’t hesitate; they picked up 41-year-old Tina Hansen in her wheelchair and began carrying her down 68 flights of stairs.

He didn’t know Tina, And in fact, he had never recalled seeing her before that morning.

What was it that made him decide to help her?

“I acted in the only way that I knew how to, “ he says. “I can attribute that to my parents.”

He didn’t know how much danger he was in at the time – “ it’s probably a good thing, too,” he says.

If he had known, would he have done the same thing?

“I didn’t think twice about helping her at that point,” he says, “and I don’t know if I would have been able to live with myself if I didn’t help her.”

It took about an hour and half but the two carried Tina all the way down, and out of the burning building to what they thought was safety.

“At this point, Tower Two is already down, but I didn’t realize that,” says Benfante. “And there weren’t many people around; it was very bizarre.We see an ambulance and place her into the ambulance. At that point, she sits down and she, the first time, she really became upset. She started to cry.”

She didn’t say anything, just gave him a hug.

They had carried her down 68 flights of stairs, put her in an ambulance and walked away. But they still weren’t safe. Tower One, which had been struck by Flight 11 about an hour and forty minutes earlier, began to collapse.

“All of the sudden we hear this explosion, “Benfante says. “I can hear this rumbling. I look back once and I didn’t look back again. I just started running with all my might. And a wave of debris just came over and then everything went completely black and completely silent for a while.”

He didn’t know whether Tina’s ambulance had made it out. “I didn’t think she made it,” he says. “I just thought she got caught in the collapse, in the rubble.”

Benfante had forgotten to even ask her name. He learned her name - and her fate - days later from a reporter.

“She’s like, ‘Hi, Mike, this is so and so from People Magazine. I just wanted to talk to you about Tina Hansen.’ I was like, ‘What? She’s alive?’

“I couldn’t even speak to the woman after that, I was like a baby, I was crying.”

Benfante, who is now looking for a new office, talks to Tina several times a week and he says she’s doing fine.”

October 4, 2001, 60 Minutes, Sandler O'Neill Fights Back,

With the help of other Wall Street firms and the flinty resolve of its remaining 100 staffers, Sandler O'Neill reopened for business a few days after the terrorist attacks. 

A Third Of Its Employees Are Missing But The Firm Opens For Business 'It's War,' Says One Partner 

Managing Partner Jimmy Dunne rallies the troops at Sandler O'Neill.

(CBS) Investment banking firm Sandler O'Neill not only lost a third of its employees on Sept. 11, but its entire headquarters operation, including the crucial records and equipment it relied on to do business. But with the help of other Wall Street firms and the flinty resolve of its remaining 100 staffers, it reopened for business. 60 Minutes was there to record its first shaky but determined steps. Steve Kroft reports.

For managing partner Jimmy Dunne, in charge of getting the company up and running again, it's war. "They attacked the United States of America, the capitalist structure that we flourished under. They attacked our little firm, they killed our friends," he tells Kroft. "So this is like combat right now," says Dunne, rallying staffers as they return to business at temporary offices donated by Bank of America.

60 Minutes first joined Sandler O’Neill a few days after the attack, when most of its remaining 100 employees were regrouping at its midtown office branch. Of 171 employees, 66 were missing. The company plans to continue paying the salaries and possibly the bonuses of those victims at least through the end of the year, but the task that day was to try to locate them and relay any information to their families. It was a grim and futile job. "It was just incredible that 66 people could be missing and nothing…they were gone," says Dunne.

Six days after the attack, on Sept. 17, Sandler O'Neill’s first hours in business were frantic, as phones didn’t work and a rumor that the firm was out of business circulated. Dunne went on television to dispel the rumor, the phones were fixed, and by the end of the day, the firm had made its first deal since Sept. 11. Says founding partner Tom O’Neill, "I don't think we appreciated the depth of [the terrorists'] hatred, but I think for every percentage that we might have underestimated them, I think they very much underestimated us."

September 12, 2001, Los Angeles Times, 2 Planes Hit Twin Towers at the Weakest Spot,

Collapse: Structural engineers say the terrorists apparently knew they had to strike the World Trade Center as low as possible to cause the most damage.

By USHA LEE McFARLING, Times Staff Writer

The terrorists who piloted two planes into the World Trade Center apparently managed--either by careful calculation or evil luck--to have hit the buildings at their weakest spot to cause their disastrous collapse, structural engineers said Tuesday.

"It's like hitting someone at the back of the knee," said Nabih Youssef, a structural engineer who heads the Tall Building Council in Los Angeles and is an expert on the design and strength of skyscrapers. "With enough weight above you, you take the entire building down."

Government officials believe the terrorists wrested control of the passenger jets, then skillfully steered the planes toward the doomed towers.

"Whoever took over the plane knew what they were doing," said Greg Fenves, a professor of civil engineering at UC Berkeley.

Had the buildings been hit higher up the towers, they would have sustained damage but probably would not have collapsed because the weight on the damaged portion of the building would not have been enough to overwhelm a tower's structural supports, engineers said.

Planes Had to Clear Nearby Buildings

The planes might have done more damage if they had hit the buildings lower, but they had to fly at a height of about 60 stories to clear nearby buildings. The first tower was hit at about the 80th story. The second tower was hit at about the 60th story.

"They showed some knowledge of physics in the attempt to make the hits as low as possible," said Ron Hamburger, chief structural engineer for ABS Consulting in Oakland and a past president of the Structural Engineers Assn. of California.

To many who saw the buildings fall on television, the collapse resembled a planned demolition, especially in the way that the twin towers imploded--tumbling in on themselves. But engineering experts discounted the notion that additional explosives had been planted around the base of the buildings to ensure that they came down.

Demolition of a building the size of the ones in the World Trade Center would require "literally hundreds of charges around the building," Hamburger said. "It's inconceivable to me anyone would be able to place that many charges--even with years of planning."

Instead, the impact of the planes themselves, and the tremendous heat generated by tons of burning jet fuel--upward of 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit--would suffice to destroy the buildings, said Scott Gustafson, owner of Demtech Inc. of Blue Springs, Mo., one of the world's leading demolition experts.

A Boeing 767 has a fuel capacity of 20,000 gallons. A Boeing 757 has an 11,000-gallon fuel capacity. Because the planes were scheduled for transcontinental flights, they would have been fully loaded with fuel.

Plane Was 'a Highly Explosive Bomb'

"The plane probably made its way halfway to the core of the structure," Gustafson said. "The fuel went through a couple of floors, loaded them with fuel, and the impact opened a corridor to the outside for air. Some fuel probably got into the elevators and spread the fire. One thing led to another, and it just kept snowballing."

"It was very well thought out," said Hank Koffman, who directs the construction engineering department at USC. "These guys were evil geniuses.

"The plane was really a highly explosive bomb," he said. Terrorism experts were calling the attack "low-tech and high-concept."

Even though structural steel used in buildings is coated with a fireproof material, extreme amounts of heat cause the steel to soften and lose its strength. The weight of the floors above then causes them to crash.

"The technical term is progressive collapse--the slang term is pancaking," said Ron Klemencic, president of Skilling Ward Magnusson Barkshire, the Seattle firm that engineered the World Trade Center. "What basically happens is that one floor falls on top of the floor below it, and with one floor falling on top of another there's no way to stop it."

The steel is protected to certain temperatures and for certain periods of time, but "an explosion of this magnitude would have exceeded all those limits," said James C. Anderson, a professor of civil engineering at USC. "Buildings are not designed for this. Not in their wildest dreams."

"Buildings are designed thinking of internally generated heat," added Jon Magnusson, the chairman and chief executive of the Skilling firm. "Nobody anticipates putting jet fuel in a building. If you had to build buildings to withstand this sort of event, you wouldn't be able to build any buildings."

In 1945, a B-25 bomber smashed into the 79th floor of the Empire State Building. It caused an explosion and fire and killed 14 people but did not destroy the building. That plane was not loaded with the huge amount of fuel that Tuesday's jetliners carried.

Engineers suggested that the south tower of the World Trade Center collapsed first, even though it was hit by the second plane, because the fireball caused by the crash was larger and because the plane hit the corner of the building, rather than the center, where there is more structural support.

The World Trade Center towers have always been a familiar icon to those visiting New York. They were New York's most frequently purchased postcard image.

To structural engineers, however, they are famous for something else: their strength.

"I was personally very surprised to see the entire building collapse," Hamburger said.

'Tubular Skyscraper' Construction Hailed

The towers were so tall--1,362 and 1,368 feet--that they swayed by up to 11 inches in a strong wind. Building towers of such height posed challenges for engineers, requiring development of a new system of construction that placed major supporting elements in the outer portions of the building to increase stability. Traditionally, such elements had been placed in the building's core around elevators and restrooms.

At the time of the towers' construction, this "tubular skyscraper" scheme was hailed as the key that would push the world's buildings to elevations undreamed-of by previous generations.

In most buildings, structural steel supports are 20 to 25 feet apart. In the World Trade Center, the supports are only 39 inches apart, said John Hooper, a structural engineer with the Skilling Ward Magnusson firm.

"Watching something come down without our say-so is just a nightmare," Hooper said.

Because the tubular steel supports are so close to each other, they act as a rigid box, encircling the building and giving it strength.

"It's quite a famous structural system," said Fenves. "It's very well-designed."

Steel buildings in general are known for their strength. Even less well-designed steel buildings survived the 1906 earthquake in San Francisco and the 1933 Long Beach quake, Youssef said.

When they were built in 1970, the World Trade Center towers were the world's tallest buildings. But the strength designed to withstand wind was no match for the fireball of an exploding plane. "We didn't have any terrorism in mind when the buildings originally went up," Hooper said.

While engineers are exploring ways to "bomb-proof" buildings to protect occupants from flying glass and crumbling walls, it is considered too costly and not socially desirable to attempt to protect buildings from the type of attack that occurred Tuesday.

"We'd be living in bunkers," Youssef said. "We cannot turn the country into bunkers."

The towers were the focus of one previous terrorist attack--a deadly 1993 car bomb blast in the 16-acre subbasement that tore a 60-by-100-foot hole. That explosion, however, did not compromise the buildings' structural integrity, and experts said there was no indication that the damage then, which was repaired years ago, had any connection with Tuesday's collapse. Six men ultimately were convicted for the 1993 bombing, which killed six and injured more than 1,000.

The buildings housed about 55,000 workers employed by more than 700 firms, including the executive offices of the New York Stock Exchange and leading investment, law and accounting firms. Counting those passing through the buildings to transact business, their population during working hours routinely exceeded 100,000 people.

The towers were the centerpiece of an urban renewal project intended to revitalize lower Manhattan. Construction began in 1966, and the first tower formally opened four years later. The architect was the late Minoru Yamasaki, who also designed the Century Plaza Towers in Los Angeles. The twin 110-story towers cost their owners, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, $700 million. Last July, they were leased to a New York real estate firm for $3.25 billion, one of the largest such deals in history.

At the time of their opening, the towers were praised as technologically marvelous but aesthetically soulless.

Architect Said Towers Would 'Soothe' Spirit

Stung by that reaction, Yamasaki insisted to one architecture critic that his buildings would "soothe" the human spirit. "Above all, with political turmoil, traffic problems and vast increases in populations and the tremendous impact of the machine, we must have serenity. Man needs a serene architecture to save his sanity in today's world."

Tuesday, those humane sentiments were reduced to rubble and ash.

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