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Walter Watts

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virus: Falling Bodies, a 9/11 Image Etched in Pain
« on: 2004-09-10 16:33:22 »
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Falling Bodies, a 9/11 Image Etched in Pain

Published: September 10, 2004

The New York Times

Three years later, they remain open questions, and many people wonder if
firm answers would lead to more pain or less, to practical lessons for
society or to just a
spectacle for the morbidly curious.

How many people jumped from the upper floors of the World Trade Center
on Sept. 11?

Why did so many more people jump from the north tower than the south?

What floors did they come from?

Who were they?

The attack on the World Trade Center was one of the most observed
catastrophes in history, and those who fell or jumped from the towers
were, briefly, its most public
victims. They emerged one or two at a time from a blanket of smoke and
fire that rendered mass death virtually invisible. Nearly all the others
killed that day - whether
high in the trade center, on board the hijacked airplanes or deep inside
the Pentagon - were beyond the sight of survivors and witnesses.

Those who came through the windows of the towers provided the starkest,
most harrowing evidence of the desperate conditions inside. Since then,
though, they have
largely vanished from consideration. Newspapers rarely publish images of
the falling people. Evacuation studies concentrated on the accounts of

The 9/11 Commission, which has compiled the most detailed history of the
day, mentioned those who jumped only as they affected the people on the
streets below.

Even now, there has been less fact-finding than guesswork. Some
researchers say more than 200 people most likely fell or jumped to their
death. Others say the number
is half that, or fewer. None have been officially identified.

For the families of those who died, these uncertainties are bound to a
sprawling spectrum of contradictory sentiments, impulses, and reluctance
about examining this
specific wound. Some raised questions about the manner of a loved one's
death in meetings at the medical examiner's office, during the
identification process, and
continue to ponder it; others never pursued the matter in any public

"I want to know everything," said Liz Alderman, whose son, Peter, was
last seen at a breakfast conference in the north tower. Peter Alderman
sent out an e-mail at 9:25
a. m., reporting intense smoke on the 106th floor. What happened after
that remains a mystery.

"The most important thing I will never know," Ms. Alderman said. "I
won't know how much he suffered and I won't know how he died. I travel
back into that tower a lot and I
try to imagine, but there is no imagining."

Still others say they have learned to live with such uncertainties. They
are not convinced that exploring the question of who jumped, and from
where, is likely to produce
anything more than sorrow.

Bill Doyle, the outreach director for WTC United Family Group, whose son
Joseph died in the north tower, said many people cannot bear the topic.
"A lot of them are still
suffering," he said. "They don't want to be reminded that someone might
have jumped."

A number of families discussed the question in interviews, but asked not
to be quoted, concerned with what children might think of a lost parent,
or worried about causing
distress to other families, or believing that any words would be inadequate.

Gauging the Fires

As part of the major federal investigation into the collapse of the
towers, investigators from the National Institute of Standards and
Technology are reviewing amateur and
professional videotapes that recorded many of the people who jumped or
fell. "What data we have in this area are being used to better
understand the movement and
behavior of the fire and smoke in the towers, and that analysis will be
in our final report in December," said Michael Newman, a spokesman for
the agency. The
researchers are not trying to track individual identities, but to gauge
the strength and speed of the fires. The number, location and time that
people jumped could provide
important clues on where the heat had grown particularly intense,
according to Glenn Corbett, a professor of fire science at John Jay
College of Criminal Justice.

(Page 2 of 3)

Those who dropped from the windows provide powerful testimony on another
major line of inquiry: the adequacy of the exits. Each floor had three
exits to serve an acre
of space -- or roughly the area occupied by a football field, perched
more than 1,000 feet above the ground. In the north tower, all three
stairways became impassable
from the 92nd floor and up after the plane hit. As for the south tower,
two of the three stairways were destroyed around the 78th floor.

"In the south tower, did they jump because they didn't know the
stairwell existed, or because the path to the stairwell was blocked?"
said Dr. Robyn Gershon, director of
an evacuation study being done by Columbia University. "If the
communications that day had been better, what might have been different?"

More than 1,000 people who survived the plane crashes, many on floors
distant from the impact, had no way out.

Federal authorities reported that during the designing of the towers,
the Port Authority dropped plans to use an earlier building code that
would have required six
stairways in each tower, and turned for economic reasons to the more lax
requirements of a later code that required only three stairways. By
building fewer staircases, it
could make more of each floor available for rent.

Apart from the implications for public safety and policy, it is not
difficult to understand why people have been loath to confront the topic.

Police helicopter pilots have described feeling helpless as they hovered
along the buildings, watching the people who piled four and five deep
into the windows, 1,300
feet in the air. Some held hands as they jumped. Others went alone. As
the numbers grew, said Joseph Pfeifer, a fire battalion chief in the
north tower lobby, he tried to
make an announcement over the building's public address system, not
realizing it had been destroyed.

"Please don't jump," he said. "We're coming up for you."

Almost instinctually on Sept. 11, people recognized that they had an
unfortunate view into an intensely private matter, an unseemly intrusion
not just into someone's death,
but into the moment of their dying. American broadcast networks
generally avoided showing people falling. A sculpture that depicted a
victim, known as "Tumbling
Woman," was removed from display at Rockefeller Center after one week.

Some commentators later remarked that those who had fallen had made one
brave final decision to take control of how they would perish.
Researchers say many
people had no choice. Witness accounts suggest that some people were
blown out. Others fell in the crush at the windows as they struggled for
air. Still others simply
recoiled, reflexively, from the intense heat.

A spokeswoman for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner said the city
agency had not classified any of the dead as "jumpers," a term used when
people jump to their
deaths, because the people were forced from the buildings.

"This should not be really thought of as a choice," said Louis Garcia,
New York City's chief fire marshal. "If you put people at a window and
introduce that kind of heat,
there's a good chance most people would feel compelled to jump."

Temperatures in pockets of the buildings rose to more than 1,000
degrees, sufficient to weaken steel, according to researchers. The first
people jumped or fell from the
upper floors of the north tower just minutes after the impact of
American Airlines Flight 11. The heat reached people on the upper floors
long before the flames. Some of
those trapped reported that the floor itself had grown so hot they had
to stand on their desks, according to a fire official.

"The heat was absolutely phenomenal," said Dr. Guylene Proulx, who
studies human behavior in fires for the National Research Council of
Canada. "If you have ever
burned your finger, you know how much that hurts and how you pull away.
In the trade center, it was such a hot fire. It was impossible to think
you might survive. Why suffer
a minute longer when it is so unbearable? It may have appeared to be the
best thing to stop the pain, when the window is shattered and the
opening is there."

(Page 3 of 3)

Last week researchers who study human behavior in fire gathered for a
three-day conference in Belfast, Northern Ireland. While five of the
major papers presented at the
conference dealt with the fires in the towers, none of them touched on
the subject of people who fell or jumped, said Dr. Proulx. "The focus is
on the survivors and what
made them successful or impeded their evacuation," she said.

Dr. Proulx noted that people rarely die by falling or jumping from
high-rise fires. Far more common, she said, is that people will find a
refuge where the heat can be
endured. And indeed, in scores of phone calls that continued until the
last minutes, people reported that they had gathered in conference rooms
or offices that were
protected from fire by walls. In areas with few or no walls, the flames
burned for about 20 minutes before moving to the next space, the
National Institute of Standards and
Technology reported in June: "This spread was generally continuous
because of the even distribution of combustibles throughout the floors
and the lack of interior

While the institute has made public more than 1,000 pages of documents
from its continuing investigation, it has not yet had any public
discussion of the people who
dropped from the building. "There will be reference to it in the final
report," Mr. Newman said, acknowledging the delicacy of the topic. "I
don't know how exact the count
will be."

On March 25, 1911, at one of the worst fires of the early 20th century,
the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory blaze in Greenwich Village, young women
and men jumped to their
deaths from windows on the ninth floor because they were unable to reach
or open any of the three exits. Witness accounts of the desperate scenes
American politics.

Even so, officials never specified how many of the 146 victims died in
falls. "There was not even a reliable list of the dead," David Von
Drehle writes in "Triangle,"
(Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003) an acclaimed account of the fire and its
aftermath. William Gunn Shepherd, a reporter who happened to be in
Washington Square when the
fire started, counted 54 people who had jumped or fallen to the sidewalk.

Seeking the Cause

In catastrophic high-rise fires, investigators typically seek the cause
of death, whether from burns, smoke or falling. Of the 85 people killed
in 1980 at a fire at the MGM
Grand Hotel in Las Vegas, for example, one jumped from the building,
according to a report by the medical examiner for Clark County, Nev. The
fire at the Schomburg
Plaza apartment complex in Harlem in March 1987 killed seven people,
including three young people who fell from their apartment on the 33rd

Several organizations have tried to estimate the number of people who
fell or jumped on Sept. 11. In 2002, reporters for The New York Times,
using a collection of
videotapes, counted 50 people who fell or jumped. That tally did not
include falling shapes that could not be identified with confidence as
human. Later that year, USA
Today, using a method that included eyewitness accounts, said the number
was probably greater than 200.

A vast majority of those who fell or jumped came from the north tower,
perhaps because many more people were trapped on far fewer floors than
in the south tower. The
north tower was hit first, from the 93rd to the 99th floor, about 15
floors higher than the south tower.

The 16 minutes between plane strikes gave large numbers of people from
the south tower time to flee, an opportunity that many took, survivors
said, after being
frightened by the sight of people falling from the north tower. In
addition, the south tower, though hit second, collapsed first, just 57
minutes after being struck, before
deterioration had spread as widely.

In both towers, the people and debris that fell forced officials to
reroute the evacuation, away from the plaza between the buildings. Two
of the three stairwells in each
building ended at the mezzanine level, where people were supposed to
exit onto the plaza. With the plaza no longer a safe option, officials
were forced to direct
thousands of people down an additional level to the underground shopping
concourse. Once there, they were steered by police officers and security
guards along the
improvised escape route.

Whatever form future research takes, it is unlikely to try to identify
those who died by falling from the buildings. No one survived from the
floors where people jumped.
Photographs were typically taken from too far away to capture faces. The
medical examiner's office said it was hard to distinguish the sorts of
injuries suffered in a fall
from those received by people who were crushed in a collapse.

Families on their own, however, have pored over the pictures that show
people marooned on the upper floors. At times, they have seized on a
feature of dress or
mannerism as a clue to identity. In the months after Sept. 11, The Times
published a picture of people visible at broken windows in the north
tower. Two women who saw
the picture said they believed strongly that a man in the photograph,
the same man, was their husband.

Two years ago, Mr. Doyle recalled, he tried to help two other women who
felt they, too, had recognized their husbands in a picture of the north
tower's upper floors. Mr.
Doyle happened to know the photographer and he took the women to a
studio in Chinatown, where they studied a blown-up version. They did not
know the men, after all.

"I don't know what these wives would have done," he said, "if that had
been their husbands hanging out the window."

Suzanne McCabe, whose brother, Michael, worked on the 104th floor of the
north tower, says she has no idea what happened to him. She has heard he
may have tried to
get to the roof. She says she tries to absorb new information at a
measured pace. For her, detailed knowledge about what happened to her
brother, even painful
knowledge, would ultimately serve as balm. "The truth hurts," she said,
"but it also heals."


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Walter Watts
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Re: virus: Falling Bodies, a 9/11 Image Etched in Pain
« Reply #1 on: 2004-09-11 00:54:27 »
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