Remembering 9/11: Twin Tower victims’ heart-wrenching calls to emergency operators and loved ones
Millions of people in the United States and around the world turned on their televisions on 9/11 and saw a dreadful scene unfold in front of them. At 8:46 a.m., a hijacked plane crashed into 1 World Trade Center (north tower). At 9:03 a.m., another hijacked plane hit 2 World Trade Center (south tower). At 9:59 a.m., the south tower collapsed, and the north tower followed at 10:28 a.m.
During the time between the initial strikes on the towers and their collapse, those inside made phone calls to both emergency services and those closest to them. In the calls, you can hear words of encouragement victims provided to worried family members and friends, and concerned parties giving advice and consoling the trapped victims. One similarity among all recorded phone calls is that they display indescribable bravery in the face of horrific tragedy.
In 2009, a documentary was released titled “9/11 Phone Calls from the Towers.” The release of this documentary shed new light on this dark day in American history, as it provided further insight on the thoughts of those inside the towers. Several courageous family members and friends of individuals who lost their lives inside the twin towers on 9/11 shared the conversations they had with the victims. Some are recorded phone messages, while other individuals shared a recitation of what the conversation was like on the day.
Here are the phone conversations from inside the twin towers on 9/11 as shared by the “9/11 Phone Calls from the Towers” documentary.
Jim Gartenberg was a real estate executive who was trapped on the 86th floor of the north tower. Gartenberg had just accepted a new job offer. He went into work at the north tower that day to clean out his desk. He made several calls, including one to his wife Jill.
“Jill, there’s a fire on my floor. I love you, tell Nicole ‘I love you.’ I don’t know if I’m going to be okay here-I love you so much,” Gartenberg said in a message left to his wife. After initially hearing the message when she arrived to work that day, she was able to call back and reach her husband.
Also while in the tower, he talked to a reporter who asked Gartenberg what floor he was on. Gartenberg responded with a detailed explanation of where he was and what was happening.
“It’s World Trade Center 1, and it’s not was. I am here and I’m stuck right now…I have no idea where the plane hit. It’s my understanding that it’s a plane,” Gartenberg explained.
“The first thing that I want to make clear is that I’m stuck on the 86th floor,” Gartenberg said on the live broadcast. “A fire door has trapped us. Debris has fallen around us and part of the core of the building is blown out.”
“I’m with one other person, and I’m told that people are aware of this,” Gartenberg continued. “I’m on the 86th floor on the East side of the building facing the East River. If I’m on air, I want to tell anybody that has a family member that may be in the building that the situation is under control for the moment and the danger has not increased. So please all family members, take it easy.”
Melissa Harrington-Hughes was trapped in the north tower on the 101st floor. She was a business executive, only meant to be in New York City for the day to oversee the merger of her company.
She made a devastating call to her husband while in the north tower. Her husband Sean, who she had been wed to for about a year, was asleep when she made the call. Hughes left a message for her husband.
“I just wanted to let you know I love you, and I’m stuck in this building in New York. There’s lots of smoke and I just wanted you to know that I love you always,” Hughes said.
She also called her father Bob Harrington shortly after the initial impact, who tried to provide advice and console his daughter.
On September 11, 2001, Christopher Hanley was attending a conference at the Windows on the World restaurant on the north tower’s 106th floor. His call to 911 was one of the first recorded calls of the day.
Hanley: “Yeah, hi. I’m on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center-we just heard an explosion.”
Operator: “The 106th floor?”
Operator: “106, okay.”
Hanley: “We have smoke and it’s pretty bad. We can’t get down the stairs. We have about a hundred people up here.”
Operator: “Do not leave. There’s a fire or explosion or something in the building, all right. I want you to stay where you are. All right, we’re there, we’re coming up to get you.”
Hanley: “I can see the smoke coming up from outside the windows now.”
Operator: “Alright, we’re on the way. Just sit tight.”
Hanley: “I’ll do that.”
Operator: “Alright, just sit tight. We’re on the way.”
Hanley: “Alright please hurry.”
Brad Fetchet was a 24-year-old trader who was on the 89th floor of the south tower on September 11th. After the hit to the north tower, he rang his mother to let her know that he was safe.
“Hey mom, it’s Brad. Just wanted to call and let you know. I’m sure that you’ve heard, but a plane crashed into World Trade Center 1. We’re fine, we’re in World Trade Center 2. I’m not obviously alive and well over here, but obviously a pretty scary experience. I saw a guy fall out of probably the 91st story all the way down. So, you’re welcome to give a call here. I think we’ll be here all day, but give me a call back later. Love you.”
Shimmy Biegeleisen, a systems analyst, was also in the south tower. He was located on the 97th floor. Similar to Fetchet, he initially called his mother and let her know that he was safe.
His mother recalled the conversation she had with her son in the documentary.
“Ma, don’t worry, I’m fine,” his mother remembered him saying. She responded by telling her son not to waste any time because she knew all about it, and to leave the area. He held up his phone to the loudspeaker, so his mom could hear the message being relayed.
“Do not leave your office, this building is secure,” the announcement said.
After hanging up with her son, she was on the phone with her nephew, when she saw the plane hit the south tower on the television.
Biegeleisen’s relatives and friends got together at the house and tried to console Biegeleisen while he was trapped in the tower. One friend that he talked with was Jack Edelstein. In the documentary, Edelstein shared that Biegeleisen asked for him to look after his wife and children during their phone conversation. He also talked with his friend David, who tried to provide advice and bring a sense of calm to Biegeleisen.
David: “Shimmy, just hang in there. Just breathe slowly through a towel. Are you breathing through the towel? Everything’s fine. Everybody’s fine…everybody’s very calm, everything’s going to be fine, you just have to stay calm. Everybody here is calm I promise you. The girls don’t even know, they’re still in school. Your parents are here, they’re very calm. Just keep your head straight. Ok, do you see smoke by the window? The fire department is asking.”
Biegeleisen (Talking to others in room): “Can we see smoke by the window? The fire department wants to know.” (Talking to David): “No smoke by the window.”
David: “No smoke by the window. Listen carefully. As a last resort, break the window, as small as possible…just to get a little air in. Ok, do you follow?”
Biegeleisen: “Yes.” (Talking to others): “He says as a last resort we should open the window just a little bit to let some air in.”
David: “Can you open the window or do you have to break it?”
Biegeleisen: “We have to break it.”
David: “Break the window.”
Biegeleisen: “Break the window.”
David: “As little as possible, just to let a little air in. If you’re running out of air.”
Biegeleisen: “If we’re running out of air, we should do that.”
Stephen Mulderry was also in the south tower. He was stuck on the 89th floor. He called his mom after his building was hit.
“Mom, it’s Stephen. My plane…my building got hit by a plane. And right now…I think I’m okay. I’m safe now but it’s smoky. I just wanted to say how much I love you and I will call you when I’m safe. Okay Mom, bye.”
He and his friends were successful in climbing to the roof of the building, but once they reached the top, they couldn’t get out because the doors to the roof were locked. They found shelter in a room of the building, and made their last calls to loved ones.
Brian Nunez was trapped on the 104th floor of the north tower. He called his brother Neal Green several times. Green worked nights, and did not pick up the calls from his brother as he was trying to get some rest. After one of the calls, Nunez left his brother a tragic message.
“Neal, it’s Brian. A plane crashed into the Trade Center. It’s on fire, and I’m in it, and I can’t breathe. Tell everyone I love them, and if I don’t get out of here…goodbye.”
Tom McGinnis had a brief conversation with his wife lliana, when he shared with her that he along with others were stuck inside a conference room.
His wife tried to reassure him as best she could, telling him that he was going to get out and McGinnis shared the intensity of the situation with her.
“IIiana, you don’t understand. There are people jumping from the floors above us,” McGinnis said.
“I love you. Take care of Caitlin,” he said to his wife.
Jeffrey Nussbaum called his mother and shared the situation at the building he was in. He told his mother that the room was quickly filling up with smoke, making it difficult to breath, and that the sprinkler systems had gone off, and they were ankle deep in water.
Kevin Cosgrove was located on the 105th floor of the south tower. His agonizing recorded 911 call came just as the south tower collapsed. Cosgrove was still speaking right up until that devastating moment.
Sections of his call were first made public when it was played by the prosecution in the trial of a key 9/11 terrorist, according to the documentary. The purpose of involving the call in the trial was to exhibit the human suffering that occurred on the day. Here is just a portion of what has been made public of the devastating call.
Cosgrove: “There’s smoke-really bad-105 two tower.”
Operator: “All right, 2 tower. We’ll get to you as soon as we can.”
Cosgrove: “You keep saying that but the smoke’s really bad…I can barely breathe.”
Operator: “That’s all we can do.”
Cosgrove: “Where are you? What floor are you guys up to?”
Operator: “We’re getting there, we’re getting there.”
Cosgrove: “Doesn’t feel like it man, I’ve got young kids.”
Operator: “I understand that, sir.”
Cosgrove: “You’ve got stacks of people up here.”
Operator: “I understand.”
Cosgrove: “I know you’ve got a lot in the building, but we’re up on the top. Smoke rises too…We’re on the floor-we’re in the window. Come on, I can barely breathe now-can’t see.”
Operator: “Ok, just try to hang in there.”
Cosgrove: “You can say that, you’re in an air-conditioned building…It’s really bad-it’s black, it’s arid…We’re young men-we’re not ready to die.”
Cosgrove: “We’re overlooking the financial center. Three of us-two broken windows.”
At this point in the call, the south tower began to collapse.
Walter Hynes was a firefighter who responded to the attacks. On his way to the scene, he left a message for his wife.
“Hi Ronnie, it’s me. Just wanted to let you know I love you and the girls, tell my mom too. We’re going down to that Trade Center thing-the second plane they just crashed into that building, so we’re on our way down there-I love you, I’ll talk to you later.”
Orio Palmer was Chief of Battalion 7 and one of the first responders to the 9/11 attacks. Palmer was in impeccable shape, and used his strength to quickly climb up the tower. He managed to fix a broken elevator and a broken radio receiver, allowing the firefighters to once again communicate with one another about what they were seeing.
He entered the south tower, fixed the elevator and took it all the way up to the 40th floor of the building. After this, he started to make the climb on foot.
“We’re on the 43rd floor, stairway B,” Palmer can be heard saying on the radio.
“I’m up to 55,” he said.
“We’re going to have to hoof it. I’m on 69 now, but we need a higher bank,” Palmer said via radio.
“Orio got up there pretty quick. Anyone who was wounded or dying, to know somebody was able to get up there, they knew there had to be a way out,” Palmer’s brother Stephen shared in the documentary. “The people who were there at the point of impact to have seen him, I can only imagine there must have been some elation or euphoria that’s probably indescribable. Just to see him and realize there’s some hope here thanks to this guy who just made it up here.”