Stay put: first police order to WTC workers

August 29, 2003 - 10:42AM

First police order to WTC workers -- Doomed many

After the first plane struck one of the World Trade Centre towers on September 11, 2001, callers from the top floors of the neighbouring tower were told by police to remain where they were, according to transcripts made public today.

They reveal a male caller from the 92nd floor of the second tower told a police officer of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owned the trade centre: "We need to know if we need to get out of here, because we know there's an explosion."

The officer asked if there was smoke on the floor, and the caller replied that there was not.

"Should we stay or should we not?" the caller asked.

"I would wait 'til further notice," the officer replied.

"OK, all right," the caller said. "Don't evacuate." He then hung up. A second, similar call - with the same police response - came in a short time after the 8:46am crash in the first tower.

No one in the top floors of the tower survived after the second plane hit around the 80th floor shortly after 9am.

The evacuation of 2 World Trade Centre - and when it began - has been a source of some anguish to relatives of those who died. Some survivors have said they were advised to remain in the building.

But the transcripts provide the first look at the extraordinarily difficult decisions faced by both occupants of the towers and Port Authority personnel as they struggled to respond to the attack.

"In general, they show people performing their duties very heroically and very professionally on a day of horror," said Port Authority spokesman Greg Trevor.

The transcripts included phone calls and radio transmissions involving 33 Port Authority employees and three other people. Last week, a judge ordered the Port Authority to release the transcripts at the request of The New York Times.

In other calls, a man reached police from the roof of one building, while the assistant manager of the Windows on the World restaurant called to report people stranded on the 106th floor. "We need direction as to where we need to direct our guests and our employees, as soon as possible," she says, citing increasing smoke.

"We're doing our best ... we're trying to get up to you, dear," replied a PA officer. "All right, call back in two or three minutes, and I'll try to find out what direction you should try to get down."

There were also accounts of people, in disbelief, calling about people plunging from the buildings to their deaths.

"Yo, I've got dozens of bodies, people just jumping from the top of the building onto ... in front of One World Trade," says a male caller. "People. Bodies are just coming from out of the sky. ... up top of the building."

"Bodies?" replied a female operator.

Some of the victims identified themselves by name on the tape, while others' voices were recognised by co-workers.

The transcripts resulted in mixed emotions among family members, some of whom were angered by their release while others believed they will be productive in trying to determine what happened. Some declined to even view the transcripts before their release.

"It's not that I don't have an interest," said Theresa Riccardelli, whose husband, Francis, was killed. "I can't."

The Times had initially sought Port Authority tapes, transcripts and reports on emergency response from that day, but the agency argued that would be insensitive to the victims' families. A deal was finally reached where the Port Authority would provide transcripts rather than tapes.

The agency, claiming the transcripts would be offensive to the families, tried to back out of the deal. The Port Authority opted not to appeal the judge's decision last week.

The transcripts include communications between Port Authority police officers and department employees, along with calls between command centres at the trade centre and several sites in New Jersey.

The Port Authority records are not the first recordings of radio transmissions to be made public. Last year, the agency released a 78-minute tape of fire department transmissions that included the voices of several lost firefighters.

Shortly after the attacks, unofficial tapes and transcripts of emergency calls from people in the towers were broadcast and published.

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