Recording captures firefighters' last moments in towers
By JEFFREY GOLD, Associated Press writer
JERSEY CITY, N.J. -- The staticky voices of the doomed call out from the chaos of the burning World Trade Center.
A firefighter named Scott on the 48th floor of the south tower reports at 9:25 a.m.: "I just got a report from the director of Morgan Stanley. Seventy-eight (floor) seems to have taken the brunt of the stuff. There's a lot of bodies. They said the stairway is clear all the way up, though."
Both towers had already been struck by the hijacked airliners, but six minutes later, another firefighter warns a comrade, "We got reports of another incoming plane. You may have to take cover. Stay in the stairwell."
But seconds later, he says, "That plane is ours, I repeat, it is ours."
The 73-minute recording of radio communications from firefighters in the stricken World Trade Center was found several weeks after the attack.
It was released last week by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to The New York Times after federal prosecutors, responding to a court request by the newspaper, said that making it public would not hurt terrorist cases. More copies were distributed Friday to news outlets by the Port Authority, which operated the trade center.
The recording appears to show that equipment previously blamed for malfunctioning and boosting the death toll may, in fact, have worked properly. It indicates the signal-boosting repeater used to amplify and retransmit radio signals did its job.
That would contradict an earlier emergency response study, which was endorsed by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Fire Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta.
The recording raises the possibility that human error and other equipment failures might have triggered the communications breakdown believed to have contributed to the deaths of 343 firefighters.
The recording demands close study, said Peter Gorman, president of the Uniformed Fire Officers Association, the union representing chiefs, captains and lieutenants.
"We think it should be dissected by technical people in the Port Authority and fire department, and more importantly, by independent people outside of both agencies, so we could really find out what went wrong," Gorman said.
The early minutes of the recording reveal fire commanders struggling to coordinate their radio communication, and then their efforts to bring more firefighters to the scene.
The recording captured very few conversations from the north tower, but firefighters in the south tower can be heard speaking until the building falls.
Much of the conversation, in retrospect, is chilling in its normalcy.
"Hey Lou, you left your heat detector here. You need it?" one firefighter asks.
"Negative Tommy, keep it in the elevator with you."
Associated Press writer Wayne Parry contributed to this story.
This story appeared on Page A1 of The Standard-Times on November 16, 2002.