9-11 The Falling Man

The Design Observatory published a thoughtful, intense interview with Henry Singer, the British documentary filmmaker who made The Falling Man, a 2006 British television documentary about 9-11.

I watched an interview with Richard Drew, the AP photographer who chronicled much of 9-11 at the Twin Towers, arriving just after the second plane hit the second tower. The “Falling Man” photo did appear in news media across America on the day after 9-11, but it was quickly censored following complaints that the image was “too intense”.

Henry Singer told Design Observer that the photo was extraordinarily memorable because of the composure of the Falling Man. He looks calm, as though he is diving or flying. But this was just one of several pictures Richard Drew captured. The others show him tumbling and twisting, his clothes blown about. I haven’t watched the film, but will seek it out. The brief scenes I’ve seen and this interview indicate that it has a contemplative approach to the . . . I’m a writer, and don’t know the words.

To what happened.

Falling-man-9-11A blogger named Chas who says he has worked in high rise security and fire safety for years wrote about what the falling people experienced. Chas said no one went to work that day expecting to have to leap from the high tower to his death. On the floors of the North Tower above the plane’s impact, fierce temperatures of hundreds of degrees and thick, toxic smoke forced people to the windows. The North Tower was the location of Windows on the World restaurant at the very top, which was serving more than 90 customers for breakfast. It’s likely that many who fell did not intend to leap at all, and were simply forced to the edge of the windows by the unbearable conditions inside the building. Bodies began falling within minutes of the first plane impact. Chas said that far more people fell from the North Tower than from the South Tower, and they fell from all sides. The North Tower was hit first, and stood longer after impact: a total of 102 minutes.

The trip down took 10 seconds. Death was instantaneous.

The film and other information is inspired by a 2003 Esquire magazine article by Tom Junod. I haven’t read many reminisces of 9-11 and I was struck by the deep emotions of the families of all those who died who were potential candidates to be the Falling Man. No one knows who the Falling Man is, and he’s been proven not to be any of the potential candidates. Now, he has taken on the status of the Unknown Soldier. He is everyone who died that day.

What horror the monsters created. It’s difficult to imagine any worse sequence of events. It didn’t happen all at once. It extended itself, the glee of the terrorists escalating when each crew of hijackers performed their mission. First the one plane, then the other, hitting the two vast buildings, symbols of Manhattan and America. Then the Pentagon, where they thought at first it was a missile attack, not the third hijacked plane. And cell phones. We know so much of what people experienced that day, because they called. On all of the planes, people called. They called from the floors above the impacts at the World Trade Center. They texted. We know and knew. We knew at that time, and could do nothing for them.

Former Solicitor General Ted Olson received two calls from his wife Barbara, a television commenter enroute to a taping on the west coast. Barbara was on Flight 77, the plane that hit the Pentagon. Barbara described some of the sequence of events, including the attack with box-cutters. The second call was cut off.

I know from writing Coping With Terrorism that on the plane with Barbara were Washington, D.C. area children and teachers on a National Geographic-sponsored field trip to California’s Channel Islands.

I have one thing to say for the 9-11 “conspiracy theorists” and other insane people who seem to constantly pass around false information about this day: your disrespect for all who died is boundless. You are as inhuman as the terrorists, you are so ill and sick.

On Flight 175, which was the second plane to hit, impacting the South Tower of the World Trade Center shortly after 9:00 a.m., were the youngest and oldest to lose their lives on that day. 82-year old artist from Long Beach, Dorothy Dereaujo, lost her life, as did Christine Lee Hanson, only two years old, traveling with her parents Peter and Sue Kim Hanson to visit relatives. Peter Hanson was able to call his father from an airphone on the plane and describe what had happened. The plane was flying very erratically, and just before the call was cut off, Peter’s father heard a woman screaming, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” This was at 9:00 a.m. At 9:02, the impact occurred. So, they saw Manhattan, and likely saw they were headed straight to the Tower that was not on fire.

We know, or I know, about Flight 93, which crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. I am closer to this because I wrote my book in 2003 and records were much less interfered-with than they are now. There is no question in my mind that the passengers on that flight gained control of the cockpit, and killed or seriously injured the hijackers. However, as we all know, it was too late for any type of landing. They hit the ground at over 500 miles an hour.

The shrieks of the hijackers provide cold certainty that our people got some measure of control before they died.

I think that some of us like to think that the people who jumped or fell from the North Tower of the World Trade Center that morning also had some control. Ten seconds is enough time to pray, say goodbye, and ask the Lord for love and forgiveness.

We can never, ever forget, and we have to make sure that people know the truth of what happened. This is my part in that effort.

I am the author of Coping With Terrorism (2004) and this is how I think about people.

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