It’s been 14 years since the September 11th attacks when 19 Al-Qaeda terrorists hijacked airplanes, slamming them into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and crashing into the Pennsylvania countryside. The shock of these events, witnessed by the world, has still not fully dissipated for many – especially those who witnessed the 9/11 Jumpers.
From 110 stories, looking up in a bright morning sky, it was impossible at first to see what it was that was falling. One witness said it looked like confetti. Or perhaps it was debris. There was a desperate attempt to escape as the World Trade Center towers burned around them by office workers who hurled chairs and tables through windows to reach fresh air while they waited to be rescued. In those early minutes, a rescue operation seemed plausible to them.
Then two women on the ground, staring up at the gaping hole left in the North Tower by American Airlines Flight 11, clutched at each other and started screaming. It wasn’t confetti or debris. It was people falling from the towers. Trapped above the point of impact in Towers 1 & 2, many witnesses concluded that they were jumping.
They chose to jump rather than die from the fire and smoke.
The story of the victims who jumped to their deaths is one of the more poignant aspects of the September 11th attacks. It is most certainly one of the harder aspects for me to deal with – even after 14 years. Photographs of people falling to their deaths shocked the world. Most newspapers and magazines ran only one or two photos, then chose to not publish any more.
But the few images that were out there, like The Falling Man, resonated with unbelief. Many who survived or witnessed the attacks on the WTC say the sight of victims jumping to a certain death is their most horrible memory of that day.
It is estimated that at least 200 people jumped to their deaths that morning, far more than can be seen in the photographs available to the public. Nearly all were from the north tower, which you will remember was hit first and collapsed last. Fewer than a dozen of the jumpers were from the south tower.
The jumping started shortly after the first jet hit at 8:46 a.m. People jumped continuously during the 102 minutes that the north tower stood. Two people jumped as the north tower began to fall at 10:28 a.m., witnesses said. For those who jumped, the fall lasted just 10 seconds. They struck the ground at 125 miles per hour — not fast enough to cause unconsciousness while falling, but fast enough to ensure instant death on impact.
Desperate people jumped from all four sides of the north tower. They jumped alone, they jumped in pairs and they jumped in groups. They jumped holding hands. The eyewitness accounts are painful. This, from FBI ASAC Wes Wong who was on site that day and witnessed the jumping:
”After 9/11, a lot of us who were there that morning were asked, ‘What was the worst trauma for you?’ and everybody expects us to say, ‘It was the buildings collapsing.’ I think for most of us — if not all of us — it was the jumpers. You saw people up there in the open windows, and you knew they didn’t want to jump, but the heat was becoming so great I guess that they decided they couldn’t wait any longer. And they would jump out.”
Wong paused… and continued, “The hardest ones for me were the couples. There were couples that would get up in the windows and they would be holding hands and they would look at each other one last time, and they would leap out together. They would hold hands as long as they could, until gravity pulled them apart.”
It seems some would prefer to avoid the topic of The 9/11 Jumpers; relegating it to a dark corner of the September 11th story for some reason. However, I will say this because it needs to be understood: when they hit the pavement, their bodies weren’t just broken, but completely obliterated. To see this, repeatedly, is beyond devastating. How those who witnessed this horrible event ever recover is beyond me. If you choose, you can watch a video below about the 9/11 jumpers but a caution: it’s sad and painful to watch. And remember, we must never forget what the terrorists did to us on that day.
Nobody survived on the floors from which people jumped. Ultimately the 9/11 jumpers – often called the day’s most public victims – chose not whether to die but how they would die. I am quite certain I would not have such courage.
Lan astaslem. I will not submit.
Maybe some have been able to move away from that day, but I really haven’t. I remember everything. All the details about everything – even after twelve…