September 11 tapes made public

NEW YORK - "I'm trapped. I can't breathe much longer. Save me. I don't have much air. Please help me. I can barely breathe."

Those panicked words of a civilian on a New York Fire Department radio dispatch tape from the September 11, 2001, attacks were part of dramatic unreleased details of the attacks on New York made public on Friday.

The release followed a court order that over-ruled city efforts to keep some records of the World Trade Centre attack private.

The audio tapes, transcripts of emergency workers' radio dispatches and oral histories provided by rescuers after the attacks recount the harrowing and grim moments when thousands of people were trapped and died in the flames and debris of the twin towers.

Firefighter Maureen McArdle-Schulman described a "constant" stream of bodies falling from the towers.

"I felt like I was intruding on a sacrament," she said. "They were choosing to die, and I was watching them and shouldn't have been, so me and another guy turned away and looked at the wall and we could still hear them hit."

Rescue worker Lonnie Penn said he found body parts, including a little girl's foot. "It was like a pink sneaker," he said.

The city's Fire Department released roughly 15 hours of radio transmissions and oral histories from more than 500 firefighters and paramedics after the attacks, which killed almost 3000 people in the towers, including 343 firefighters.

Some family members have voiced hope that the transcripts and tapes would help determine whether doomed firefighters failed to hear orders to evacuate or chose to keep trying to save people in the rubble despite the deadly consequences.

The city fought the release, arguing that some oral histories were made with promises of confidentiality and some details would upset the families of those who died.

After legal action by The New York Times newspaper and several victims' families, a state Court of Appeals earlier this year ordered the release of much of the information.

Some tapes detail efforts by frustrated emergency units to reach one another. Controversy has arisen over failures of the police and fire departments to communicate with one another and possible problems with rescuers' radios.

On a dispatch nearly three hours after the first hijacked jet struck, a voice says: "I'm getting four different chiefs giving me four different command posts. ... Somebody at the scene has got to help me out and consolidate this."

"Right now we're all alone," says a voice on another tape.

"The second building came down. I can't see so we have no contact with anybody at this time."

Calls to other units are greeted with eerie silences, while tense voices of firefighters climbing more than halfway up the stairs of the 110-story towers can be heard in the moments before the buildings collapsed. The men describe being out of breath and shedding their heavy coats in the intense heat.

Firefighter Robert Dorritie described a woman who, leaping to her death from a tower, landed on a firefighter.

"A lady in a blue dress came down," he said. "She went through the skylight and she hit this guy ... and she crushed him."

At a news conference, Sally Regenhard, whose firefighter son Christian was killed, said of the release: "It's gratifying that after nearly four years, I'm finally learning some information about what happened to my son.

"It's very sad to go through this, to relive it, to hear the calls and to read the descriptions," she said.

She and other family members blame the city for what they believe were faulty radios.

Retired Fire Department Captain Al Fuentes, who helped rescue people from a nearby hotel, said: "We had to resort to hand signals to get the last people out."

- REUTERS

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