On emergency radio networks in New York and New Jersey, police dispatchers struggled to master the growing ripples of panic as cellphones died and radio transmissions became increasingly garbled. The emergency mobilization took hold in dozens of terse radio exchanges and calls.
The calls came in from off-duty police, firefighters and emergency workers from across three states. Get suited up and go, they were told over and over.
Those trapped in the towers left their messages.
"I'm here; you know, the building is full of smoke," one male caller caught on the upper floors of one of the two towers reported to a police sergeant. "The stairways are packed, like [inaudible]; on one of the floors, there's this big hole down."
Pat Hoey, a 53-year-old executive with the Port Authority in charge of special projects at the George Washington Bridge and Lincoln Tunnel, left his last public words in the transcripts.
He called a police desk sergeant from the 64th floor of the north tower minutes before it collapsed.
"I've got 20 people here with me," he said. "What do you suggest?"
"Stand tight," the desk sergeant told him. "Stay near the stairwells and wait for the police to come up."
"They will come up, huh?" Hoey asked. "OK. They will check each floor?" Then there was a loud commotion, the transcript said.
"If you would, just report that we're up here," Hoey said.
He called back a few minutes later. "The smoke is getting kind of bad. So we are going to ... we are contemplating going down the stairway. Does that make sense?"
"Yes," the police desk man on the line replied. "Try to get out."
When Hoey reached the 50th floor, he took time in the smoke and darkness to call his wife. He didn't make it to the street.
But the voices of command also could be heard cutting through the incredulity and confusion. From the Port Authority came a terse call to a nameless official responsible for the bridges leading to Manhattan. "Listen," the voice ordered, "shut down the bridges. Shut 'em down."
"I'll -- I'll shut them down," the man stammered in reply.
As the scope of the attack became clear, the airwaves and land lines were choked with desperate pleas for medical supplies, for crowbars and masks, and finally for cadaver dogs, the transcripts show. The calls were sometimes frantic, often poignant and at moments prophetic:
As the rumble of the buildings' collapse still reverberated through emergency radio channels, a worried wife reached her husband on duty at a police desk. "I'm OK," he told her.
"I didn't hear from you," she said. "How are you doing?"
"I'm OK," he said.
"It looks like we're going to war," he replied.
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After a plane struck one of the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001, callers from the top floors of the second tower were told by Port Authority police to stay where they were.
"We need to know if we need to get out of here, because we know there's an explosion.... Should we stay or should we not?"
-- Male caller from the 92nd floor of the second tower
"I would wait till further notice."
-- Port Authority police officer
"OK, all right. Don't evacuate."
The caller, who then hung up