The Port Authority on Friday released a dramatic recording of fire department radio transmissions from inside the World Trade Center last September 11th, fueling the debate about how easily rescuers were able to communicate with each other in the aftermath of the terror attacks.
The 73-minute tape, which features approximately 20 minutes of active conversation, provides a chilling reminder of the bravery of firefighters as they worked to evacuate the doomed Twin Towers.
The tape was recorded from transmissions made in the South Tower, the second of the two towers struck by hijacked jetliners on September 11, 2001.
The FDNY has maintained that the towers' radio repeaters failed on September 11th, keeping firefighters from communicating effectively. However, officials with the Port Authority, owners of the World Trade Center complex, say that the audio recording shows that the repeater system worked properly.
Nevertheless, several firefighters on the tape can be heard asking for information to be relayed to other firefighters, suggesting that the repeater operated only intermittently.
The ineffectiveness of the radio repeaters was cited by the FDNY as one of the reasons so many firefighters died in the collapse of the buildings. Although fire officials on the ground radioed up orders to evacuate, 343 firefighters perished when the twin towers fell.
In the recording, numerous firefighters can be heard speaking clearly from several floors within the south tower, up until about a minute before the collapse of the building. The dramatic audio, in which calm, resolute voices alternate with breathless descriptions of deteriorating conditions, provides concrete evidence that firefighters made it up as high as the 78th floor of the south tower, one floor below where the hijacked plane slammed into the building.
Among the transmissions, an out-of-breath battalion chief can be heard urgently requesting hoses to fight two fires directly below the impact zone.
"Battalion 7 operations Tower One - need you on floor above 79 - we have access stairs going up to 79," a firefighter says at one point.
In another section, a chief is heard setting up a staging area for wounded on the 40th floor. Other firefighters can be heard making their way up the building’s stairwells to help find survivors, their voices echoing off the narrow walls as they climb.
The recording, released Friday, came from a special reel-to-reel tape unit that was recovered amid the rubble at 5 World Trade Center about three weeks after the collapse of the twin towers. The tape was withheld from the public by prosecutors who earlier wanted to use the material in the trial of accused terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui.
The recording contains substantial conversation between firefighters high in the tower and those on the ground, demonstrating the effectiveness of the building's radio repeaters.
However, NYPD Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta said Friday that the tape shows that the repeater was only working sporadically.
"What I have said even before the tapes were released, is that the repeater was working intermittently," Scoppetta said. "Listen to the tape and you will hear all of this confirmed."
Indeed, a portion of the recording has a firefighter radioing another battalion:
"Battalion 1 to Battalion 7 – I don't think we have the repeater. I can pick you up on my radio but not on the hardwire."
Although many firefighters could hear each other within the south tower, there is still no explanation as to why firefighters in the north tower were unable to hear transmissions there.