Innuendo, erroneous reports abound in WTC transcripts
BYLINE: By LARRY McSHANE, Associated Press Writer
The Associated Press
August 29, 2003, Friday, BC cycle
The caller's story was outrageous: Someone had fired missiles at the World Trade Center's north tower from atop the nearby Woolworth Building. Terrorists in a plane watching the attack then plowed into the south tower.
"Oh, man," said a woman in the office of the Port Authority's police superintendent, Fred Morrone. "And both towers were hit?"
"Both towers," the caller said.
Amid the real-life horrors of Sept. 11, 2001, the 2,000 pages of transcripts of emergency communications that day also revealed a flood of terrifying rumors and misinformation: A possible bomb on the George Washington Bridge, a third hijacked plane winging toward Manhattan.
None of it was true, but nothing seemed unimaginable as both 110-story towers were attacked in lower Manhattan. The terrorist attack killed 2,792 people.
With confusing reports flooding into the Port Authority that day, the transcripts demonstrate how workers "showed a tremendous degree of professionalism under extremely chaotic circumstances," spokesman Harry Spector said.
The Woolworth Building, itself once the tallest in the world, was cited as a possible source of the attack.
"Can you send somebody over to the Woolworth Building to check the roof?" a Port Authority police officer asked. "There's a possible ... they said it was ... we just had a second explosion, possibly a missile from the roof of the Woolworth Building."
"The Woolworth Building?" replied a police operator.
"'Yeah, on ... on Broadway," the officer said.
Transcripts created from tapes of Port Authority emergency calls and radio transmissions that day illustrate the utter disorientation caused by the worst terrorist attack in U.S. history.
"It's a fire bomb," one caller told authorities.
"A helicopter crash," said a second man calling the Port Authority police.
"Possible aircraft explosion," offered a PA police officer in another phone call.
The transcripts were released Thursday evening by the Port Authority, which owned the trade center, just two weeks before the second anniversary of the attack. The New York Times went to court to win their release.
Already reeling from the twin attacks, authorities were soon hit with another threat.
"We have a report over the radio from New York City that there is a third plane on the way," said Port Authority police Officer Tommy Cashin, speaking to the PA police in Newark.
"Yeah, we heard that too," said a sergeant answering the call. "Military is aware of that, they're the ones that told us."
Another Port Authority officer, speaking by phone with his mother, presented an even grimmer picture.
"Don't even go out," he told her. "I mean, they got planes on the radar. They think they are going to start crashing all over Manhattan."
Another officer told his wife, "It looks like we're going to be at war. They're attacking all over the country."
In upper Manhattan, the George Washington Bridge - the main artery for getting in and out of the city after the attacks - was targeted with a bomb threat, one of hundreds that plagued New York immediately after Sept. 11.
An FBI agent called New Jersey state police, asking if the bridge was open for emergency vehicles.
"FBI, this is Port Authority," said a PA officer. "Be advised we have a bomb threat on the George Washington Bridge at this time. (inaudible) get off."
Another Port Authority officer expressed concerns that officials had about other potential terrorist targets, like the Lincoln Tunnel or the Brooklyn Bridge.
"There's various reports, all terrorist, uh, vehicles on the crossings," he says, referring to the area's bridges and tunnels.
There was only one thing for certain, as the transcripts showed - words uttered over and over and over.