A Must-read Book Of 9/11 Bravery

Susan Page
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Wednesday - April 12, 2006
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On Sept. 11, 2001 it took 102 minutes for the two World Trade Center towers to collapse.

Between 8:46 a.m. when the first plane hit the North Tower, then the second plant hit the South Tower and it collapsed, and 10:28 a.m., when the North Tower collapsed: 102 minutes.

Ironically, I was at an airport bookstore recently killing time before a flight and bought the best-seller 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers by New York Times reporters Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn. First released in 2005, it’s now available in paperback. Like my Bible, I will keep this book by my bedside as a reminder of the good and evil in the world.


According to the book, when some 10,000 gallons of fuel on Flight 11 ignited on its impact with floors 94 through 99 of the North Tower, it propelled fireballs of up to 200 feet wide through and out of the building. Flight 175 did the same in the South Tower.

While hundreds of people probably died on impact on the 15 floors of both towers that took direct airplane hits, thousands remained alive above them during those desperate, bewildering, torturous minutes. Many of those sons, daughters, husbands, wives and friends became human fireballs launching themselves from windows just to breathe fresh air as they free fell nearly a quarter of a mile. Others were alive but torn apart, literally. Still others were trapped inside offices with smoke slowly filling - and killing. Many, terrified but hopeful, waited for rescues that never came - that couldn’t come.

It’s been four years, six months and about a week that now-convicted Zacarias Moussaoui, the would-be hijacker whose 9-11 mission was to fly into the White House, has been alive and well-fed at American taxpayer expense. Exactly how many minutes has he enjoyed breathing fresh air, worshipping, interacting with his paid-for attorneys, watching TV and exercising?

When he heard the voice recording of hijacked American Airlines flight attendant pleading “I don’t want to die,” Moussaoui testified, “I felt ecstasy.”

Imagine what sheer glee he must’ve experienced when he heard other 9-11 tapes played in the courtroom. Maybe he heard Garth Feeney at the Windows on the World for a breakfast meeting, who called his mom.

“Hi, What’s new?” she said. “Mom, I’m not calling to chat, I’m in the World Trade Center and it’s been hit by a plane.”

“Please tell me you are below it,” his mother said.

“No, I’m above it.”

And don’t forget how Osama bin Laden high-fived his colleagues and praised Allah when much to his delight and surprise, the towers collapsed, sucking the remaining stranded down, down, down to a crushing death. He will no doubt reach nirvana when he hears the just-released 911 call tapes from the towers and the hijacked flights.


102 Minutes is a masterpiece of journalism that every American - no, every person - should read. It doesn’t aim to sensationalize the events of 9-11-01, but to report them. After the authors interviewed nearly 400 survivors, a fairly clear picture emerged from the smoke and fumes that enabled them to retell the horrific story from the inside out, without the hysterics of the earliest weeks. Through exhaustive research of the history of the World Trade Center, the New York City building codes, the towers’ architecture and engineering, and the politics surrounding the two main rescue organizations, they piece together facts that help explain why both chaos and calm shared the same stage that tragic day.

102 Minutes is longer on what went wrong than what went right - evacuation and survival of 12,000 people is no small thing - but the in depth analysis of the failures encourages change. It also begs the question - and the authors imply it: Can humans protect themselves against this kind of terrorist attack? And if not, what does it take to survive?

I reached three personal conclusions after reading this book:

1) When the going gets tough, we must follow the leader inside ourselves, not wait for others to rescue. The few survivors that made it out from the impact floors were not saved by firefighters or police, but by their own instinct, guts and, in some cases, fellow workers. Natural disasters like the Kauai dam tragedy, Hurricane Katrina, the South Asia tsunami and earthquakes repeat this notion. Despite all kinds of good intentions, governments can’t save us from instant disaster. We must be the “masters of our fate” (Invictus by William Ernest Henley). We must be prepared physically, mentally, spiritually.

2) Man will always strive to build monuments to himself. They’re all fallible.

3) Moussaoui and all others who are dedicated to killing Americans should not be allowed to enjoy the ecstasy of reliving the terrified last moments of young mothers, handicapped accountants, proud window washers, food servers, grandfathers about to retire, and airline travelers. We should help them meet Allah within 102 uncomfortable minutes.

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