9/11 Tapes Revive Lost Voices, and Families' Pain


The New York Times, March 30 2006

By Jim Dwyer

No, Joe and Marie Hanley decided at first, they would not listen to the 911 tape of their son, Chris, calling for help from Windows on the World.

And no, Jack Gentul and his sons agreed, they had no intention of playing the tape of Alayne Gentul, wife and mother, calling 911 from the south tower of the World Trade Center.

Will Sept. 11 ever be over, Debbie Andreacchio wondered, after the mayor's office called her on Monday, on her brother Jack's birthday, to say he had telephoned 911 on that morning four and a half years ago.

These three families were among 27 who learned in the last few days that the city had tape recordings of 911 phone calls made by loved ones from inside the twin towers. Faced with a court order issued three years ago and the prospect of new ultimatums, city lawyers this week offered tapes of the individual calls to the next of kin.

"Everything that surrounds 9/11 is insane," Ms. Andreacchio said. "Why wouldn't they let something like this out sooner? It never settles."

Disruptive as they are, the tapes hold unique power as aural relics and as portals into a lost and unseen moment for these three families. So the Andreacchios, the Gentuls and the Hanleys have decided to go ahead and obtain them.

On Monday, the Hanleys went to the city Law Department, signed some papers and took the recording back to their home on the East Side of Manhattan.

They ejected a disc labeled "Beethoven Concerto for Piano and Orchestra," and pushed in a white disc printed with the name of their only child, Christopher James Hanley.

"Time of the call oh-eight-hundred hours, fifty minutes and thirty seconds," a stranger's voice intoned.

That would be 8:50:30 a.m...just four minutes after the first plane struck.

Then a familiar voice came from the speakers.

"Yeah, hi, I am on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center, which had an explosion," their son said.

"The 106th floor?" replied the operator.

"We had a conference up here," Chris Hanley said. "There's about 100 people up here."

Mr. Hanley, 35, worked for Radianz, then a division of Reuters. That morning, he was attending a conference organized by Risk Waters, a financial publisher, in the restaurant at the top of the north tower. The plane had crashed into the building between the 94th and 99th floors, 80 feet or so below the restaurant, but the smoke had forced itself to the very top of the building. So despite its distance from the area of the impact, conditions at the restaurant quickly became difficult.

The available records suggest that Mr. Hanley was among the first people inside either tower to reach the 911 system. His voice is clear.

"What is your last name?" asked the operator.

"Hanley," he replied.

"H-A-N," the operator says.

"We have smoke and it's pretty bad," he said.

A moment later, the operator said, "O.K., we have the job. Let me connect you with the fire, O.K.?"

"Yes," Mr. Hanley replied, hearing the word fire. "There is fire, smoke. We have about 100 people here. We can't get down the stairs."

His parents, who played the recording last night for a reporter, said they recognized their son, not only in his tone, but his manner.

"He was strong and was thinking so clearly and beautifully," Marie Hanley said. "Patient with the Fire Department and 911. It brought everything back up again."

Joseph Hanley said: "It made me proud of him. That he was able to maintain his coolness."
"Grace under pressure," Mrs. Hanley said.

The valor of the emergency responders quickly became a familiar part of the chronicles of Sept. 11. The acts of civilians trapped on the high floors remained largely invisible.

Alayne Gentul, who worked in the south tower, the second of the buildings to be hit, had given decisive orders for her staff and others to leave the 90th and 94th floors, according to the accounts of survivors. Then she and others made their way to the 97th floor to clear out a team of computer specialists visiting her firm for a disaster drill. She was trapped with them when the second plane hit.

Mr. Gentul said he had learned three years ago from a New York Times reporter that his wife had called 911 from the 97th floor, so he was not shocked to receive a letter last weekend from the city about it.

He discussed the tape with his children, he said.

"We are going to request the recordings, but we have no intention of listening to it," said Mr. Gentul, the dean of students at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. "We thought we would request it to keep the choice open for the children, or for their children."

Tomorrow, the city is scheduled to release all the calls from the towers, but with the voices of the callers erased, leaving only the operators' sides of the communications. The city won court approval for this approach by arguing that the privacy of the callers should be protected. Yesterday, acting on a request by The New York Times, a state judge in Manhattan said that the city must leave in the names of the callers if the operators mentioned them. The city plans to appeal.

For many of those closest to the day, the release of the tapes is yet another Sisyphean moment in the march away from Sept. 11, in which every step forward in time seems to be matched by one that sends them lurching back toward the day again.

"Part of us wishes this whole matter could move on and our lives could move on," said Mr. Gentul, who remarried last year."I'm very proud of her. It's just what happens. Life happens."

Jack Andreacchio, who worked on the 80th floor of the south tower, had moved many people off the floor and had actually gotten 10 floors down when he chose to return to the 80th floor. The wing of the second plane essentially sliced his floor in half. Mr. Andreacchio managed to call his sister Debbie, and describe his plight, and to apologize for the ghastly memory that he was imposing on her. Their call dropped out, she said.

Then Mr. Andreacchio was connected by chance to the 911 system. A man who called into the trade center, in search of a relative, instead found Mr. Andreacchio, and transferred him to a 911 operator.

Ms. Andreacchio had not known about that call, she said, until a reporter told her about it this week.

"I want to hear it," she said. "I want to hear exactly what's on it. I'd like certain people to hear it. This thing just keeps coming back and hitting us in the face. I want to get the tape."

Mr. and Mrs. Hanley said that they were puzzled by much about Sept. 11 — citing the president's use of the attack on New York to justify the war in Iraq, and the procedures at the 911 system, in which a police operator took information from their son, and then passed his call to a Fire Department dispatcher, who picked up after six rings.

"Just keep the windows open," the fire dispatcher said. "It's going to be a while because there is a fire going on downstairs."

"We can't open the windows unless we break them," Mr. Hanley said.

"O.K. Just sit tight," the dispatcher said. "Just sit tight, we are on the way."

"All right," Mr. Hanley replied. "Please hurry."

His mother said it was only in those final two words that she detected any note of worry in his voice.

Those were the words, his father said, that have stayed with him.

"That was the cruncher," he said. " 'Please hurry.' "

A Call for Help

A transcription of the 911 call made by Christopher James Hanley, age 34, on September 11, 2001.

Mr. Hanley was calling from offices of the Radianz Company, located on the 106th floor of 1 World Trade Center, the North Tower.

Audio tape of the Christopher James Hanley telephone call to 911 Listen Here

NYPD OPERATOR: Police Operator One-Eight-Eight-Six. What is your emergency?

Christopher Hanley: Yeah. Hi. I'm on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center. We just had an explosion on the, on the like 105th floor.

NYPD: The One-O-Six floor?

CH: Yes.

NYPD: One-O-Six. Ok. Um..

CH: We have a conference up here. There is about 100 people up here.

NYPD: What is your last name?

CH: Hanley. H-A-N-L-E-Y.


CH: We have smoke and it's pretty bad.

(Operator can be heard typing...)

NYPD: This is on the One-O-Six floor, right?

CH: Hello?

NYPD: OK, we have the job. Let me connect you with the fire, OK?

CH: Yes, there is fire, smoke.

NYPD: You have..Hold on, let me connect you with fire. OK?

CH: We have about 100 people here.

We can't get down the stairs.

NYPD: Hold on. Let me connect you with fire.


NYPD: Come on now.


FDNY DISPATCHER: Fire Department 408. Where's the fire?

CH: Yeah. Hi. I'm on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center. We just had an explosion up here.

FDNY: Ok. One-O-Sixth floor.

What building are you in, sir? One or Two?

CH: That's One World Trade.

FDNY: Alright.

NYPD: (Still on the line) One?

FDNY: Yeah.

CH: Yeah, there's smoke and we have about 100 people up here.

FDNY: Sit tight. Do not leave, OK? There is a fire or an explosion or something in the building. Alright? I want you to stay where you are.

CH: Yes.

FDNY: Alright, what's your phone number there?

CH: We're on the 106th, the 106th floor.

FDNY: What's your phone number. Sir. Your phone number.

CH: 646-752-1436

FDNY: Alright, we're there. We're coming up to get you.

CH: I can see the smoke coming up from outside the windows down...

FDNY: Alright. We're on the way.

CH: Huh?

FDNY: We're on the way, sir.

CH: OK. Please Hurry.

FDNY: Alright, just keep the windows open. It's going to be awhile because there's a fire going on downstairs.

CH: We can't open the windows unless we break them.

FDNY: OK. Just sit tight. Just sit tight. We're on the way.

CH: Alright. Please hurry.

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© 2006 by Neil Mishalov