Windows On The World – The UnWritten Story
Life and death can sometimes be decided on a razor thin wire of chance.
In rare cases, one small change to circumstances can significantly change the course or outcome of an event.
The details of this decision-incident can remain completely transparent to the individuals involved until the event is completely over.
On September 11th 2001 at 8:46:26 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11 Boeing 767 impacted the north side of the North Tower of 1 World Trade Center.
The plane entered the North Tower between the 94th and 98th floors.
Flight 11 was flying at a speed of 490 miles per hour at the time of impact.
Well documented accounts of the significant human losses that morning at the North Tower at The World Trade Center included such companies as Aon Corp, Cantor Fitzgerald and Marsh & McLennan.
One particular company, Risk Waters Group Ltd, A British company, was at Windows On The World conference facility that morning.
Windows On The World – Background
Windows On The World was a famous 40,000 square foot restaurant near the top of the North tower on the 107th Floor at 1 World Trade Center.
It boasted a popular “New American” style menu and had a first class wine list that included Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1928 for $3000.00.
The 107th floor was also occupied by “The Greatest Bar on Earth”, aka GBOE. This 13,000 square foot happy hour bar was popular with tourists and Wall Street types alike. It was a traditional for New Yorkers to often complain about its “poor quality” and “expensive” drinks, but its location spoke volumes with amazing panoramic views of Manhattan and the tri-state area that was pretty hard to beat.
The 107th floor was also occupied by Wild Blue, a rather romantic and quiet restaurant and bar in the space formerly occupied by Cellar in the Sky.
A popular misconception is that Windows on the World was at the very top of the North tower, when in fact the top enclosed floor was the 110th floor, where CNN and some other television companies sited equipment and staff.
It was the South tower, across the square that had the glass-enclosed observatory on the 107th floor and the world’s highest open-air deck on the 110th floor that the tourists could visit.
On the fateful day of 9/11 2001 the Windows on The World Conference Facility on the 106th floor was playing host to the Risk Waters Financial seminar.
One floor above, on the 107th floor, the main restaurant and the bar were closed. Wild Blue, however was serving breakfast to a number of WTC occupants.
Risk Waters Group would not have normally been at the World Trade Center that day. They had organized a financial technology congress that was due to run both days of Tuesday 11th and Wednesday 12th of September 2001. They had invited a number of delegates from various financial companies and vendors in New York and the United States.
What distinguishes those delegates from the other victims in the WTC is that they wouldn’t normally be there and chance had a way of putting them there that morning. This, of course, is of no solace to the families left behind, but nevertheless remains a gruesome fact.
The delegate’s presence at the WTC is somewhat akin to the people who died at the (alleged) job interviews at Cantor Fitzgerald on the 95th floor. People who wouldn’t have normally been there, but were.
The Risk Waters conference was due to start at 8:00am with Breakfast, with the first speaker due to begin at 9:00am.
At the precise time of the impact were 16 staff from Risk Waters and 53 delegates from various invited companies and vendors in attendance.
An additional 137 delegates had been invited but had not arrived at the time of the impact or did not plan in coming after all.
Following the plane impact there were reports that delegates from this conference were being moved to the 107th floor. Conflicting reports indicate that smoke was heavy at the 107th floor and all the “Windows” staff was moved to the 106th floor to join the delegates.
Christine Olender, the restaurant’s assistant general manager, said via her mobile phone to 911 services “We’re getting no direction up here. We’re having a smoke condition. We have most people on the 106th floor; the 107th floor is way too smoky,” Other people above the impact site in the North Tower included staff from Windows on the World located on the 106th and 107th floors and from other companies on various floors above and below.
It is understood that the roof deck was not accessible by the staff and delegates, but this is perhaps irrelevant as they may have sought adequate refuge on the 106th floor and rooftop rescue by helicopter was not a viable option, due to the updraft caused by the burning fuel
It is estimated over 200 people jumped to their death, with the majority of that number being made up from the North tower, where the fire and smoke were limited to fewer floors – which made it more intense. The estimate was because “Jumper” injuries were very similar to injuries sustained by enclosed occupants and could not be clearly established following the event. The figure was arrived at by analyzing photographs of descending bodies that were taken at the scene.
In the North Tower there were 1360 fatalities above the 92nd floor, which was 100% of its occupants at the time.
In contrast, the South tower had one fire escape that was passable after their impact, so in fact 350 people escaped even though they were above the point of impact.
Being above the 92nd floor in the North tower on that fateful day meant certain death for its occupants. No one survived.
While many WTC corporations knew the risk of an attack following the 1993 bomb was high, they had accepted the risk of this occurrence and went on with their daily lives. In retrospect all the regular daily inhabitants of the WTC were a walking probability. The Risk Waters group and delegates exemplify the randomness of the event. It seems sadly ironic that the Risk Waters Group range of products and services are dedicated to risk management.
Liz Thompson 61 is executive director of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC). Thompson was on what was to be the last elevator down from the 91st floor in the north tower of the World Trade Center. She was in a meeting concerning a public art commission; Liz is reported to have exited the lobby at 8:43am
LMCC artist in residence Michael Richards, was not so lucky, he remained on the 91st floor and perished.
62-year old naval architect, George Sleigh, was in a north-facing office on the telephone to a colleague on the 91st floor. Incredibly, George witnessed the aircraft heading towards his building when it was just two to three plane lengths away. “It was quite a shock to see a large passenger plane that close to the building. Almost immediately upon me seeing it, the plane hit the building,” he says. George works for the American Bureau of Shipping; its suite of offices was on the 91st floor, immediately to the left of the impact zone. It took George 50 minutes to descend the 91 flights to safety within a northern stairwell. He remains the highest survivor from the North Tower, no others from his floor (or above) survived
Peter Field, the chairman and chief executive of Risk Waters Group, was scheduled to be at the Risk Waters conference that morning. He recalls, “I was up at about 6:30am to check my e-mail and phone the London office, intending to leave for the inaugural Waters Financial Technology Congress at the World Trade Center no later than 8:00 am. But I had trouble retrieving my e-mail and I decided to call our IT manager in London to get the problem sorted out. It was this simple act that probably saved my life. By the time I’d accessed my e-mail, I was running late, eventually leaving my hotel on the Upper West Side at about 8:10am.
I ran across the road from my hotel to the 66th St. subway entrance only to find there was a long delay in the service on the 1 and 9 lines to the Cortlandt St./World Trade Center station. Eventually, I crammed myself on to a train at around 8:25am. I thought: “I might still catch David’s opening remarks because the conference is bound to start a little late.” Delegates always register at the last minute on the first day of conferences. David Rivers, our company’s editorial director in New York, knew more about financial technology than many in the industry and was therefore ideal to open the first Waters Congress at Windows on the World, on the 106th floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center”
When Peter arrived at street level at Cortlandt St at 8:50am he found the tragedy beginning to unfold “There was a sickening smell of what I thought was gas but which I later discovered was jet fuel”. ” On the shopping concourse above the station, I remember a brief glimpse of broken glass and a cacophony of alarms before I became aware of security guards screaming at us, “Run, run for your life””.
Greg Manning who stood, horrified, on the morning of Sept. 11 as he watched the towers burn – smoke belching, he was certain, from the 105th floor of Tower One, where his wife Lauren worked, and the 84th floor of Tower Two, where his employer, Euro Brokers, was located. Friends and family called immediately. “I could not say whether Lauren was alive,” Greg Manning wrote in his book. “I was almost certain she was dead.” Behind schedule that day, Greg, a Euro Brokers vice president, was to have attended the Risk Waters conference at the Windows on the World on the 106th floor of Tower One.
Tony Mann, president of E-J Electric, Long Island City, which had an office in Tower 2, built and maintained the World Trade Center’s entire security system. On the morning of Sept. 11, the electricians were doing routine maintenance work when the first hijacked commercial airliner slammed into Tower 1.
“Five minutes before it happened, one of our foremen was on the 107th floor,” Mann said. “His radio wasn’t working, so he came down and was walking across the lobby when the first plane hit. He then ran down to the basement to make sure all our people got out.”
For Rick Weisfeld, president of Bronx Builders, a woodworking firm, the morning was especially hard. Three of his employees were in the World Trade Center, attending an early morning meeting at Windows on the World on the 107th floor “We were renovating one of the bars there,” Weisfeld recalled. Later, he would learn that all three, including one a key foreman and a close friend, were among the nearly 3,000 people who were killed in the World Trade Center attacks
Architect Obdulio Ruiz-Diaz, a draftsman with Bronx Builders, was one of those men with co-workers Joshua Poptean and Manuel DaMota.
Chris Morrison (34) of Zurich Scudder Investments, grew up on High Plain Road, Andover, New York – where his parents – Joe and Maureen – still live. Chris was a popular and successful graduate of Central Catholic High School and St. Lawrence University. He was another delegate attending the Risk Waters seminar on the 106th floor.
Heather Ho, age 32 was an executive pastry chef at New York’s Windows on the World restaurant on the 107th floor of the World Trade Center. Heather was always early for her job and worked hard. She was greatly admired for creative new ideas in the approach to traditional recipes. Her dream was to open her own pastry shop. A roommate described her as a unique and amazing person. She said she knew how to have a good time and also worked and played hard.
Neil D. Levin, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, wanted the agency’s airports to be showcases for the region, and pushed workers to develop high-tech improvements for airline passengers and time-deprived commuters. He was on the 106th floor talking with his secretary on the 67th floor of the North Tower. It is unclear why he was at
the Risk Waters meeting, as it was primarily for the financial community and no other meetings were taking place on that floor that morning.
His wife, Christy Ferer, an author and former television reporter said “The last time someone talked to him, he was on the 106th floor. His secretary [from his office on the 67th floor] was
talking to him by phone, and as he was talking the plane hit, and they both said `Holy cow!’ at the same time. The line went dead. Then [a co-worker] said she ran into someone who said he was on the 63rd floor, and that’s what gave me false hope.” “He never returned home”
The final messages to the loved ones came in a variety of ways. Some came via email, others by Blackberry, some managed to use land lines or mobile phones. Some accounts have faxes and others have cherished voicemail’s. By all reports the mobile phone network survived right up until the last minute because the primary transmitter was on the roof, albeit severely impaired by the volume of calls being placed throughout downtown Manhattan.
When the final messages were being delivered through the various means, those who were trapped had no chance of survival, they just didn’t know it, neither did we. We all assumed they had a fighting chance, a slim opportunity to survive, surely someone would survive.
Brian Clark, a World Trade Center survivor in the 1993 and 2001 incidents said in his book “Why couldn’t there have been just one survivor from the North Tower above the impact site? – With a parachute or something, I know it sounds absurd, just so we can say one person survived” He added “Perhaps that individual would have been vilified by grieving families, or maybe it would have brought hope of man’s ability to endure however hopeless the odds”, “To see him jumping out of the building and gliding down in bright colors framed with the beautiful blue sky amid the terrible turmoil of the scene would have raised the hearts of both the trapped and the grieving families alike”, “It’s not their son, but he would have carried the spirit of all of them” “If that had been me, I can’t imagine how I would have been able to turn my back on those left behind though”
With hindsight, many opportunities to avoid being caught up in this terrible tragedy existed, but who was to know such a terrible thing could happen on such a beautiful day. It seems that the odds of the event occurring remained constant and that time was the only unknown factor.
This adds weight to the probability argument that, given time, everything can happen to everyone, everywhere.
It has forever changed the way Americans live their lives.
My Personal Experience Of 9/11 and Windows On The World
I remember getting the Risk Waters invitation to be at Windows on The World at 8AM on that fateful morning. Having little interest in the subject matter of the conference, and a couple of interviews later in the day downtown, I stayed in bed only to be woken by my mother calling from London at 8:55 am “Are you OK ?” she said breathlessly. I wiped my eyes, complained about being woken up and told her off for overreacting as usual. I walked to my living room window which the clear day and bright sunshine shone tore through the blinds and thus began the day.
BY SHIELA WINSON