Friday, March 31, 2006

Cries for Help Edited Out of 9/11 Tapes

Rosemary Cain, left, and Barbara Hetzel listen to compact discs of emergency calls from Sept. 11, 2001 that were released in New York, Friday March 31, 2006. Nearly nine hours of emergency calls, some made from inside the doomed World Trade Center, were released Friday by city officials, detailing the responses of 911 operators to frantic calls made in the chaos following the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attack. (AP Photo/Richard Drew)

This is from Yahoo News:

NEW YORK - Emergency operators listening to trapped callers' heartbreaking pleas from the burning World Trade Center repeatedly said help was on the way while they struggled with crashing computers, utter confusion and their own emotions, several hours of 911 calls released Friday show.

In releasing the 130 calls, city officials edited out the voices of those who sought help. But the police and fire dispatchers often repeated the callers' words, reflecting the fear and chaos of the morning of Sept. 11, 2001.

Now continuing further down the story:

The transcripts and nearly nine hours of audio recordings were released after The New York Times and relatives of Sept. 11 victims sued to get them. An appeals court ruled last year that the calls of victims in the burning twin towers were too intense and emotional to be released without their families' consent.

As a result, the transcripts held long blank spaces where the callers' words would have appeared.

Often, it was clear from conversations between police and fire department operators that they were not sure what had occurred. At one point a police operator told a fire dispatcher that a helicopter had hit one of the towers.

The operators managed generally to maintain their composure even as word spread that what initially appeared to be a tragic accident was actually a choreographed terrorist attack involving two planes and both towers.

Sirens screamed in the background as the callers pleaded for help. Although there were no voices, their desperation was evident in heavy, audible breathing on the other end of the operators' calls.

People run from the collapse of World Trade Center Tower in this file photo of Tuesday, Sept. 11, 2001, in New York. New York City is scheduled to release phone calls Friday, March 31, 2006, made during the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, from 28 people trapped in the burning towers to the emergency 911 phone number. (AP Photo/Suzanne Plunkett, File)

Okay, I can understand that some of these calls may be too traumatic for family members who do not want to have their loved ones' voices, and their terror, publicized. And yet, I also understand that these recordings are an enormous treasure trove of information for future historians to objectively study the 9/11 attacks. I hope this information does not become lost, or deleted. So I'm conflicted here between the rights of the victim's families, and the desire to preserve history.

I hope there can be a compromise here. It may still be too early for some of these calls to be released. So I think the best thing is to allow the tapes, which the families had refused consent, to remain unpublished for an extended period of time--say fifty years. Then have either another review of the tapes, or to release them to a research library, or a university, for historical use. My greatest fear is that these tapes will be lost, deleted, or erased, at a time when the memory of 9/11 is still too fresh in the minds of the American public.

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