Warning: This post contains distressing subject matter and images that will not be appropriate for all readers.
As New Yorkers stood, watching the apocalyptic scene of the North and the South World Trade Centers collapse before them, their eyes were drawn to unusual movement.
From the windows of both towers, onlookers noticed objects – one by one – falling from windows.
As it dawned on those below what they were likely witnessing, a mother is said to have whispered to her child, “Maybe they’re just birds, honey.”
Moments later a woman cried, “God! Save their souls! They’re jumping! Oh, please God! Save their souls!”
They were not objects, bystanders realised. And they certainly weren’t birds. They were people.
And ‘jumped’, according to the New York Medical Examiner’s Office, is not the right word.
“We don’t like to say they jumped,” the office told Esquire magazine in 2016. “They didn’t jump. Nobody jumped. They were forced out.”
And they were forced out almost immediately after the first plane hit. They were fleeing fire, or smoke which threatened to suffocate them. They were fleeing collapsing ceilings and floors, which threatened to crush them. They were attempting to escape death – not succumb to it.
Video cameras documented the falling towers, a visual metaphor for an attack on freedom and liberty.
In the United States, once news room realised what they were documenting – that is people falling to their deaths – they stopped broadcasting the footage.
But by then, the video had aired all over the world.
People in China or France or Canada or Australia had seen men and women falling, in an act of unimaginable desperation, from 110 story buildings. This wasn’t a television show. It was the worst kind of death imaginable delivered to lounge rooms, in some places just before bed, and in others, before they’d even had breakfast.
They were images that traumatised a generation.
Whether one was nine or 79 in 2001, almost everyone can recall the image of human beings, who had turned up to work on an otherwise nondescript Tuesday, falling to their deaths by mid-morning.
It would’ve taken less than 10 seconds, we’d later read.
They were alive as they fell through the air, horrifyingly aware of what awaited them.