9/11 Jumpers: Giving Voice to Those Who Made a Choice

By , Contributor
As we immerse ourselves in the cultural significance of what the tenth anniversary of 9/11 means, we are faced with endless aspects of that day's events. 

There are the heroes: first responders, people helping others escape only to die themselves, and of course the passengers of Flight 93. We have hung so much on their actions; our pride, patriotism, fear, and anger on their selfless acts versus those of the terrorists.

There are the victims: the innocent people murdered in a depraved act of willful disregard for life. They are the ones we weep for, the aching hole left in the hearts of family, friends, co-workers and those who tried to save them, but could not.  While the passage of time has dulled the shock of that day, the loss is still very palpable and utterly real.

We watched a superbly done documentary on NOVA, "Engineering Ground Zero," which focused on the creation of Memorial Park and One World Trade Center's Tower One. They outlined the great lengths the chief architect, David Childs, went through to ensure the new building -- set to be the tallest building in Manhattan and the third tallest office building in the world -- would be safe against terror attacks.

This single aspect was at the forefront of his mind.  The ability to give those who will work in this building, which stands as the most visible reminder of America's resilience and defiance against terror, a sense of real security, was clearly significant. 

The documentary showed how the new tower, reinforced with thick, chemically treated concrete, compared to the old WTC towers, which used a steel facade now associated with a design that failed to withstand the terror attacks.  Buckling steel, weakened by temperatures close to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit, which ultimately seemed destined (in hindsight) to bring down these massive towers, are etched in our collective memories.  David Childs seemed determined to use whatever modern technologies were available to assure and ensure future occupants would never relive such a horrific event.

Freedom_Tower_New.jpgThe immense structure, set to tower at 1776 feet, a number significantly picked to coincide with the year of America's independence, is awe-inspiring. The behind the scenes footage of construction workers, who are building the aptly titled "Freedom Tower," brought on an incredible sense of vertigo.

As someone with an irrational fear of heights, or acrophobia, I felt dizzy just watching these men traverse beams and scaffoldings at heights that would tear at the heart of me. 

Suddenly my mind shifted to the 9/11 jumpers.  I imagined the fear, terror and sheer panic which led them to jump to their certain deaths; a jump which lasted a mere 10 seconds.

As with all situations my mind can't conceive, I tried to put myself in their position. What would I do if smoke and infernal heat rose around me? What would I do if I was trapped like a caged animal with no escape?

There are reports that close to 200 people jumped, fell or were pushed to their deaths in those terrifying moments before the two towers succumbed to flames and destruction. Reports claim the heat was so intense in those upper levels where victims were trapped, that peopled climbed on their desks to escape the heat emanating from the floors and walls around them.

As I imagined their fate, my other fear kicked in, claustrophobia, and despite a lack of imminent danger, I felt my heart race, sweat began to bead and I felt sick to my stomach. Faced with death, no escape, and only two options -- falling to their death or burning alive -- I am not sure what any of us would do in this situation. The human mind can't conceive of such things unless you are forced to. God pray none of us are forced to.

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In some ways, much has been made about the images of the jumpers. The iconic image of the "Falling Man," as he plunges head first to his death. There's the image of a man and woman holding hands falling together, and another of a shirtless man, clothes ripped from his body from the force of air, who may have already been dead when he fell. People could be seen stacked on top of each other, gasping for breath as the smoke engulfed and trapped them.

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However, there's a dark side to this aspect, and for some, they refuse to accept that their loved ones jumped. The religious conundrum is obvious; to commit suicide is to be deprived of eternal salvation. This runs true for virtually all religions, and this was not lost on those involved in the recovery effort or tasked with identifying bodies.

The mainstream media has all but quashed public discussion of these individuals, dubbed the "9/11 jumpers." With over a 1000 victims of 9/11 still unidentified, those who perished and the personal circumstances of their death remains a mystery, and sadly, for the anonymous 200, shrouded in shame.

WTC recovery officials listed the cause of death for everyone (excluding the terrorists) who died during 9/11 as homicide, even the jumpers. This doesn't diminish the personal anguish for the families whose loved ones are believed to have jumped from the towers, who secretly fear they chose their fate, rather than accepting their fate - a fine yet important distinction.



But not all are ashamed, and some are seeking closure and a sense of peace knowing their loved one died with the dignity of having a choice in how they left this world. Richard Pecorella is one of those people

His fiancee, Karen Juday, was a secretary for Cantor Fitzgerald, a global financial services company that lost an inconceivable 658 of their 960 employees. Cantor Fitzgerald occupied floors 101 to 105 on WTC Tower One, and they became trapped after a commercial jet hit and destroyed floors 93 through 98 at 8:46 am.

Mr. Pecorella believes Karen was one of the 200 jumpers and has searched for evidence, sifting through thousands of pictures Richard Drew, an Associated Press photographer, took during the chaos. Drew warned him the images were graphic, but Pecoralla was not dissuaded.

“Are you sure you want to do this? It’s very graphic,” Drew asked him, but he was sure — and there she was, in the first photograph he saw.

She was wearing the familiar bandana she always put on at work and stood in the window frame, holding on, with the flames behind her. There were a lot of other people in the photograph, but Richard was sure he recognised her cream trousers and blue cotton top.

There was a second photograph of a woman falling, hands over her face, legs raised as she came down, no bandana now, but the hair and body shape all too familiar. Drew was almost apologetic to Richard — his instincts had just taken over, he said, he had just recorded what was happening.

Richard reassured him that, in fact, it gave him some closure to know that, at the end, Karen had made a choice. She had jumped; she did not, as he said, burn up and become toast.

“She chose how she should die. It’s not a religious thing with me. A lot of people have problems because they consider it as suicide, which means you go to hell, but I don’t consider it like that, I think it’s more complicated.”

I think Mr. Pecorella's perspective is correct. It is not for us to judge how a person should react when facing certain death, a death that was guaranteed to be filled with excruciating pain and agony. We can not discount the desperation and futility these trapped victims felt as they began to realize their impending fate. To exercise the last bit of control you have over your life, or in this case, your death, takes an act of strength and courage. 

The jumpers who decided to determine their final act should not be defined by the end results, but rather through their desire to decide how they would face death. Their last stand is no less profound or courageous than the heroes of Flight 93.

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I have written and covered celebrity, entertainment and popular culture for over ten years. I also created celebrity web-site Glosslip.com as part of the Blogcritics.org network. When both sites were purchased in 2008 by Technorati.com, she joined their editorial team as Entertainment Editor and then…

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