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Saturday, April 01, 2006

9/11 Flashbacks

Knowing that this story was coming today, we took the newspaper into the house this morning, even though we usually try not to on Shabbos. (That particular halachic discussion can be saved for another time). It was as sad to read as I expected. The stories of people trapped on the highest floors on 9/11, and their attempts to call for help (unsuccessfully), were heartbreaking, even after all this time. The most painful to read was this account, of an Orthodox man (that my husband actually knew), who spent the last minutes of his life in prayer with friends, as well as calling emergency dispatchers for direction:
Just before the south tower collapsed at 9:59, a spate of calls reached the 911 operators.

Shimmy D. Biegeleisen, who worked on computer systems for Fiduciary Trust in the south tower, was on the 97th floor, where, by chance, an emergency drill had been scheduled for that day.

He called his home in Brooklyn, spoke with his wife and prayed with a friend, Jack Edelman, who said Mr. Biegeleisen recited the 24th Psalm in Hebrew: "Of David. A Psalm. The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world and those that live in it."

At 9:52, Mr. Biegeleisen called 911. The building would stand for seven more minutes. He spent those minutes telling first the police operator, then the fire dispatcher, that he was on the 97th floor with six people, that the smoke had gotten heavy.

The police operator tried to encourage Mr. Biegeleisen.

"Heavy smoke. O.K. Sir, please try to keep calm. We'll send somebody up there immediately. Hold on. Stay on the line. I'm contacting E.M.S. Hold on. I'm connecting you to the ambulance service now."

As his call was transferred to the ambulance service, once again the information about the smoke and the 97th floor was sought and delivered.

"Sir, any smoke over there?" asked the ambulance dispatcher. "O.K., the best thing to do is to keep — keep down on the ground. All right? O.K.?"

The ambulance dispatcher hung up, but the original operator stayed on the line with Mr. Biegeleisen. She could be heard speaking briefly with someone else in the room, and then turned her attention back to him.

"We'll disengage, O.K.?" the operator asked. "There were notifications made. We made the notifications. If there's any further, you let us know. You can call back."

Seconds later, the building collapsed.
Unfortunately, he did not make it out, reminding me all over again how lucky we were that day.