Sep 11, 2014

September 11th 2001: Kevin Cosgrove, Voice From the Towers

 I Post this article every year on September 11th as my way of honoring all the victims of this terrible act of what was not terrorism but in fact and enormous en masse violent crime.

                            Kevin's 9-1-1 call Caution Sensitive Material

While recently researching an article called "The Falling Man"  I came upon two tape recordings of  9-1-1 calls made by two victims trapped in the upper floors of Tower Two which, horrifyingly, collapsed in the middle of a call made by Kevin Cosgrove of Aon Corp oration a company that rented out several floors of the Building.

The second call was made by a trapped and very young Melissa Doi, she  also perished in tower two.  Not knowing what I would be hearing when I came upon the 911 taped calls, I was reluctant and wasn't  going to listen but I finally mustered the courage.  They were excruciating, heartbreaking and  life-changing.

As I listened I actually found myself experiencing the physical symptoms that each caller was enduring, the black thick smoke that was choking Mr Cosgrove as he and the other two men took turns sticking heads out the window, the terrible heat that young Mellisa Doi  kept crying to the operator that she and her coworkers could not escape. They were standing on desks. 

The growing panic fear and frustration of the poor  911 operator was evident as she tried to calm these embattled people she knew were likely to die.  The callers were placated, told that help was coming, but not given any concrete information and communication regarding one open stairwell in tower two was not even known until too late by fire fighters.

Kevin  Cosgrove worked at Aon Corporation on the 83rd floor.  But, as designated  Fire official for that office,  he tried to make certain that most of his group of employees evacuated after the North tower was hit before he himself began the traverse down.

He even called his wife and reassured her that it wasn't his building and he was safe and on his way out as thousands of people made it out before . Just then as the second plane hit the south tower. The explosion and heat smoke drove him right back up now to the higher floors, to the roof - this the where his fire training had always taught him to go in situations like this-   to ascend was one's only hope to the roof, for a helicopter rescue.

Tragically. the roof door was locked as was the roof door on the North tower!
Hundreds of people attempted that same superhuman climb up miles of stairs, many flooded, covered with debris only to discover locked doors. Imagine their fear.

The word was that there was no chance that a helicopter landing was possible in either building anyway; they say that the smoke and heat made any rood rescue impassible yet I watched those helicopters and small planes circling those towers and I was sol very frustrated and angry as I imagined the office workers trapped with broken windows and flames behind them, wondering why the rescue helicopters were not attempting to help.

Perhaps ladders of rope to swing to the broken windows as the copters hovered as close as they possibly could to the buildings.  All I know is there were hundreds of people waving flags sheets shirts and scraps of material climbing down the face of the building, believing that those helicopters were there for a reason, for some kind of rescue...and yet, there was none.

In the meantime Kevin took his exhausted body and climbed back down flights and flights of stairwells by foot, facing growing smoke labored breathing and panic; he must have run into the first office where he spotted other men or voices gathered    It was this office on the Southwest corner facing the financial center that he made his now, infamous 9-1-1 telephone call from.

The heat from the Planes Fuel weakened the structure and it's floors began to collapse, one on top of the other. 

Mr. Cosgrove was still holding out hope huddled under a desk on the 103rd floor of that tower as it fell inadvertently recording his death as he spoke to the 911 operator.

Fifteen minutes later.. Tower one, the first one to be hit by another Hijacked Plane, collapsed. 

As all of us across the Country watched this unfolding on live TV we were given panned back camera shots of the burning buildings. Still I imagined the horrors we spared from seeing; Close up views of the raw suffering and mayhem happening to the brave souls still trapped within the Towers wouldn't come until later.

Hundreds of First Responders were killed as they rushed into buildings that were hopelessly ensconced in A raging Jet fueled fire. The Firemen trudged up 70-90 flights of stairs, carrying heavy gear dragging  hoses to save the handful of lives that they encountered along the way. Many perished when the  buildings collapsed.

As one person expressed so aptly, at the end of Kevin Congreve's call  "I found myself not wanting to let go of him."

And like many others who chose listen to these phone calls, they have forever changed my perspective of that terrible day.

Kevin Cosgrove's 9-1-1 call  was one of three used as evidence in the Moussaui trial, and this is why It  has become available to the public via the freedom of information act.

After reading this post in it's entirety if you wish to listen to the tape, I have embedded the most tasteful version that I could find. It has a heart warming biography of Mr Cosgrove's life giving us a real feel for who an every-man family man desperately trying to survive for his family. A family who he kept mentioning to the 911 operator and even the fireman that got on the phone at one point.

I must warn all that the tape will be an extremely emotional experience, and it will forever change anyone who listens to it. At first I regretted having listened because I couldn't shake the what ifs and a deep deep empathizing. 

This was AS real as it got and much more than I expected. There was no forewarning either back then. Simply 911 recording used in trial of Moussaui. However,  I came to the realization that I should not regret listening and sharing in these two callers pain.  I was bearing witness and thus as every victim of crime needs I along with anyone who listened validated these and all of the victims experience.

It was for me a necessary pain.   A pain that ultimately transformed 911 from a terrible terror based tragedy, to something altogether more more personal, more human and more real.

The pain that all of us feel upon hearing these desperate callers describe  the horrific conditions in the towers, their fear over their likely imminent deaths, and the distress in having to leave their families and loved ones  made us now feel that we knew them. 

By becoming privy to the most intimate last moments of their lives, it allowed us to honor their experience as it truly was, without the whitewashed effect of pulled back news - camera shots of a burning buildings, thousands of feet in the air.

Even the sudden and awful collapse of the towers into veritable dust bowl, like so much else that happened that day, was somehow surreal when it happened.  It is not that we couldn't and didn't consider the horror of what was likely going on way up where our eyes could not see, it just wasn't in our face and we gratefully took advantage of that kind distance, because really, the horror might have been too much for us at that time.

The voices of the people on these tapes however will be with us forever The people themselves will thus reside in us.  We carry them now.

Do not suggest listen as voyeurs, but as caring witnesses.   Use the powerful emotions that are triggered:  empathy,  pain and even  anger at the to bring us to a new level of awareness; about violence, crime, tragedy, justice.   Life and death. Hopefully with the help of our personal higher power, we can then use this awareness wisely and do only positive things with it. 

These good things shall become the legacy of those who perished that day, victims and heroes all.  When reading the memorial pages of the 911 callers, many people shared that the problems that has seemed so important in their lives prior to listening to Kevin Cosgrove's desperate last minutes on earth, immediately were diminished. 

And this experience was not a rare thing, in fact a great deal of folks cited hearing these tapes as turning points in their lives.  

An appreciation for every hour of every day, marked by the experience. of listening to these tapes. Thousands expressed gratitude to Kevin's family for allowing the tape to become public a difficult decision that wound up  giving millions of people  an opportunity to both rethink the value of their lives through his words and for the children  who weren't alive or were very young 

Kevin Cosgrove's Memorial Page 

New messages appear daily from all over the world, more since the 911 tapes were released.  Somehow I am certain that the Cosgrove family reads them, and I only hope that they provide solace to them, knowing that their beloved father husband son and friend, has had such a life-changing impact on so many.

Many people will embrace their daily lives,hours and minutes once taken for granted. Time and again, I read memorial messages from young folks not old enough to grasp the reality of September 11th when it happened but, who share that they've shed their first tears about this tragedy, by listening to Kevin's  final minutes and his his death.

My hope is that we will be more inclined to spend our time ministering,or helping -  people in pain or in need; This is the legacy of  Kevin Cosgrove. There are thousands of people like Kevin who suffered the same pain and so many exhibited bravery and courage we cannot fathom.

Post Script: For a year after the September 11th attacks the entire Country, especially in the Northeast banded together in a collective yet unfamiliar connectedness,  borne of this Massive act of  Terror.   Every one of us was affected by in our own unique way, but for all, in perpetuity, we would never be the same.

However, amidst the nagging pain and anger evolved another en masse emotion:  Pride and Nationalism. We all bought flags that crossed every pre known barrier Race Class demographics, didn't matter we huddled together at first and then as time went on we stood up taller.

We were proud proud of  both our civilians and the First Responders alike. Everyone beeped when they passed Firetrucks everywhere Police Cars , Ambulances - all.

Fireman,Policeman and other heroes were rampant in rushing to help others. Tugboat captains rushed to get People out of harms way off the island, back and forth they went - there was no other way out, the streets bridges were clogged with people,  impassable. Ferry's loaded with people traversed back and forth. No one knew if more attacks were coming. 

Manhattan looked like a war zone and in fact it was. 

Living in Connecticut I was born in New York City albeit until I was ten years of age, I still feel a native New-Yorker

Memories and photos of  my sisters and I skating in Rockefeller Center with our father were heavy on my mind. His impressively loud whistle, reserved for hailing cabs which I will always recall the smell of the seats. Trips to Radio City Music Hall all and more are part and parcel of me and always will be.

As nice as Westport Connecticut was, it was not New York City. However, the City's influence being 45t minutes away ran throughout this originally artistic community. Known for its theater artists writers Westport became a teeming Commuter town. The New York City line was barely discernible to many of us, it was a cultural influence even to those who were born and bred in Westport and other Connecticut towns. 

The Cosgrove and Melissa Doi  911 tapes were instrumental in the Prosecution of the one sole Terrorist that was arrested and sentenced for his role in the attack,  Zacharias Moussaoui . 

Albeit, he was completely impassive and detached as everyone else in the Courtroom wept as they listened to the voices from the Tower.  Mrs. Cosgrove has allowed the release of the tape to the public as she made a victim impact statement also regarding the effects of the loss of her husband has had on her and her children's lives. 

Courageous and selfless, I am awed by her and her children's strength.  They are survivors all.