Sep 11, 2012 No Comments ›› Pat Dollard
(DAILY MAIL) Almost all of them jumped alone, although eyewitnesses talked of a couple who held hands as they fell.
One woman, in a final act of modesty, appeared to be holding down her skirt. Others tried to make parachutes out of curtains or tablecloths, only to have them wrenched from their grip by the force of their descent.
The fall was said to take about ten seconds. It would vary according to the body position and how long it took to reach terminal velocity — around 125mph in most cases, but if someone fell head down with their body straight, as if in a dive, it could be 200mph.
When they hit the pavement, their bodies were not so much broken as obliterated.
Nothing more graphically spells out the horror of the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers than the grainy pictures of those poor souls frozen in mid-air as they fell to their deaths, tumbling in all manner of positions, after choosing to escape the suffocating smoke and dust, the flames and the steel-bending heat in the highest floors of the World Trade Centre.
And yet, tragically, they are in many ways the forgotten victims of September 11. Even now, nobody knows for certain who they were or exactly how many they numbered. Perhaps worst of all, surprisingly few even want to know.
From the earliest days after the 9/11 attacks, the American establishment and the media showed an overwhelming reluctance to dwell on those who jumped or fell from the Twin Towers.
If this was simply down to qualms at being considered intrusive or voyeuristic when individuals in the most appalling circumstances chose in desperation to die very publicly, it would be understandable.
But there are other, more complicated, reasons. In the aftermath of this attack on America’s sovereign territory — a period of intense patriotism — some considered that to choose to die rather than be killed showed a lack of courage.
And in this country of intense religious fervour, many believe that to be a ‘jumper’ was to choose suicide rather than accept the fate of God — and suicide in whatever circumstances is considered shameful or, indeed, a sin that will send you to Hell.
At the office of the New York chief medical examiner, a spokesman said this week that they did not consider these people ‘jumpers’. She insisted they fell from the 1,350ft tall, 110-floor skyscrapers, for jumping would imply suicide.
‘Jumping indicates a choice, and these people did not have that choice,’ she said. ‘That is why the deaths were ruled homicide, because the actions of other people caused them to die. The force of explosion and the fire behind them forced them out of the windows.’
For those who have discovered that their loved ones may have been among the estimated 200 or more who plunged to their deaths, this uncomfortable official reticence can only compound the suffering they have already endured.
University administrator Jack Gentul cannot possibly imagine his late wife’s torment before she died. Alayne Gentul, mother of two and the 44-year-old vice president of an investment company, was in the South Tower and had gone up to the 97th floor to help evacuate staff after the other tower was hit. In her final moments, she rang Jack to say in labouring breaths that smoke was coming into her room through vents.
‘She said “I’m scared”,’ he tells me quietly. ‘She wasn’t a person who got scared, and I said, “Honey, it’ll be all right, it’ll be all right, you’ll get down”.’
Alayne Gentul’s remains were found in the street outside the building across from the tower — sufficiently far from the rubble to suggest she had jumped. Mr Gentul, who has since remarried, is not convinced she took that option but is clearly irked that some believe jumping was some sort of cop-out.
‘She was a very practical person who would have done whatever she could to survive,’ he explains in a quiet voice. ‘But how can anyone know what one would do in a situation like that, having to choose how you go from this Earth?’
The notion that she jumped is, indeed, consoling to Mr Gentul in some ways, in that she exercised an element of control over her death.
‘Jumping is something you can choose to do,’ he says. ‘To be out of the smoke and the heat, to be out in the air, it must have felt like flying.’
On the clear, blue morning of 9/11, investment banker Richard Pecarello watched from his office on the other side of the river as the second plane hit. His fiancée Karen Juday was working as an administrator at bond traders Cantor Fitzgerald in the North Tower.
He tried to phone her but there was no answer, and for days and weeks after he looked at photographs on the internet and wondered if she had jumped. She was vain about her face and used anti-wrinkle cream, and he was certain she would have jumped rather than face the flames.
Mr Pecarello, 59, made contact with Associated Press photographer Richard Drew, who had captured images of many of the jumpers, and asked to look through his archives. He saw a couple of photographs of a woman in cream trousers and blue top which he is convinced were of Karen.
‘There was one of her standing in a window with flames behind her and one of her falling from the building,’ Mr Pecarello says. ‘It made me feel she didn’t suffer and that she chose death on her terms rather than letting them burn her up.’
He has no time for suggestions that she took the easy way out. ‘The people who died that day weren’t soldiers. They were everyday people — parents and housewives and brothers and sisters and children,’ he says in his gruff Brooklyn accent.
When he tried to show the photos to Karen’s staunchly Protestant family back in Indiana, they didn’t want to know. They go by the official version, that nobody jumped.
In fact, nobody liked talking about the jumpers.
Unofficial estimates put the number of jumpers at around 200, but it is impossible to say for certain because their bodies were indistinguishable from others after the collapse of the Towers. The official account is that nearly all 2,753 victims in the Twin Towers attack officially died from ‘blunt impact’ injuries.
Ten years on, more than 1,000 have yet to be identified from remains. They were vaporised in the inferno.
After the planes hit, raging fires pushed the temperatures to 1,000c, sufficient to weaken the skyscrapers’ steel frames.
The metal conducted the heat through the building at a terrifying speed and it reached the upper floors long before the flames did.
There were reports of people having to stand on desks because the floor became so hot.