"Once my story came out, some people even joked, they say “Oh, this is Superman. This is a false story because the guy did incredible things on that day." Source
The purpose of this section is to help put things in context, not to criticize William Rodriguez and others for being caught in the "fog of war." I don't question what Rodriguez did on the morning of 9/11, but it's clear that his chronology of events is far off: by as much as 56 minutes in an event that lasted an hour and 42 minutes. I do find it to be disturbing that he apparently hasn't realized this. The chronological errors may explain why, as he has said, some people find his account implausible. Later in this document I will show how this misunderstanding helped Rodriguez make a glaringly wrong assumption about an event in that morning.
As with the rest of this document, I hope that this section encourages Rodriguez to be more accurate in his storytelling. I also hope it helps him to realize that "I was there" isn't everything when we're talking about a huge, complex, chaotic event. If we want to understand such an event we need to review and cross-reference many witness accounts. Perhaps this section will also be instructive to 9/11 conspiracists who claim that Norman Mineta's 9/11 timeline of events at the White House must be correct and the 9/11 Commission's must be wrong.
The time between American flight 11 hitting the north tower and United flight 175 hitting the south tower was less than 16 1/2 minutes.
8:46:40 – Flight 11 hits the north tower.
9:02:50 (ca.) – Flight 175 hits the south tower.
9:59 – South tower collapses.
10:28 – North tower collapses.
9:02:50 (ca.) – Flight 175 hits the south tower.
9:59 – South tower collapses.
10:28 – North tower collapses.
When William Rodriguez tells his 9/11 story, he claims to have been on or near the 39th floor of the north tower when the south tower was struck by flight 175 at 9:03, and to have descended from there.
They continued to ascend to the 39th floor. This is as far as William got before he was turned back by the firefighters. As he began his descent he heard the plane hit the south tower. SourceOn the 39th floor, William met with New York Police and Fire Department officials where he witnessed another great, powerful explosion. Despite the other plane hitting the north tower’s twin, it was still felt in the World Trade Center 1. Source
Unlocking doors for the firefighters as he went, William got to the 39th floor before he was turned back by the firefighters. As he began his descent he heard a plane hit the south tower. Source
For Rodriguez to have been on the 39th floor before the south tower was struck, the following events would have had to take place in 16 minutes
(see corresponding numbered items on the graphic below):
1. Flight 11 hits the north tower. Rodriguez is in an office with 14 others in sublevel B1. Felipe David, who had been on the B2 level, comes up the stairs and enters the office, badly burned.
2. Rodriguez, with Felipe David "on his back," makes his way out of the building, through the underground parking garage, and up the ramp to Vesey Street, along with 14 others. He puts David in an ambulance. He learns that an aircraft has hit the north tower, argues with supervisor Saltamacchia about returning to the building, grabs a radio from a security guard, and heads back in.
3. He retraces his route through the parking lot and runs all the way to the south tower. He finds no one at the Operations Command Center in the basement. He tells Jimmy Barrett to leave the building.
4. He goes upstairs and sees a Marriott hotel employee manning her station on her first day at work, and "pushes her out" of the building. This is around 700 feet from Vesey Street, where he had put David on the ambulance.
5. He heads back to the north tower basement, where he's told that people are yelling in an elevator shaft. Two men are trapped between the B2 and B3 levels. Water is pouring into the elevator from broken standpipes and sprinklers. Rodriguez and Jimmy Barrett get a pipe and pry open the shaft doors. Rodriguez goes to the loading dock, where luckily the electricians have left their longest ladder unchained. He brings the ladder to the shaft, lowers it, climbs down, opens the hatch, and helps the men out.
6. He brings the men out of the building to an ambulance. Perhaps by the same route as before?
7. Rodriguez goes back to the north tower. On the B1 level, he sees firefighters gathered around the fallen #50 freight elevator, which had contained Arturo Griffith and Marlene Cruz. He meets PAPD K9 officer David Lim, who asks if Rodriguez has the building's master key. He does. They go upstairs to the lobby, where firefighters hope to use a working elevator. Rodriguez and Lim tell them to use the stairs, and they proceed up together.
The master key, which Rodriguez produces with a magician's flair.
8. With Lim, at the vanguard of a group of firefighters, he climbs the narrow B stairway to the 27th floor against heavy traffic of evacuees. It is very difficult going. He stops to unlock the stairway-to-office doors on three out of every four floors (and presumably lets first responders in or props the doors open).
9. On the 27th floor he sees a man in a wheelchair awaiting evacuation (Ed Beyea). He returns to the 25th floor to notify firemen, who tell him that slower evacuees are taken out last.
10. Back up to the 27th floor with firemen, who take a break there. Rodriguez and Lim traverse the building core to another stairway, break into a bottled water vending machine, load bottles into a trash can, and bring them back to the firemen. Lim sits and rests there.
11. Rodriguez calls his mother from an office phone on the 27th floor. He speaks to his supervisor on the radio, who tells him to get out. He says no and turns his radio off.
12. He continues up the stairs by himself, unlocking doors. On the 33rd floor he finds a woman who is paralyzed with fear and passes her on to evacuees heading down the stairs. He opens a supply closet and takes dust masks for use in the smoky stairway. He notes an unusual noise coming from the 34th floor and elects not to open that door.
13. He continues up, unlocking doors, and reaches the 39th floor. There he is told by Dave Lim and firefighters to turn around. Then he hears flight 175 hit the south tower, which shakes his building, and he hears "boom, boom. boom, boom boom, boom." sounds. A fireman's radio squawks something about a collapse on the 65th floor of the north tower. According to Rodriguez, it is just over 16 minutes since the ordeal started.
There are several reasons why we know Rodriguez's timeline is off, and why the noise he heard on or near the 39th floor was not flight 175 hitting the south tower at 9:03 but was the south tower collapsing at 9:59.
First, it would be physically impossible to accomplish these things in just over 16 minutes. As a mental exercise I assigned what I thought would be theoretically minimum times for each task, assuming top physical condition for Rodriguez and no pauses in action, and didn't come close to squeezing it all in.
The Radio Transmissions
Second, there are transcripts of Port Authority radio recordings that include conversations with Rodriguez. The first concerns his rescue of Salvatore Giambanco and another man in a basement elevator. Rodriguez was a porter (janitor) for American Building Maintenance (ABM). After the north tower was attacked, an ABM supervisor frantically tried to gather all the porters at a location away from the towers. Rodriguez was working on the rescue in the K elevator car:
Male: I want all ABM porters to meet me at Church and Liberty by Brooks Brothers.Willy: (inaudible) is injured. I’m inside the building with, uh ...(inaudible). We’re helping people stuck inside the elevator (?).John: Willy, what floor you on, Willy?Willy: We are in the B1 office now, on the K car.Male: Willy, get out of the office and come outside on Church Street.Willy: Copy, as soon as we get these people out. We’re getting them out now.Male: Willy, I want you to go right to Church Street and Liberty! Get to Liberty and Broadway!
Willy: You got it. (PA transcript 049, WTC Ch. 28 – Radio Channel Y – Operations, Page 10)
The transcript's time code begins when the north tower was attacked. The above exchange took place at 19:45 on the tape, after the south tower had been hit.
Later, this exchange occurred:
Male: Go for (inaudible) Rodriguez. Come outside, by Church.
Male: That’s a negative. I’m with the Port Authority police, and the fire department are right here, right now. (PA transcript 049, WTC Ch. 28 – Radio Channel Y – Operations, Page 21)
That exchange, the last on which Rodriguez appears in the transcripts, took place approximately 44 minutes from the start of tape, at about 9:30 am. Rodriguez said that he had turned off his radio at the 27th floor, on the way up, after refusing a supervisor's request to exit the building. These radio transmissions show that Rodriguez could not have been near the 39th floor when the south tower was hit at 9:03.
Then there is the time to descend. Rodriguez's chronology would have him ascending 42 stories (starting from B1 and doing 25-27 twice) against heavy traffic, opening doors and accomplishing other tasks, in only about 5 minutes. Then the descent would have taken about an hour and twenty-four minutes, despite the fact that he ran part of the way down from the 39th floor. From his June, 2006 "American Scholars" speech:
"I ran down to the 27th floor. I scream to the firemen, I have orders to get this guy (Ed Beyea) out right now!" (They proceeded to descend immediately.)
The Firefighters on the B Stairway
Next, there is the known location of the the fire company with which Rodriguez started up the stairs.
Firemen from New York City Unit Six arrived. Each fireman, in addition to protective clothing, had about 70 pounds of equipment.* William, who now had the only key, led the firemen up stairwell B. Firemen were going up as victims were coming down. Source
There are two FDNY "unit sixes," which operate from different firehouses. Engine 6 was on the scene at about 8:50 and its members proceeded up the north tower's B staircase a few minutes after that. They stopped to rest at the 17th and 31st floors, and made it to about the 37th floor when the south tower collapsed at 9:59. William Green, the only 9/11 survivor of Engine 6:
We were one of the first units on the scene...It was a few moments while the officers figured out what tactics we would use (attack stair, evacuation stair). The rest of us were readying ourselves for fire duty. Buttoning up our turnout coats, checking the straps on our masks, turning our air cylinders on. We started to realize we would have to walk this one. The elevators weren't going to be usable....The members followed the Lieutenant to the "B" staircase, which was located in the core of the building, pretty much in the center. The elevator system was destroyed. Hoistway doors were ajar. Some were missing completely. I saw an elevator car in the shaft, twisted. We advanced to the stairway. There was a lot of rubble in the corridor in front of the elevators. I remembered I looked up at the ceiling to see if it was charred and had fallen down. The ceiling in the lobby was maybe 3 stories high. The ceiling looked intact. We had to climb over and around this pile of rubble, which may have been 3 feet high in the middle. I thought maybe the floor had been blown upwards from below. Later I was to find out that the rubble we climbed over was burnt bodies. We started up the stairs of the north tower with our hose lines and tools. Many people were coming down the stairs while we were going up. The stairway was so congested. We were telling the people to stay to the right. One long line of people trying to get down the stairs. Water was flowing down the steps like a rapid river. When we reached approximately the 10th floor the water stopped. About the 14th floor I heard a handie talkie transmittion, someone screamed "a plane, another plane" then a small rumble. Someone said on the handie talkie that another plane had hit the other tower. The building shook a little and the lights flickered. We continued to proceed up the stairs. One file of firemen going up. Many people coming down. Some of the people were wounded. Some burned. Some other people were carrying victims. These terrified people were encouraging us. They were patting us on the back. "The firemen are here," they shouted. Source
Had Rodriguez been leading the way for Engine 6, it is perhaps conceivable that he, unencumbered, could have wound up 25 flights ahead of them. However, we know that Rodriguez was working on rescues when Engine 6 headed upstairs.
FDNY Ladder 6 arrived on the scene a few minutes later. Its Captain, Jay Jonas, has very specific recollections of being in the north tower lobby when flight 175 hit the north tower (Report from Ground Zero, P. 94). Ladder 6 took a break at the 27th floor and descended from there when the south tower collapsed. It was on this floor that Rodriguez and Lim got water for resting firemen, Rodriguez called his mother, spoke with his supervisor, and continued up alone. Members of Ladder 6, including Captain Jonas, were trapped with David Lim in the B staircase when the north tower collapsed. All survived.
Therefore it seems likely that Rodriguez was with members of Ladder 6 on the ascent.
So, "very difficult to get up," "having a terrible time," and having to open doors (and to presumably prop them open or to wait for firemen to enter the floor) on three out of four floors."So, I went up with the police officer and a group of firemen. As we went up, there was a lot of people coming up, and while we got -- it was very difficult to get up." (CNN interview with William Rodriguez, 9/11/01)"...I knew David [Lim] for probably 15, 16 years. And at that terrible day when I took people out of the office, one of them totally burned because he was standing in front of the freight elevator and the ball of fire came down the duct of the elevator itself, I put him on the ambulance. And I came back running into the building. And the only person that I found there was Officer David Lim. And the first thing that he told me was, Willie, do you have the key. Meaning if I had the master key to the building, which I have and I still have. It's over here. This is the key that opened all the doors on the staircase. It's called a T2 key. And he said let's go.And we went up, he opened the door on the lobby. We went on the basement, number one. And there when we opened the door, the fire department was there waiting in front of the 50 car elevator, which was already gone, because the airplane, when he came through the building, broke all the cables and practically destroyed the elevator because the elevator went down seven flights of floors. And, he said to the -- to the firemen, follow me, we know the best way to go up and we have the access key. So we started going up the stairs and opening all the doors.
We got to remember that the World Trade Center was a Class A building which had three doors that did not open and one that did open. And we have to go floor by floor and opening all the doors. We were in front of the fire department. We were at the vanguard of what was happening and David was -- I remember it was so difficult because he has so much equipment on that going up the stair, we were sweating bullets. It was so hard. And then the amount of people that was coming down the stairs were actually bumping against us. And we -- we were having a terrible time." (CNN interview with David Lim and William Rodriguez, 9/11/02)
Collapse in the 60s?
Next, Rodriguez claims to have been near the 39th floor when he heard a radio announcement of a collapse on the 65th floor.
When I got to the 39th floor, from the opposite staircase…police officer David Lim came up with two firemen. And as we were talking about what was going to be our next move, we hear BOOM! The impact on the other tower. And it was so hard that our building oscillated so much, that we lost, practically, our footing. And all of a sudden we hear “Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! Boom! And on the radio, “We lost 65!” Meaning that the 65th floor collapsed..." Source
As reported by many sources in the north tower, this announcement came after ten o'clock, not after 9:03.
After 10:00: WTC 1 - A firefighter, possibly from Ladder 3, reports over the radio a collapse on a floor in the 60’s. It is the highest floor reported as being reached in the building. NIST NCSTAR 1-8, p. 223Firefighter Daniel Sterling: At that point when we were on the 37th floor, that’s when the building shook from the other tower going down, so –but we didn’t know it was the other tower that was going down. A battalion chief—the battalion chief from Battalion 11 [Richard Picciotto], came from a higher floor. He came down and saw us on the 37th floor and told us that he thought there was a partial collapse of the 65th floor of our building, and that we should drop everything and leave the building. SourceFirefighter Kevin Murray: There was a report that a third plane had hit the building and then we got another report that the 65th floor in the north tower had collapsed. That’s what the rumbling was. We had no idea that the south tower had gone. SourceFirefighter Michael Brodbeck: At this point after we made a thorough search, we located together via the stairwell. At that point, unbeknownst to us, the south tower fell. We didn’t know that the south tower fell. I didn’t have a radio because I had the can (fire extinguisher). But I heard there was a collapse in the north tower between the 68th and 70th floor. When we heard the evacuation, we started our way down. SourceFirefighter Robert Byrne: I remember later on we went up to -- I don't know if it was still on the 35th floor and that's when we all dove into the staircase because basically the whole tower shook and we heard the noise of something going on. We didn't know what it was. What it was was the south tower collapsing. We didn't know. Finally we got some sort of transmission on the radio saying there was a collapse on the 60th floor. Meanwhile the south tower happened to come down. …I remember when the building came down I couldn't believe it, because I didn't even know the other one came down yet, because we were never told. We were told it was a collapse above the 60th floor. Source
Visitor Jeff Benjamin: As we approached the 10th floor, we heard a loud noise. I asked a fireman what it was. As I recall, he said the 65th floor collapsed. Shortly thereafter, a rush of dust came up the stairwell and stopped everyone in their tracks. The firemen on the floor motioned us out of the stairwell and into a hallway on the floor. They advised us they were opening up another stairway from which we could exit the building. Source
That last description, Benjamin's, is typical of evacuee experiences on the lower floors of the north tower just after the south collapsed. Dust came up the stairwells from the lobby, and evacuees experienced a tense few minutes while firemen cleared the stairs of debris.
It is important to remember that none of the people in the windowless core of the north tower, where Rodriguez was, knew that the south tower had collapsed. Likewise, in recollecting that day's events, many people had trouble accurately assessing the passage of time. FDNY Chief Stephen King, in the north tower lobby:
At some time after that, and I have no concept of time here, I remember hearing something to the effect that the tower is collapsing or coming down. I hear that and I hear a rumble. I remember a terrific rumbling, getting louder. Now I believe – and I did for two days after this – I think that my tower that I'm in, the north tower, is collapsing. This is the south tower collapsing. Source
It is unknown if there was actually a partial collapse in the 60s of the north tower, or if the radioed reports described debris coming through the windows from the collapse of the south tower, which was mistaken for an internal collapse. As we will see in the next section, we at least know that there wasn't a complete collapse of the 65th floor, because some people on the 64th floor left that floor after 10 am and lived to tell about it.
David Lim's Account
At first glance, the account of another 9/11 hero, PAPD K-9 officer David Lim, seems to support Rodriguez's chronology. Lim's descriptions are less detailed than Rodriguez's, but he does claim to have been on the 44th floor skylobby of the north tower when flight 175 hit the south tower. Following is an excerpt from Lim's email describing the events, which he wrote soon after 9/11:
Dear Friends,I'm not very articulate, so bear with me.It was 0845hrs when the first plane struck the North Tower. I locked Sirius in his kennel and proceeded to the Plaza of #1 WTC to assist in evacuation.I noted a body that had either jumped or was thrown out a higher floor. I had never seen anything like this in my life. While calling in the DOA, another body landed 50 feet from the first. I was advised of multiple aideds on the upper floors and proceeded up the "B" staircase.I stopped on the 27th floor to assist & sat with members of the NYFD to rest before we continued. They were wearing full bunker gear and hauling a lot of equipment.I called my wife Diane & told her I was alright. I made it to the 44th floor sky lobby and while I directed people to the stairway, I saw the 2nd plane struck the South Tower. I was knocked off my feet by the concussion. [Note: judging by his other accounts, Lim means that he saw the aftermath of flight 175's impact, not the plane itself.]I quickly gathered the remaining people and firemen and headed back down the stairs. On the way, we encountered some elderly and physically challenged persons. The firemen began dropping their equipment and carrying them down.
On the 21st floor I saw 3 other officers and was advised of the collapse of the South Tower. Source
I remember stopping on the floors now, from forty-four down, to check the floors to see if there was anybody left behind. There were some people that were, I guess, elderly, or that required assistance, that were just starting to come down now, so I just gathered them. There was no time to wait for anyone. I felt that time was of essence. And I collected them, and with my party, we started going down. Source
Dave Lim: On the twenty-seventh floor I come across a large man in a wheelchair. He will be difficult to assist, but I call it in on the radio, and proceed up to the forty-fourth floor, where there is a sky lobby, a large, open space where people change elevator banks. I look out of the window and see this huge fireball rushing out of the north side of the south tower. This is the second plane. Suddenly, all the windows on the east side of my sky lobby are blown out by the concussion, and the wave hits me and several people around me, and we are thrown to the ground. We get up and start down the stairs immediately. I go from floor to floor and try to make a quick search, but I don’t stop at any floor where I see firefighters because I know they are searching. Source
Lim, speaking at the 9/11 Commission's first public hearing:
I proceeded up the stars giving encouragement & calming the fears of the people coming down. Those that were seriously injured I assigned to healthy personnel, directing them to the triage area. On the 27th floor, I met a man in a wheelchair with a friend. They were waiting for the crowd to clear before attempting a descent. I left them with FDNY personnel & proceeded up the "B" stairwell. This switch of stairwells later proved to be my lifesaving decision. Upon my arrival on the 44th floor, I started evacuating those on the floor towards my stairway. I heard an explosion & as I looked to my left, a fireball blew out the windows, knocking us to the ground. I knew now that we were under attack & proceeded down the stairway with my people. On the way down, we cleared floors of any remaining employees. On or about the 35th floor, I felt the bldg shake & thought that my tower was collapsing. I then heard on my Police radio that #2 World Trade Center had collapsed & we were ordered to evacuate Tower #1. We kept going down & met up with Chief Romito, Capt Mazza & Lieut. Cirri. They were assisted an injured male on the 21st floor. I advised my supervisors of the order to evacuate & we all kept descending the staircase. On the way down, we were losing our lights & could feel the bldg falling apart.
Even if we hadn't known that Lim and Rodriguez had gone up the stairs together, there are several aspects of Lim's account that do not correspond with other accounts and with observed events. Lim indicates that only a few stragglers remained at the 44th floor. However, we know from many evacuee accounts that a great number of people from upper floors were at the 44th floor or above when the south tower was hit. None describe being knocked off their feet by an explosion that blew through the windows and caused the building to shake and sway severely. The north tower did vibrate when the south was hit, and was likely hit with small debris, but the effects were not severe. Firefighter Billy Green, on a lower floor, describes that effect: "The building shook a little and the lights flickered." Source
At 9:02:59 a.m., five hijackers flew United Airlines Flight 175 with 9 crew and 51 passengers into the east side of the south face of WTC 2. For the most part, there was little awareness of this among the people below the 92nd floor of WTC 1. Almost one-fifth of these had already left the building, and nearly all the 6,300 others were already in the stairwells. NIST NCSTAR 1.2.6 (p. 27)
The impact of flight 175 certainly produced a horrifying, spectacular fireball and a great deal of debris. NIST and FEMA estimate that 15% to 25% of the jet fuel was consumed in the exterior fireballs.
The photo above appears to show the north tower being enveloped by the fireball and debris. However, a view from the northeast shows that the bulk of the fire and debris was not directed at the north tower:
Further, it's important to remember that the fireballs outside the towers consisted of aviation fuel that was burning, not exploding. An explosion happens nearly instantaneously and produces great overpressures: "fuel-air" explosives are potent weapons. The south tower fireballs burned relatively slowly, taking about 9 seconds to disappear. As NIST points out, the south tower fireball actually produced a low pressure zone at the east face of the north tower:
The fireballs generated on the north face of WTC 2 following the aircraft impact caused major modifications in the observed fire and smoke behaviors of WTC 1. ...As the fireball continued to grow, it began to entrain a large amount of air that was drawn inward at the base. This, in turn, created a low pressure region at the east face of WTC 1 that appears to have been strong enough to draw large volumes of gas from within the building out through broken windows. NIST NCSTAR 1-5A, p. 152-153
Then there's the time between the south tower impact and its collapse to consider. After being knocked down by the blast, Lim says,
"We get up and start down the stairs immediately. I go from floor to floor and try to make a quick search, but I don’t stop at any floor where I see firefighters because I know they are searching." And, "There was no time to wait for anyone. I felt that time was of essence." But he also says that he was at about the 35th floor when the south tower collapsed, which would mean that his descent covered only nine floors in 56 minutes, which hardly seems likely for someone to whom "time was of the essence."
There is also a transcript of a Port Authority radio transmission that appears to be from Lim (after 16:08 from start of tape):
"P-P, K-9 (PAUSE) K-9 to (Inaudible)...the 13th floor, One World Trade. I understand that people are stuck up there, copy?" PA transcript 047 – WTC Radio Channel 26 Radio Channel W - Police
The 9/11 Commission report appears to keep Lim's account in context: "By 9:58, one PAPD officer had reached the 44th-floor sky lobby of the North Tower." Source
Dave Lim and his partner Sirius, who died in his kennel in the south tower on 9/11
* “Once, out of curiosity, the crew of Ladder 6 dressed a man in the gear each typically carries into a high-rise fire: shirt and slacks; leather boots with steel shanks; bunker pants; a life-saving harness; fire-retardant coat; gloves; hood; leather helmet; a flashlight; radio; air packs; two coils of rope; rescue webbing; a 6-foot hook, and a Halligan, which is like a crowbar with special edges. They put the fully geared firefighter on a scale, and discovered that a member of a New York City ladder company carries 110 pounds of equipment.” Source