9 - 1 1 R e s e a r c h reviews

World Trade Center

A Film Directed by Oliver Stone

The 9-11 Research companion to the film World Trade Center
by Jim Hoffman

The film World Trade Center set to debut on August 9, 2006, relates the true story of two of the last survivors rescued from Ground Zero, John McLoughlin and William J. Jimeno.

The film is being produced by Paramount Pictures, and directed by Oliver Stone, recipient of three Academy Awards. Like many of Stone's previous films, World Trade Center takes as its subject traumatic events in recent history. But this film's approach is decidedly different from Stone's most controversial film, JFK.

JFK introduced a generation to evidence that the assassination of President John F. Kennedy was not the work of a lone gunman, Lee Harvey Oswald, but involved a conspiracy reaching the highest levels of the US government. Stone does this by recounting the struggle of District Attorney Jim Garrison to win a conviction of suspects in that conspiracy.

Unlike JFK, World Trade Center does not address the many challenges to the official story of the attack. The opinion of some that Stone laced the new film with clues undermining the official story appears to involve a good share of wishful thinking. Although World Trade Center maintains high standards of realism and accuracy, it depicts few events that blatantly contradict official explanations of what caused the Twin Towers to come down. One possible exception is the film's showing of TV footage of the precipitous collapse of WTC 7 at 5:20 in the afternoon. However, since the footage is brief and does not even occupy the full screen, moviegoers will easily miss the resemblance of the event to a controlled demolition.

World Trade Center follows McLoughlin (played by Nicholas Cage) and Jimeno (played by Michael Pena), and their families, on the day of the attack. The two men, who had never met each other, are on duty at the Port Authority bus station in mid-town as the attack begins. Neither see the plane crashes -- Jimeno sees the shadow of Flight 11 as it swoops over Manhattan -- and World Trade Center doesn't show the crashes, keeping the movie focused on events that the men and their families witness. As the men speed toward the Trade Center, there is debate about whether a second plane has hit the Towers. Confusion is rampant.

The Towers Explode

A distinct feature of the South Tower's destruction is a band of explosions encircling the building early in the event. Firefighters who witness the event describe its explosive onset, as in the following excerpts culled from this collection.
" It seemed like on television they blow up these buildings. It seemed like it was going all the way around like a belt, all these explosions. "
" there was what appeared to be at first an explosion. It appeared at the very top, simultaneously from all four sides, materials shot out horizontally. "
" My initial reaction was that this was exactly the way it looks when they show you those implosions on TV. "
" It was the way the building appeared to blowout from both sides. ... all we see is the two sides of the building just blowing out and coming apart like this, as I said, like the top of a volcano. "
" it almost actually that day sounded like bombs going off "

By the time the contingent of Port Authority officers arrives at the World Trade Center, both Towers had been hit by jetliners and are burning. McLoughlin asks for and gets four volunteers from an assembled group of officers to follow him into the buildings to rescue survivors. The scene is already one of unprecedented horror. The crash of Flight 11 into the 95th floor of the North Tower has trapped all the people above the 92nd floor. As the floors above the crash zone fill with smoke, people began to jump: better to live for 10 seconds in fresh air than suffer a slow and agonizing death from toxic smoke inhalation.

The terrifying spectacles that McLoughlin's team witness as they prepare to rescue survivors could not have begun to prepare them for what happens next. As they assemble their gear, they hear a terrible rumble. The South Tower had started to explode from the top down.

The South Tower's Destruction

The South Tower is struck at around the 80th floor at 9:03, 18 minutes after the North Tower, but it comes down at 9:59, 29 minutes before the North Tower. The fires are less severe and diminishing in the South Tower, the steel columns in its crash zone are about twice as thick as those in the North Tower's crash zone, and its core suffers much less damage than the North Tower's. Yet it stands for only 56 minutes compared to the North Tower's 102.

By 8 seconds into the South Tower's destruction the explosion is three times the Tower's width of 207 feet.

Numerous photographs and videos clearly document the nature of the destruction of the South Tower. The event begins with the leaning of the top 30 floors about 15 degrees to the east for about 2 seconds, but thereafter, the Tower is consumed by a continuous top-down explosion lasting for about 15 seconds.

Scores of people witness first-hand the explosion of the South Tower. These are primarily emergency responders -- scores of firefighters and medical personnel in the vicinity of the Trade Center who had no idea that the Tower was going to fall. A body of hundreds of interviews with FDNY and EMS responders will be collected in the five months after the attack, but will remain unavailable to the public until mid-2005, when the New York Times publishes them after winning a FOIA lawsuit. This body of evidence contains dozens of passages of frank recollections of sights and sounds of explosions and inferences of controlled demolition.

Although Mayor Rudolf Giuliani was warned of the imminent collapse of the South Tower, firefighters, medical technicians, and police working in the building to evacuate survivors do not enjoy that privilege. McLoughlin's team is taken completely by surprise, and if not for the chief's fast thinking and intimate familiarity with the World Trade Center, all five men would likely have perished. Two of the men are killed, and McLoughlin and Jimeno are trapped. The third survivor, Dominick Pezulla, gets free and begins to work to free his Jimeno. Unfortunately the nightmare is about to get even worse.

By 8 seconds into the North Tower's destruction, the explosion is hurling pieces of steel hundreds of feet in all directions.

The North Tower's Destruction

The North Tower had been hit at 8:46, and continued to stand as the South Tower is first hit, and then leveled by explosions at 9:59. By that time, the toxic smoke had extinguished the lives of about one thousand people trapped on the Tower's uppermost 18 floors. The blockage of all three stairwells prevents egress downward, and locked rooftop doors and an order barring rooftop evacuations assure that there was no escape. Firefighters continue to labor in the North Tower, unaware that the South Tower had fallen because their radios don't work inside the buildings.

As with the South Tower, photographs and videos provide a detailed record of the North Tower's destruction. Both events look essentially the same: each Tower is shredded by a growing explosion that starts around the crash zone and proceeds downward, growing into a gigantic cloud of dust and rubble before reaching the ground. Only the initial phases are different: Whereas the South Tower's 30-story top had starts to topple before beginning to explode, the North Tower's 15-story top suddenly begins to telescope into the building's intact portion.

For the second time in history, a skyscraper is consumed by a rapidly growing explosion, shredding the building's structure as it marched down the Tower's vertical axis, hurling chunks of metal in all directions for distances up to 400 feet. The diameter of the explosion grows from about 300 feet by four seconds, to 600 feet by eight seconds, to 800 feet by twelve seconds into the event.

This event is so explosive that it pulverizes hundreds of thousands of tons of concrete and blows most of the Tower's structural steel outside of the building's footprint. Paradoxically, it is that explosiveness that allows a handful of victims to survive at the epicenter of Ground Zero by dispersing the Tower's mass away from them.

The fall of the North Tower buries McLoughlin and Jimeno about 30 feet under the surface and partially crushes them. Pezulla, the man who might have saved them, now lay dying. As if being buried alive isn't bad enough, the men will have still another challenge to face: fire.

The Cauldron of Ground Zero

Few objects are recognizable in the rubble of Ground Zero other than sections of the perimeter walls and core columns.

McLoughlin and Jimeno are trapped in the middle of Ground Zero -- a 12-block area of incomprehensible destruction. They are not far from a group of survivors, consisting primarily of firefighters, who emerge mostly unscathed from the remains of the lower parts of the B stairwell, now near the top of the highest mound of rubble. The stairwell, situated in the center of the North Tower, was shielded by the stout structures of the building's core. Entombed by rubble, the two officers have no knowledge of the survivors of the B stairwell.

Shredded and Pulverized

Given the violence of the Towers' falls and the thoroughness of destruction evident at Ground Zero, it is miraculous if anyone at all who was in the buildings survives. Virtually all that is left of the two 110-story Towers is the shredded remains of the Towers' steel skeletons, and dust. As hundreds of photos of Ground Zero show, few objects are recognizable in the rubble outside of fragments of the Towers' perimeter walls and core columns.

So thorough was the destruction that one is hard-pressed to find any evidence of the 220 four-inch-thick concrete floor slabs, the corrugated steel pans that were under them, or the thousands of web trusses that supported those. It appears that virtually all of the several hundred thousand tons of concrete in the Towers was thoroughly pulverized into fine dust.

That dust is a health hazard whose scope will not be fully appreciated until survivors begin to die, years later, from injuries related to dust inhalation. In the wake of the attack, the Environmental Protection Agency will knowingly issue false assurances to New Yorkers that the air around Ground Zero is safe to breathe. The dust is as much as four percent asbestos.

Dante's Inferno

A column of previously molten metal at Ground Zero.

Vast piles of ripped and twisted metal covered with fine dust make for a hellish environment. But the setting worthy of Dante's Inferno wouldn't be complete without another ingredient: fire -- and not just normal fires, but fires or some source of heat intense enough to melt steel. World Trade Center depicts the men being narrowly missed by hurtling flaming boulders. The source of these objects is not explained, but they may be a reference to eyewitness reports of molten steel in the rubble pile, and a study by NASA that showed many parts of the rubble pile were hot enough to melt aluminum five days after the attack. Indeed, the rubble pile continued to smolder into December, despite being doused with water cannons and heavy rainfalls.

Why was there molten metal in Ground Zero? It is almost impossible for uncontrolled hydrocarbon fires to melt steel. Steel mills use specially designed furnaces that pre-heat or pressurize air in order to achieve the over-2700-degree Fahrenheit temperatures required to melt steel. One theory is that thermite was used in the destruction of the Towers. The thermite reaction reduces steel (removes oxygen) and releases intense heat, leaving molten iron residue.

Fires are a recurring threat to the two men as they struggle to remain conscious, suffering from dehydration. Jimeno goes in and out of consciousness, at one point having a vision of Jesus bringing him bottled water.

WTC Building 7 Collapses

Seven and a half hours into their ordeal, McLoughlin and Jimeno hear explosions. The sound is from the total collapse of 47-story WTC Building 7, but the two men have no way of knowing that. They think that all-out war may have broken out.

WTC7.net was created in 2003 to publicize the under-reported collapse of WTC Building 7. The site, whose videos page shows three videos of the collapse, has been visited more than a million times. Still, most people remain unaware of the total collapse of this skyscraper, with its distinct features of controlled demolition.

Building 7's collapse is one of the more curious events of that day -- curious because it is the only case of a steel-framed building whose total collapse will be blamed primarily on fires, excepting the Twin Towers, which, unlike Building 7, were hit by airplanes.

Normally the unanticipated collapse of a skyscraper would be a very high-profile news story. However, happening as it does in the wake of the attack, it is barely noticed, and reported in the media as if it were an insignificant footnote.

World Trade Center shows a video of the Building 7's precipitous total collapse, underscored by a scene of Port Authority officers at headquarters viewing the event on TV with puzzled expressions. The film's inclusion of this footage means that millions of people will witness this event for the first time. This is very significant because most people who see this video recognize a striking resemblance between Building 7's collapse and the collapse of skyscrapers destroyed by controlled demolition.

In a November 16, 2005 interview on the nationally syndicated MSNBC program The Situation, Professor Steven Jones repeatedly requested that host Tucker Carlson play footage of the collapse that he had supplied the studio in advance. Carlson indicated that they were unable to, implying that technical problems were to blame. World Trade Center brings to the big screen what MSNBC would not play on TV.

The swift total collapse of Building 7 exhibits at least six unique features of an implosion engineered by controlled demolition: (1) The collapse of the main structure commences suddenly. (2) The interior of the building falls ahead of the periphery. (3) The building sinks into its footprint in a precisely vertical fashion. (4) Puffs of dust appear coinciding with the facade's downward motion. (5) The collapse is total, leaving a rubble pile no more than four stories tall. (6) Excepting the penthouse, the entire collapse lasts less than 7 seconds, just slightly slower than the speed of gravitational free-fall.