Sunday, November 05, 2006

No Stone unturned

This week the New York medical examiners office identified remains for three more victims of the 9/11 attacks. One of the remains identified belong to Karen Martin who was a flight attendant on Flight 11 which crashed into the North Tower. The second remains belong to Douglas Stone who was a passenger on the flight. The third person was not publicly identified. The victims were identified after families submitted additional DNA samples to the medical examiner's lab. The remains were recovered long ago and were not involved in recent discoveries that prompted renewed searches.

The identification and grim discovery of further body parts has forced Oliver Stone to defend the timing of his latest film World Trade Center. He told reporters in Beijing last week, “"It's a shame, but part of our life. Maybe there would be another movie about it (if I hadn't shot it). To see it can be painful, and you can cry in the movie, but pain and crying sometimes is good.” Stone’s movie concentrated on the stories of John McLoughlin and Will Jimeno. McLoughlin and Jimeno were officers working for the New York Port Authority Police Department (PAPD). McLoughlin led a team of four officers, including Jimeno, into the main concourse between the two towers.

They were wheeling rescue gear towards the North Tower when they heard a boom. A fireball the size of a house was heading towards them. It was the collapse of the South Tower. The five men ran toward a freight lift and were buried under concrete and steel. Two of the men died instantly. McLoughlin, Jimeno and a third officer Dominick Pezzulo survived the impact. Pezzulo was able to free himself and set about freeing the other two trapped men. But then the North Tower collapsed and Pezzulo was mortally injured by the resulting debris. Before dying, Pezzulo fired a single shot into the air to warn potential rescuers. McLoughlin's legs had been crushed fully in the second collapse. The two men could not see each other. The sergeant spoke into his radio. In response, he heard only static.

The two surviving men were trapped 9 metres from the surface of the rubble. The two men kept talking to each other urging each other to stay awake. McLoughlin wasn’t optimistic. He reminded Jimeno that the site was unstable and the light was fading. Rescue teams wouldn't be sent out until first light the next morning at the earliest. He was right; the site had been cleared because the adjacent 7 WTC building was in flames and in danger of falling. This 47 story steel frame building collapsed seven hours after the North Tower.

The heat was stifling in the debris, and Jimeno was drifting in and out of consciousness, struggling to stay awake. The rising temperature set off the dead Pezzulo’s gun and Jimeno was surrounded by a hail of gunfire. Finally all the bullets were spent and he was relieved to find himself unscathed. The two men kept up an incessant chatter to keep each other awake. Meanwhile although the official rescue effort was delayed, two men were searching the rubble. They were both ex US marines Dave Karnes and Jason Thomas. Contrary to the way he was portrayed in the movie, Thomas is a black man whose identity was unknown until this year. The two men searched the dangerous and dark landscape carrying little more than flashlights and an infantryman's shovel. They climbed the mountain of debris, skirting dangerous crevasses and shards of red-hot metal, calling out "Is anyone down there? United States Marines!"

Finally Jimeno heard the voices from above. "Yes!" Jimeno shouted. "Yes! PAPD officers down! Two of us! This is Officer Will Jimeno and Sergeant John McLoughlin is with me. He has four kids. I have a daughter and my wife is pregnant. Please don't leave. Please!" We're not leaving you," the man's voice assured him. "This is Marine Corps Staff Sergeant David Karnes and Sergeant Thomas is with me." Karnes promised Jimeno that they would get them out. He crawled into the rubble to get to Jimeno. He then called for help. He was unable to get through to New York authorities whose lines were jammed. He called his sister in Pittsburgh. She called her local police department and explained the emergency, and miraculously they were able to get through to officials in Manhattan.

Two emergency services officers, Paddy McGee and Scott Strauss followed a paramedic, Chuck Sereika. They were wedged into the pit with Sergeant Karnes while firefighter Tom Asher held off the flames. More officers rushed down to help. They freed Jimeno’s leg. Then he was eased out of the pit and put in a Stokes basket. He was passed hand-over-hand to safety. He had been trapped for 13 hours. Then a second rescue team was sent in to dig out McLoughlin. It would take eight more hours to free him. By dawn the next day he was being rushed to the hospital. McLoughlin spent six weeks in a medically induced coma while doctors performed 27 operations on his legs. Jimeno spent nearly three months in the hospital and rehabilitation. Will Jimeno and John McLoughlin were the last of 20 survivors pulled from the wreckage of the World Trade Centre.

The remains of about 40 percent of those killed at Ground Zero have not yet been identified.

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