New York to Release 911 Calls from Sept. 11

New York City prepares to release redacted tape recordings of 911 calls made from the World Trade Center on September 11. The New York Times has obtained one victim's last call to police and fire.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

Tomorrow, portions of 130 calls to the New York Police and Fire Departments on September 11th, 2001, will be released under court order. They're calls from people inside the World Trade Center, but the recordings will only contain one side of those conversations, police and fire operators, but not the voices and names of the victims.

The families whose relatives have been identified are receiving both sides of their loved ones' conversations. So far, one family has agreed to publicly release their son's phone call. The tape was obtained by The New York Times, which posted the transcript and the audio on its website.

NPR's Margo Adler reports.

MARGOT ADLER reporting:

Christopher Hanley was 35-years-old and attending a conference on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center. His call to 911 is short. It was made at 8:50, four minutes after a plane struck the north tower.

(Soundbite of 911 call)

OPERATOR: Hi, this is operator 1886. What is your emergency?

Mr. CHRISTOHER HANLEY (9/11 victim): Yeah, hi. I'm on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center. We just had an explosion on, like, the 105th floor.

OPERATOR: The 106 floor?

Mr. HANLEY: Yes.

OPERATOR: 106, okay.

Mr. HANLEY: We have a conference up there and it's about a hundred plus there.

OPERATOR: What is last name?

Mr. HANLEY: Hanley. H-A-N-L-E-Y.

OPERATOR: H-A-N.

Mr. HANLEY: We have smoke, and it's pretty bad.

OPERATOR: Hold on, let me connect you with fire, okay?

Mr. HANLEY: We can't get down the stairs.

OPERATOR: Hold on, let me connect you with fire.

ADLER: The operator connects Hanley with the Fire Department.

OPERATOR: I'm on now.

ADLER: Listening now, the 43 seconds on the tape until the phone is answered seem an eternity. The Fire Department picks up, and Hanley repeats his situation.

DISPATCHER: All right. We're there, we're coming up to get you.

Mr. HANLEY: I can see smoke coming up from outside the windows.

DISPATCHER: All right, we're on the way.

Mr. HANLEY: Huh?

DISPATCHER: We're on the way, sir.

Mr. HANLEY: Okay.

DISPATCHER: All right. Okay. Just keep the windows open and you can open up windows and just sit tight. It's going to be awhile because there's a fire going on downstairs.

Mr. HANLEY: We can't open the windows unless we break them.

DISPATCHER: Okay. Just sit tight.

Mr. HANLEY: Can't breath here.

DISPATCHER: All right, just sit tight. We're on the way.

Mr. HANLEY: All right. Please hurry.

ADLER: Twenty-eight of the people on the calls have been identified. All but one of them died. Many voices have not been identified, and those calls have not been released.

A year ago, the New York Court of Appeals settled a lawsuit by The New York Times and a 9/11 family group. They sought the recordings under New York State's Freedom of Information Law. Some of those family members say they want to listen to the callers who have not been identified. Sally Reganhard (ph), whose son, a firefighter, died that day, says she hopes she might hear some glimmer of her child's voice.

The court ruled that the tapes must be disclosed, but certain parts deleted. With the exception of the families who wish to release the tapes, the voices of those in the towers will not be heard. Hanley's call is so far the only one that any family has made public.

The New York Times and the family group that wants access to the tapes also wants the names of the identified callers released, and yesterday a New York judge ruled in their favor. But the city has appealed. Some 9/11 families don't want those names released. They hope their privacy will be respected and they will not be besieged by the media.

Margo Adler, NPR News, New York.

BLOCK: And thanks to Sean Gehring (ph) of member station WSHU for his help with that report.

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