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Transcripts chronicle 9/11 terror

'People are all over the place, dead'

The World Trade Center under attack on September 11, 2001
The World Trade Center under attack on September 11, 2001

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- Frantic conversations between trapped people and authorities during the moments before the World Trade Center towers collapsed on September 11, 2001, are revealed in transcripts of radio and telephone transmissions and in handwritten notes that were released Thursday.

"Which stairs do we take?" asked one man working in the 78th floor of the North Tower, WTC 1, the first building attacked at 8:46 a.m. when a hijacked Boeing 767 hit it between the 93rd and 98th floors.

"Whichever is the easiest one nearest without too much smoke," an officer responded.

"Get out right now, right?

"Right, exactly."

Another male worker on the 39th floor of the North Tower said, "We're not getting any messages. Can somebody tell us what's up?"

"Just come on down, everybody just come on down. Get down the staircase. Don't take the elevator," the officer responded.

The transcripts were released by the agency that built and ran security at the World Trade Center -- the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

A good portion of the documents are from handwritten and typed notes of Port Authority police and civilian employees recounting afterward what had happened.

In these accounts, some officers plainly observed that dozens of trapped WTC occupants took their fate into their own hands.

"I observed numerous individuals jumping from 1 WTC, striking the sidewalk," said Lt. Ed Gulth.

The rest of the documents are transcriptions of conversations over nearly 100 telephone lines and civilian radio channels.

"They show people performing their duties very heroically and very professionally in a day of unimaginable horror," said Greg Trevor, a spokesman for the Port Authority, which saw 37 of its police officers and 47 of its civilian employees killed.

'Take away the peace that we worked so hard to get'

The documents were released after a ruling from Judge Sybil R. Moses as a result of a lawsuit filed by the New York Times seeking access to the 2,000 pages of documents.

"The settlement with The New York Times was that it would be transcripts only," said Trevor. "There will not be audiotapes."

The Port Authority scrambled Thursday to get copies of transcripts into the hands of family members of the Port Authority police officers and employees who died in the attack.

Some of those families had opposed the release of the transcripts.

"The only thing this did for me and my family was take away the peace that we worked so hard to get in the past two years," said Laurie Tietjen, whose brother, Kenney, died working for the Port Authority Police Department.

"Especially with the anniversary coming up, we should be celebrating their lives, not rehashing their deaths," Tietjen said.

The transcripts depict Port Authority employees attempting to coordinate rescues inside the Trade Center and diverting traffic on the commuter train lines that led to the complex.

The officers in the Port Authority's command center sometimes sounded as confused and worried as the many office workers looking for information and help.

"Something blew up at the Trade Center," said in an early outgoing call from the Port Authority police desk. "Either a plane crashed into the Trade Center or a rocket hit. ... People are all over the place, dead."

"Really?" a female voice responded.

"I'm going to be here," the officer said. "I just wanted to let you know I'm OK, because you would have saw this on the news, you would have thought, 'Uh-oh.'"

One officer, like so many people at the trade center, left a message for his family on an answering machine.

"Heather, it's me, Dad. I don't know if you're watching the news. We had an explosion at the World Trade Center. But I'm OK. You just tend to your school business. And I'll talk to you whenever I can. ... I love you. Bye," the officer said.

'Should we stay or should we not?'

Early in the crisis, with only the North Tower on fire, the Port Authority advised occupants of the South Tower, WTC 2, to stay put, in keeping with emergency plans that called for evacuating only the building where a catastrophic incident was unfolding.

"Should we stay or should we not?" asked a caller from the 92nd floor of the South Tower.

"I would wait till further notice," an officer responded.

"We are up on the 87th floor. We're trying to figure out what's going on," asked another caller inside the South Tower.

"Just stand by. ... The incident happened at One World Trade Center. ... Just stand by," the caller was told.

Other callers inside WTC 2 were told to immediately evacuate, the transcripts show, before a second hijacked passenger jet crashed between its 78th and 84th floors at 9:03 a.m.

The 110-story twin towers were half empty when the jets struck. Before the towers collapsed an estimated 25,000 people were evacuated safely with the help of New York's fire department, which lost 343 firefighters, and police force, which lost 24 cops.

Very few people working on floors above the point where the planes hit survived the intense fires or escaped before the towers collapsed.

"We're on the 90th floor of 2 World Trade," one caller said.

"No. 2?" said an officer.

"Yeah, and we're trapped. There's smoke. ..."

"All right, as soon as possible."

"Yes, please. People are panicking."

Among the most devastated places was the Windows on the World restaurant atop the North Tower.

"We're getting no direction up here. We're having a smoke condition. We have most people on the 106th floor, the 107th floor is way too smoky," said Christine Olender, the restaurant's assistant general manager.

"We need direction as to where we need to direct our guests and our employees, as soon as possible."

"We're doing our best. We've got the fire department, everybody. We're trying to get up to you, dear," an officer told her.

More than 70 staff and 100 guests were unable to evacuate.

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