Voice of an angel
Pentagon cop reunites with man he directed to safety on 9/11
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- His hands and arms severely burned, the room pitch black, the air choked with smoke, William "Wayne" Sinclair's world -- much like his tattered office on the Pentagon's first floor -- had been violently turned upside down.
Sinclair had no clue where to go or what to do, until he heard a man yell: "If you can hear me, head toward my voice. If you can hear me, head toward my voice."
"He kept saying that over and over," Sinclair said. "And that is what guided us out of the smoke and fire."
The voice stuck in Sinclair's head as he lay in a Washington hospital bed for more than three weeks. An interview with The Washington Post he conducted shortly before his release led to a meeting in early October with the person he credits with saving his life -- Pentagon police officer Isaac Ho'opi'i.
"I call him my guardian angel," said Sinclair. "I just didn't know they came in such a big package."
Sinclair wasn't one of the eight people that Ho'opi'i says he literally carried to safety after American Flight 77 hit the Pentagon. But Sinclair's efforts to recognize Ho'opi'i have thrust the 6-foot-2, 200-plus pound Hawaiian into the spotlight -- on TV, in newspapers, even at Sinclair's most recent family reunion.
Ho'opi'i has taken the attention in stride, saying that after weeks searching the Pentagon site with his canine partner, Vito, and despite remorse about those he couldn't save, he's gradually coming to grips with what happened September 11.
"I think it is just normal, as a human being, reacting to save people's lives," Ho'opi'i said. "I was just at the right place at the right time. The man above didn't tell me, you know, it was time to check out."
Reacting to disaster
Ho'opi'i was tracking reports of the World Trade Center attacks when he heard a dispatcher say over the radio, "The plane ran into the Pentagon -- emergency, emergency, emergency."
Ho'opi'i jumped in his car and bolted toward the fire, stopping then running toward the crash site. Among the first officers on the scene, he saw plane parts scattered on the ground, small pockets of fire and charred trees -- "everything disintegrated," he said.
The scene inside the Pentagon was even more horrific. "There was so much disaster inside -- walls, cubicles, tables, chairs, it was just all blown to pieces and some walls had caved in," said Ho'opi'i. People began to trickle out -- "male or female, black or white, you couldn't tell they were so badly burned."
But many others were still trapped, so Ho'opi'i -- wearing just lightweight work clothes and carrying no special equipment -- rushed in and began carrying people from the building and onto the grass 100 yards away.
"My job was just to react, and when you react it is more like tunnel vision," said Ho'opi'i. "You try to focus and your adrenaline just kicks in. You really don't realize what you're doing, except just to save lives."
After several trips back-and-forth, Ho'opi'i worked his way in as far as possible and began yelling to those trapped inside.
"Most people were in a state of panic and shock," said Sinclair, a civilian computer expert and contract employee. "I said, 'Let's head toward that voice. There is somebody outside. There's got to be.' So we kept heading toward it and, sure enough, we got outside."
Ho'opi'i worked practically around the clock for the next several weeks with his dog Vito. But his hope survivors could be found eventually eroded; leaving him feeling guilty that those in the Pentagon who yelled back to him on September 11 but whom he never saw alive had likely died.
"Could I have made a difference by helping those people?" Ho'opi'i recalled asking himself. "What if?"
One of those questions was answered in early October, when Ho'opi'i's wife Gigi tracked down Sinclair after reading his story in the Post. Later that night, Sinclair heard the voice he remembered so vividly from September 11. The two met a few days later at a TV studio.
"As soon as he saw me, he threw a big bear hug around me," said Sinclair. "We became fast and splendid friends."
Sinclair relished the chance to match the voice with a face and express his thanks. Ho'opi'i, meanwhile, said the meeting gave him a measure of "relief knowing that people did get out" -- although Sinclair said he sometimes feels compelled to boost his new friend.
"I try to tell him, Isaac, you saved as many people as humanly possible. You did everything that you could physically and mentally do until you just wore out," said Sinclair. "He's just that kind of guy -- he keeps going and going and going. He always wants to do more than he is capable of doing."
Ho'opi'i credits his wife, three children and dog Vito for helping him get back on track. After an almost seven-month hiatus, he's back singing with his band, the Aloha Boys, to help him unwind and share his culture. And Ho'opi'i says he has also gained much-needed perspective coaching his daughter's youth softball team.
"It is just a relief to see them enjoy an American game and forget about all the bad things that happen around the world," he said.
Back to top