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Officers describe 9/11 in memos

From Susan Chun

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

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- The 2,000 pages of phone and radio transcripts from the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City released by the Port Authority Thursday include hundreds of gory and often heartbreaking typed and handwritten reports by police officers and civilian employees who survived the attacks.

One police officer describes looking up at the sky and seeing the first plane head straight for the north tower of the World Trade Center.

"My first thought was that the aircraft was in distress," the officer wrote. "I never realized, when I saw that plane fly over 42nd street, the disaster that was about to befall our department and our country."

Numerous officers wrote about the horror of seeing people jump from the upper floors.

"A steady stream of bodies and debris was raining down. Inspector Fields was about to run into the building and I stopped him. A man was coming down, he hit with such force it sounded like a shotgun going off. Inspector Fields put a hnd (sic) on the wall to steady himself, he said 'Oh my God,' " one police chief wrote.

Another officer described how a group of officers ran one at a time from the sidewalk into the tower to avoid being hit by falling bodies.

Many of the officers escorted people out of the building minutes before the towers collapsed. One officer described hearing a noise "like a thousand freight" trains when the first tower collapsed.

"The air was so filled with dust that I covered my mouth and nose with my tie as I said prayers that I would be spared. After a short period of time I emerged from underneath the truck into pitch-black darkness barely breathing. My eyes were filled with dust. I was in extreme fear for my life."

One officer described the gruesome sight of body parts on the ground after the collapse of the first tower.

The word "helpless" was used numerous times as officers described how they felt that morning. One officer described seeing injured people evacuating the tower. "I could see the panic in their eyes as they looked at me," he wrote.

The breakdown in communication when cell phones and radios stopped working was addressed by many officers. They described not knowing where their partners were and not being able to get through to their loved ones to tell them they were OK.

Despite the horrific events of that morning and the loss of 87 Port Authority police officers and employees, many expressed pride in the actions of the department that morning.

"We could never have foreseen this tragic event or loss of life. However, in spite of the loss and grief we regrouped, moved forward and kept the department running," one police sergeant wrote.

Nearly 3,000 people were killed that day when hijacked airplanes hit the World Trade Center in New York, the Pentagon in Virginia and crashed into a field in Pennsylvania.

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