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The unforgettable Falling Man of 9/11

Sunday, 11 September, 2016

The photograph was taken by Richard Drew on 11 September 2001, and it shows a man plummeting from the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Today, on the 15th anniversary of the terror attacks, we should take time to read “The Falling Man” by Tom Junod, which appeared in Esquire on 1 September 2003, for this is magazine writing at its best: “He is, fifteen seconds past 9:41 A.M. EST, the moment the picture is taken, in the clutches of pure physics, accelerating at a rate of thirty-two feet per second squared. He will soon be traveling at upwards of 150 miles per hour, and he is upside down.”

The Falling Man

Junod succeeds far better than anyone else who has written journalistically about that day in conveying both the instant of death and the length and meaning of a life. Quote:

“THEY BEGAN JUMPING NOT LONG after the first plane hit the North Tower, not long after the fire started. They kept jumping until the tower fell. They jumped through windows already broken and then, later, through windows they broke themselves. They jumped to escape the smoke and the fire; they jumped when the ceilings fell and the floors collapsed; they jumped just to breathe once more before they died. They jumped continually, from all four sides of the building, and from all floors above and around the building’s fatal wound. They jumped from the offices of Marsh & McLennan, the insurance company; from the offices of Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond-trading company; from Windows on the World, the restaurant on the 106th and 107th floors — the top.

For more than an hour and a half, they streamed from the building, one after another, consecutively rather than en masse, as if each individual required the sight of another individual jumping before mustering the courage to jump himself or herself. One photograph, taken at a distance, shows people jumping in perfect sequence, like parachutists, forming an arc composed of three plummeting people, evenly spaced. Indeed, there were reports that some tried parachuting, before the force generated by their fall ripped the drapes, the tablecloths, the desperately gathered fabric, from their hands. They were all, obviously, very much alive on their way down, and their way down lasted an approximate count of ten seconds.”

Never forget.


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