Where were the Helicopters?






As we all hail our recently departed Mayor, Mr. Rudolph Giuliani, a man almost uniformly decreed as the greatest thing since sliced bread, we might wish to pause and ask one nagging, little question:  Where were the helicopters?


In 1993, at time of the first attack on the World Trade Center, I distinctly recall that helicopters were summoned to remove people from the apex of Tower One.  At the time of the second assault, the need for such imaginative measures were infinitely greater. And, at the time of the second strike, the use of helicopters would not have taken such a great imagination since they had already been employed in 1993, when Mr. David Dinkins was Mayor of New York.


Usually, I think there is something masochistic or at least plainly pathological in compulsively viewing film footage of horrid occurrences, such as the assassination of John F. Kennedy, the wasted bodies of Nazi concentration and death camp victims, and the starving children of so many sites in the world.  However, I think it is time, perhaps, to look again at the World Trade Center video recordings – hopefully without soundtracks of commentators waxing hysterical with hyperbolic, hagiographic exaltations of Giuliani – and  to think.


Very simply, the film footage shows that many of the floors of both towers, which were above the areas of impact, were not engulfed in flames. The people situated in the upper reaches of the Towers suffered deaths that were far from instantaneous and perhaps, in many cases, avoidable.  For example, in Tower Two the area of impact extended, I believe, from the 78th to the 84th floors.  Most of the people above the 90th floor, or at the very least above the 95th floor, were not immediately convulsed in heat and smoke and holocaust.  There was time.  They could not descend the stairs (One small exception existed in Tower Two where, I believe, about eighteen people were able to traverse the floors that were hit by the plane) because they could not walk through horrific fire.  But they could have risen to the roof, and the City of New York should have risen to the occasion.


Of course the victims could not have been expected to ascend to the zenith of the Towers unless they had some reason to believe that helicopters would come to secure their rescue.  But the City of New York, armed with historical memory, of what it had done in 1993,  should have sent helicopters to the roofs of the Towers, and perhaps to the upper windows of the Towers. The Towers could have been transformed from an immense crematorium to an edifice of salvation, festooned with helicopters in the sky like a Christmas Tree in lights – and then, perhaps, I would have been able to celebrate my allegedly infinitely ingenious and brilliant City this past Christmas.


Perhaps my metaphors are somewhat misplaced and fanciful.  But I fail to see the flaw in the fundamental idea.   When I have voiced this idea, some people, wedded to the doctrine of mayoral infallibility, speculated that only a few helicopters would have been available for rescue.  Other people told me that there “wasn’t enough time” to assemble helicopters.  Such ruminations are absurd:  New York is the greatest City in the only Superpower in the World; I know of at least one heliport that was less than two miles from the World Trade Center; and the Towers were standing tall well over an hour after they were struck.  There was ample time to amass our ample strength and to send squadrons of helicopters to the Towers.  Some people have told me that the idea of helicopters in the sky – at times engulfed in billowing smoke, besieged with too many fleeing and clinging office workers, and perhaps occasionally charred by the outreaching flames – is a picture of chaos and mayhem and disorder.  But rescue situations are, by definition, somewhat messy.  I do not think they are ever easy.  I do not think the element of danger can ever be avoided.


And indeed the men of the uniformed services of the City of New York never shirked their duty; they walked bravely into danger.  And hundreds of them died.  I feel only grief for the privates in this army who are dead.  They followed their leaders with all the elan of European  soldiers in 1914.  But their leaders seemed to have had all the hubris and mental mediocrity of those leaders of 1914.  Instead of sending so many men into the buildings and the very clutches of death, they should have been putting helicopters into the air.


But I suppose my reasoning must be deemed fallacious.  After all, Giuliani is a pugnacious and pragmatic Republican with a knack for anything relating to Law Enforcement.  And  although we witnessed a decline in crime, in New York, in the last two years of the administration of David Dinkins, we all know, just intuitively know, that since David Dinkins was a liberal Democrat, and a black and bland liberal Democrat at that, he must have had some congenital inability to grasp anything in, or remotely related to, the field of law enforcement.  And so with this facile and racist generalization, my starry idea of helicopters in the sky will, I suppose, flicker away and be forgotten.


Copyright, David Gottfried, 2001





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