Thursday, April 26, 2007

102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers

102 minutes. Hard as that may be to believe, that's all the time that elapsed between the moment that Flight 11 struck the first Twin Tower and the instant that the second tower collapsed. I expect that all of us, at some time or another, have imagined ourselves trapped in one of those buildings and wondered what our struggle for survival would have required of us. We will never forget those horrible images of people falling or jumping from the upper floors of the Towers, nor the pictures and stories of the heroes who were everywhere that day.

At times I found 102 Minutes, by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn, to be painful reading. The book took me much longer to finish than I anticipated because I could only read it for a few minutes at a time before having to put it down for something less depressing. In actual fact, I read the book over a period of several months, finally finishing it last night.

Through hundreds of survivor interviews and countless hours reading transcripts of telephone and radio conversations, the authors were able to recreate much of what happened in the Twin Towers on the morning of September 11, 2001. Much of what went on in the buildings was truly inspirational, with countless heroes to be found selflessly helping those too injured or physically impaired to get themselves down those dozens of flights of stairs that had to be negotiated if they were to survive.

But those 102 minutes were also filled with heartbreaking stories of the hundreds of people who were trapped in offices above the points of impact of the two crashes. Those people never had a chance of survival because their only exits to the lower floors, stairways and elevators, had already been destroyed. There was so much smoke, and the buildings so soon showed signs of being unstable, that roof top helicopter rescues were also impossible. Phone calls for help quickly changed to last messages to loved ones when the trapped realized that they were going to die.

Some of what Dwyer and Flynn learned while researching 102 Minutes will also anger the reader because, while it is true that some 12,000 of the almost 15,000 people in the buildings managed to escape, more should have gotten out alive than did. The combination of sheer chaos, poor communication systems, and building code exemptions taken over the years unnecessarily claimed hundreds of lives. Even after the first tower had collapsed, most fire fighters and policemen in the second tower had no idea that the first tower was gone or that the tower in which many of them were resting for a final attempt to reach its upper floors was in danger of an imminent collapse itself. Some 200 of them are believed to have died together that way when the second tower fell. And despite the communication problems exposed by the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, New York policemen and fire fighters still found it near impossible to communicate with each other, further limiting the chance that they and many of the tower office workers would survive the day.

But most disheartening of all is the fact that there were simply not enough stairways in either building to effectively evacuate the many thousands of people who worked in them each day. Real estate and office space is at a premium in New York and the Port Authority was able to get building code exemptions that allowed the Twin Towers to be constructed with fewer exits than they should have contained. Fewer stairways meant more office space to rent, and that's the trade off that was chosen. The fact that many of the existing stairway sections were so damaged or destroyed in the initial crashes meant that many of the survivors never had a chance.

While this is not an easy book to read, it has much to offer to those who manage it. There are many lessons to be learned from what happened on September 11, 2001 and 102 Minutes is a clear presentation of those lessons. Let's all hope that those in authority will be better prepared if something like this horror ever happens again.

Rated at: 4.0


  1. Sam, this sounds like an intriguing, if somewhat stressful, read. I will add it to my list. I still want to read The Looming Tower by Wright. The two would probably be a great pair...but I'm not sure that I could manage two such painful books at once.

  2. Funny you should mention The Looming Tower, Jenclair. I started to read that one when I was about 2/3 of the way through 102 Minutes and I found that I couldn't read them at the same time. It was just too much doom and gloom and bad news all at the same time. And now that I've finished this one, I still don't have the urge to try it again.

  3. I'm wondering if the words Bomb or Explosion were mentioned? If not - then this book is not telling the real truth. Those buildings did NOT just collapse. They were detonated. They were "pulled" or demolished.

  4. No, those words weren't mentioned as far as I can remember...for good reason, of course, since the buildings were NOT "detonated." That's absurd.