Hang-Gliding off the Trade Center Tower Roofs on 9/11

Like many others, I happened to be watching the TV news on the morning of September 11, 2001, and so I saw the second airliner crash into the World Trade Center towers. The fact that both towers were hit by airliners within a few minutes made clear that it was no accident, but a planned act of terrorism.

Within minutes, around 9 am on 9/11/2001, I realized that each airliner had contained massive amount of Jet fuel, for flights that were meant to go all the way across the country to California. Since these crashes occurred very early in those flights, that meant that huge amounts of Jet fuel were burning and the fires would not likely be put out.

So I realized that it was likely that all the people who happened to be in the buildings ABOVE the fires, nearly certainly had no chance whatever of survival.

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I came up with the idea where if I had been in that situation, I probably would have searched around to find large sturdy plastic curtains that likely closed off the windows to reduce direct sunlight, or maybe keep rooms warmer in winter as additional thermal insulation.

I assumed that I would likely be able to find hundreds of such curtains, and I would ask other survivors to go around and take such curtains down, and then go UP stairwells to get up onto the roof of the building.

I would have asked others to rip electric cords out of coffee makers and other appliances, and also to find at least one sharp knife.

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Since there were NO reasonable ways that any of the people were likely to survive the flames that would eventually move up through the buildings, my idea was to improvize to create "hang-gliders" or "parachutes" out of large curtains, and use pieces of the electric cords to tie the corners of the sturdy plastic curtain to the wrists and ankles of a person.

The concept was that the Hudson River was only about a block away to the west, and if such a contraption might slow down a person's rate of fall from the natural 120 mph down to below 60 mph, the person might have a chance of surviving hitting the water of the River.

I realized that the chance of this working was iffy, but the idea seemed better than just waiting to die in a fire.

It would obviously be important to try to keep the curtain surface as level as possible, but slightly sloped to glide forward toward the river and away from the building.

I also realized that there was likely to be a serious complication. The huge fires down below would certainly be creating enormous updrafts along the sides of the buildings. As soon as someone would jump off the roof of the building, he or she would certainly be in powerful updrafts, which might make it very difficult to keep the curtain surface level. If the assembly could still be usable once it had glided away from the burning building, or down past the fire areas, if the person could again get the curtain level, it might have a chance of working to enable that person to survive.

I also realized that the first person to try this might have little chance of survival, but if I and the others watched what happened, the second person might be able to survive. Specifically, maybe the person should wrap his or her arms around and grip the lower curtains between the legs, to briefly look like a wrapped hot dog (which the other people on the roof would do, then tossing the person off the roof). Once the person got past the serious turbulence, the arms and legs would be spread. It might then be possible to keep the curtain surface fairly level. like is done with a hang-glider. Essentially, I wanted to try to convert those humans into Flying Squirrels (which COULD have survived jumping off the World Trade Center roofs, even onto solid ground or even concrete.)

If the first and second person to try this had happened to have some experience in a hang-glider, or even in parachuting, the chance of successfully gliding out to land in the Hudson River might be improved.

However I was not there and I had no way to get this information to anyone who happened to be in either World Trade Center Tower. I felt great frustration in knowing that they were all going to die, where I felt that I might have been able to save at least a few of them.

Interestingly, in May 2012, a man jumped out of a helicopter, and was able to land in a big stack of cardboard boxes, where he was able to get up unhurt. He had made himself a Flying Squirrel outfit to accomplish this. News media around the world publicized his achievement. I am just very sad that no one thought of trying his idea on the morning of September 11, 2001.

But that seems to suggest that the idea might have worked with the plastic curtains, and at least a few people might have survived that terrible morning. I am sure that fishermen and dockworkers would quickly be recovering the people from the Hudson River. I also thought that once this attempt was tried from EITHER rooftop, people in the other Tower would realize what was going on and they would try to collect curtains and electric cords.

This presentation was first placed on the Internet in April 2012.

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C Johnson, Theoretical Physicist, Physics Degree from Univ of Chicago