“102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive Inside the Twin Towers. With a new afterword” by Jim Dwyer and Kevin Flynn
First paperback edition published in 2005 by Times Books, 340 pages

I honestly have no idea why I bought that book – I only know that it was during one of my book shopping sprees at Barnes&Noble. During the last years I had started reading it several times, but always put it aside again. Some weeks ago I started again and finally finished it.

Dwyer and Flynn present us an extract insight into the scene of the Twin Towers, and among the police and the fire workers during the 102 minutes from the first plane hitting the North tower until both towers collapsed (and what happened afterwards as well). The accounts are based on eyewitness testimonies, phone tapes transcripts etc.

We get introduced to a lot of people, read a glimpse about their lives, and where they are when the planes hit. Some will make it, and a lot will not.
It is sometimes heartbreaking to read that someone decided to stay with his friend until help might show up.

Nonetheless, the authors do not simply present a tragedy but weave a lot of astonishing background facts into the storyline. Two things stuck out to me: the first was about the building codes.

  • In 1968 a code reduced the required number of stairways as well as the minimum fire resistance for shaft walls.
  • The number of exit stairways does not vary regarding the number of stories.
  • Whereas in schools for example exits have to be on opposite sides of the floors this was not required for office buildings, and thus the shafts were bunched tightly together as more space = more rent.

The second thing that surprised me is the ongoing rivalry between the fire workers and the police to the extend that they did not have a communication system installed serving both. (With the result that whereas the police outside was aware that one tower had collapsed, they could not deliver the information to all the fire workers inside the North Tower.)
We outside watching TV had more knowledge of what happened than the people inside the towers.

And reading about the structural and technical difficulties and problems makes the book indeed a tough read, because it leaves you just shacking your head uncomprehendingly.

The first three sentences, skipping the author’s note:


8:30 A.M.
North Tower

First into the office on the 89th floor of 1 World Trade Center, as always, Dianne DeFontes shut the door behind her, then locked it with a bolt that slid up and down, into floor and ceiling. The lawyers were unlikely to arrive at the office of Drinker Biddle & Reath for another thirty minutes. Until then, DeFontes, the fifty-one-year-old receptionist, would serve as the early voice of a humming, busy law firm engaged in global-trade litigation.”