We're Under Attack

Near misses, dead phones, last words: an oral history of 9/11 by Giuliani and his aides

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GIULIANI: I go up to [Fire Chief Peter] Ganci and I say, "What should I communicate to people?" He says, "Tell them to get in the stairways. Tell them our guys are on the way up." And then he looks at me and says, "I think we can save everybody below the fire." What he is telling me is, they're gone. Everybody above the fire is gone. He says people are not panicking. They're moving fast. I grab his hand, shake it and say, "Good luck. God bless you." We sort of do a little hug. Then I shake [First Deputy Commissioner] Bill Feehan's hand, and I wave to [Battalion Chief] Ray Downey--I had just given a dinner at Gracie [Mansion] for him and all his people, about half of whom are gone now. So I wave to him, not thinking I am saying goodbye. No way. I'm actually thinking our guys are pretty safe, because we can't get above the fire. Fire fighters are in jeopardy above the fire.

TONY CARBONETTI, Giuliani's chief of staff: You can tell [Giuliani] is devastated, but he's in his element--surrounded by fire chiefs. He always wants to know how they're going to handle fires.

GIULIANI: I say to Tony, "I need the police and fire commissioners with me. We gotta all be on the same page." I know [Fire Commissioner] Tommy [Von Essen] might want to stay there, but I want him with me.

SUNNY MINDEL, communications director: The mayor keeps saying, "We have to talk to the people. We have to communicate. Get a press conference."

VON ESSEN: I'm told, "The mayor wants you." It always aggravates me because I never really want to leave. The fun is being there. I'm probably alive because I went to meet him. Most of my guys survived the first collapse. Not the second.

Von Essen will spend the next half an hour looking for the mayor before finding him on a neighboring block. In search of working phones, Giuliani's entourage ducks into a squat, undistinguished office building at 75 Barclay Street and takes over a cluster of cubicles on the main floor. An aide gets through to Chris Henick, a deputy assistant to the President, at the White House.

GIULIANI: I say, "Do we have air cover?" He says, "Yes, planes were sent out 12 to 15 minutes ago, and they should be there." "Has the Pentagon been hit?" Henick replies, "Affirmative. You can't talk to the President right now because we're evacuating the White House. But the Vice President should be calling you back." "Are you all right, Chris?" "I dunno. I've gotta leave now. But I hope so." "Well, God bless you." I hang up the phone and say, "My God, I never thought I'd have that conversation. They're evacuating the White House."

I walk into another office, grab the phone, and there's a secretary. "Mr. Mayor? The Vice President." I'm waiting, waiting, waiting. I hear a click, like the phone went out.

KERIK: Somebody runs in and yells, "Hit the deck!" As the guy swings the door open and yells that, I see windows shattering in the hallway outside. It feels like an earthquake. All of a sudden there's this gush of black smoke and ash and debris, and it just pours into the room. Some people jump under the desks. We start pushing the mayor to the back.

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