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#1
Old 09-09-2010, 06:46 PM
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9/11 helicopter rescue question?

Would it have been possible, and was it attempted to rescue individuals trapped above where the planes crashed into the Twin Towers using rescue helicopters?
The only helicopters I could discern in the footage were news helicopters and indeed some of the footage in the documentary came from their cameras.

We watched the documentary 102 Minute That Changed America the other day on television and my sister asked about it.
#2
Old 09-09-2010, 06:51 PM
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It would not have been possible. The air currents created by the enormous fires in the structures would have made a helicopter approach too dangerous.
#3
Old 09-09-2010, 06:55 PM
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Because we've been there, done that.
#4
Old 09-09-2010, 06:58 PM
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I doubt there was any easy access to the roof, and I doubt there was any pilot willing to, or more likely a helicopter capable of, hovering over or safely landing above what were ultimately huge chimneys.

As an aside, I watched that 102 minutes doc a couple of days ago too. Woah. I though the Naudet brothers film was intense.
#5
Old 09-09-2010, 07:00 PM
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Assuming the winds and air currents would have made it possible to hold that hover, how would they get the people into the bird?

I'd assume chances are people would rush the helicopter.
#6
Old 09-09-2010, 11:44 PM
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I was flipping channels and caught about 30 seconds of that Rudy Guliani special that has been on the History channel recently. It just so happens that the 30 seconds I caught were Guliani saying (paraphrasing) "The fire chief turned to me and said 'I can't get my people above the fire.' There was no way to land a helicopter on top of a burning building and even if they could, they'd certainly be dead in no time. As those words registered in my mind, I knew everyone above that fire was going to die."
#7
Old 09-10-2010, 12:12 AM
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Originally Posted by Fubaya View Post
I was flipping channels and caught about 30 seconds of that Rudy Guliani special that has been on the History channel recently. It just so happens that the 30 seconds I caught were Guliani saying (paraphrasing) "The fire chief turned to me and said 'I can't get my people above the fire.' There was no way to land a helicopter on top of a burning building and even if they could, they'd certainly be dead in no time. As those words registered in my mind, I knew everyone above that fire was going to die."
I remember being so horrified by the randomness of those who were on floors above where the plane went in and those who were on floors below. It was just so clear that nothing could be done for anyone still alive on the upper floors.
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Old 09-10-2010, 12:47 AM
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Have any kind of rescue plans for people on floors higher than a large building fire come into being since 2001?
#9
Old 09-10-2010, 01:40 AM
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Maybe this has already been answered, but what exactly was the plan? Were we just going to let the fire burn out? Were we waiting for Superman to blow on a lake and freeze it with his breathe and throw it at the fires, putting them out?
#10
Old 09-10-2010, 02:01 AM
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Originally Posted by copperwindow View Post
Maybe this has already been answered, but what exactly was the plan? Were we just going to let the fire burn out? Were we waiting for Superman to blow on a lake and freeze it with his breathe and throw it at the fires, putting them out?
If no rescue is feasible, then your plans do not involve rescuing people. Perhaps they expected (or hoped) that the fire would burn down to a point where some kind of rescue became feasible.
#11
Old 09-10-2010, 08:49 AM
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Originally Posted by postcards View Post
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I doubt there was any easy access to the roof
If you follow the link postcards gave, you'll see that the roof access had been permanently sealed off some time before the incident, because of concerns about suicides and stunts.
#12
Old 09-10-2010, 11:46 AM
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I don't know what their plans were, but I assume they were attacking the fire and rescuing people from below. Think of it like a house. They can't get on top so they get as close to the base of the fire as possible and fight it there. That's the best place to put out a fire anyway. As far as rescue, there have been times where helicopters have been used on large buildings, but if the fire is huge, intense and possibly burning through the roof, landing on top of that is suicide.

The Guilani show was quite explicit. Guiliani said as soon as the chief said the words, he knew it was a death sentence for any people still above the fire.
#13
Old 09-10-2010, 12:49 PM
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Originally Posted by jackdavinci View Post
Have any kind of rescue plans for people on floors higher than a large building fire come into being since 2001?
I believe fire codes require (and have for a long time) sprinklers and fire hoses throughout the building. In the event of a simple fire, these measures can either put out a fire, or slow it down enough for people to escape via fully intact fire escape stairwells.

The WTC was equipped with all these features - sprinklers, hoses, and most important of all, fire escape stairwells - but those features were absolutely obliterated by the aircraft impacts, simultaneous to the ignition of massive fires by thousands of gallons of jet fuel. I don't think any rescue plan did or will account for those kinds of conditions.
#14
Old 09-10-2010, 01:45 PM
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I saw someone point out once (shortly after 9/11) that no fire code in the world would allow a building a third of a mile long with exits only on one end, but turn it on its end and that's exactly what a skyscraper is.
#15
Old 09-10-2010, 02:03 PM
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So what you're all saying, is that even if the towers had not collapsed, there was no way to get help to anyone on the floors above the crash point where the fire was?
#16
Old 09-10-2010, 03:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
I saw someone point out once (shortly after 9/11) that no fire code in the world would allow a building a third of a mile long with exits only on one end, but turn it on its end and that's exactly what a skyscraper is.
There are exits all the way along the building's length, and a number of people used them on 9/11. Unfortunately, this resulted in them falling to their deaths.
#17
Old 09-10-2010, 03:25 PM
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Originally Posted by Chronos View Post
I saw someone point out once (shortly after 9/11) that no fire code in the world would allow a building a third of a mile long with exits only on one end, but turn it on its end and that's exactly what a skyscraper is.
On a horizontal building of that length, it's relatively easy to have exits all around the perimeter, and that's why they can be required to do so. On a vertical building of that length, it's not practical - but you can make it relatively safe by implementing the fire safety measures I described.

Note that fire safety measures are (duh) designed to deal with fires, not impacts from commercial jetliners that destroy vast swaths of building structure (and associated fire safety measures). In the entire history of aviation this has been (and hopefully will continue to be) an extremely rare event, and so it's not worth trying to figure out how to protect a building specifically against such attacks.

There have been a few deliberate attacks by small planes since 9/11, but this is far, far different from a high-speed jetliner.
#18
Old 09-10-2010, 03:27 PM
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Originally Posted by Machine Elf View Post
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Originally Posted by jackdavinci View Post
Have any kind of rescue plans for people on floors higher than a large building fire come into being since 2001?
I believe fire codes require (and have for a long time) sprinklers and fire hoses throughout the building. In the event of a simple fire, these measures can either put out a fire, or slow it down enough for people to escape via fully intact fire escape stairwells.

The WTC was equipped with all these features - sprinklers, hoses, and most important of all, fire escape stairwells - but those features were absolutely obliterated by the aircraft impacts, simultaneous to the ignition of massive fires by thousands of gallons of jet fuel. I don't think any rescue plan did or will account for those kinds of conditions.
All this is true. But from what I've read, one thing they could change is the way elevators doors work. A lot of them in the WTC had latches on them that locked automatically if the elevators became stuck. During a routine elevator breakdown, this probably isn't a bad idea, as it prevents people from risking injury trying to escape between floors instead of waiting for a repairman to show up. But in a case like the WTC they proved to be a death sentence to some, ironic since they were intended to be a safety feature.
I and a group of people got stuck in an elevator like that in college and while waiting for the repairman to come, wondered what would have happened if a fire or some other catastrophe had broken out.

Last edited by joebuck20; 09-10-2010 at 03:28 PM.
#19
Old 09-10-2010, 03:35 PM
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Originally Posted by Markxxx View Post
So what you're all saying, is that even if the towers had not collapsed, there was no way to get help to anyone on the floors above the crash point where the fire was?
If they had managed to get the fires out without the buildings collapsing. I'm sure they could have then gone and cherry picked people out of windows and off the roof with helicopters. They probably could have brought rescue personal and engineers inside to bridge the giant gaps with temporary bridges and ladders to extricate people that way as well. I'd guess that getting everyone out would have taken a few days though.
#20
Old 09-10-2010, 03:54 PM
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Originally Posted by Markxxx View Post
So what you're all saying, is that even if the towers had not collapsed, there was no way to get help to anyone on the floors above the crash point where the fire was?
That's not right. It is possible to get help. However, assuming the doors could get unsealed, it would be extremely time consuming -- much more time consuming than having people walk down. In the 1993 bombings, they only evacuated about 130 people, in about 40 landings, in the time it took to get the entire rest of the building evacuated. Then-CO of the Aviation Unit Capt. William Wilkens called it "one of the most challenging assignments in the history of police aviation"
#21
Old 09-10-2010, 04:33 PM
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Originally Posted by joebuck20 View Post
All this is true. But from what I've read, one thing they could change is the way elevators doors work. A lot of them in the WTC had latches on them that locked automatically if the elevators became stuck. During a routine elevator breakdown, this probably isn't a bad idea, as it prevents people from risking injury trying to escape between floors instead of waiting for a repairman to show up. But in a case like the WTC they proved to be a death sentence to some, ironic since they were intended to be a safety feature.
The possibility of malfunction and resultant entrapment is the big reason you're not supposed to ride an elevator during a fire evacuation. For any given elevator, entrapment is a rare event; it's not particularly likely to happen in the first minute after an evacuation is declared, so you will almost certainly have time to get off the 'vator once the alarm sounds.

For those few who were trapped in the WTC elevators because of the aircraft impacts, again, that's such a rare scenario it's not possible to justify the expense or the inadvertent risks associated with altering elevator design.
#22
Old 09-11-2010, 05:36 AM
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Just for the record, a small number of people did escape from above the fire in the South Tower. This is because one stairwell, Stairwell A, remained passable; those who discovered this, and made it to the bottom before the tower collapsed, survived. In the North Tower, the impact made all the stairwells impassable, and everyone above the fire was doomed.

I don't know if there has been another case of all stairwells being blocked or destroyed in a skyscraper before, or since.
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#23
Old 09-11-2010, 09:39 AM
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Originally Posted by Machine Elf View Post
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Originally Posted by jackdavinci View Post
Have any kind of rescue plans for people on floors higher than a large building fire come into being since 2001?
I believe fire codes require (and have for a long time) sprinklers and fire hoses throughout the building. In the event of a simple fire, these measures can either put out a fire, or slow it down enough for people to escape via fully intact fire escape stairwells.

The WTC was equipped with all these features - sprinklers, hoses, and most important of all, fire escape stairwells - but those features were absolutely obliterated by the aircraft impacts, simultaneous to the ignition of massive fires by thousands of gallons of jet fuel. I don't think any rescue plan did or will account for those kinds of conditions.
The WTC complex was given an assload of variances. Spray-on fireproofing, for example. I worked on cleaning that place up, and I'm not critical of it. There's no accounting for asshole terrorists. Pumping water up to the top of buildings of that size requires tremendous energy, and wasn't practical at the time of construction (also relevant is NYC's rapidly-deteriorating water pressure system).

It was a bad day. The architecture held up better than would generally be expected, and most of the occupants survived.
#24
Old 09-11-2010, 10:07 AM
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Originally Posted by flodnak View Post
Just for the record, a small number of people did escape from above the fire in the South Tower. This is because one stairwell, Stairwell A, remained passable; those who discovered this, and made it to the bottom before the tower collapsed, survived.
Eighteen people, to be precise. Here's the account of one of them.
#25
Old 08-22-2012, 04:42 AM
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Originally Posted by An Gadaí View Post
Would it have been possible, and was it attempted to rescue individuals trapped above where the planes crashed into the Twin Towers using rescue helicopters?
The only helicopters I could discern in the footage were news helicopters and indeed some of the footage in the documentary came from their cameras.

We watched the documentary 102 Minute That Changed America the other day on television and my sister asked about it.
The only way that could have been possible is with two helicopters with a net tied in between them and let the people jump in that net from a specific height. If people can jump to their death, it must be not tough to jump between two helicopters
#26
Old 08-22-2012, 06:46 AM
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The only way that could have been possible is with two helicopters with a net tied in between them and let the people jump in that net from a specific height. If people can jump to their death, it must be not tough to jump between two helicopters
Zombie thread issues aside, that's a pretty desperate plan. For starters, you'd need a net big enough to reach between the helicopters with sufficient space in between to prevent the jumpers from becoming chopped liver in the helicopter blades. The net would have to be strong enough to hold quite a lot of people, and the helicopters somehow able to keep from pulling toward one another with the weight of the net and all the people, not to mention dealing with the turbulence of the updrafts.

IANA helicopter expert so I don't know if such helicopters even exist. If they do, I doubt there are many of them hanging around NYC and certainly they probably don't have big nets. And of course there are the issues of people missing the nets or landing on other people or having to jump several floors down to the nets and so on and so forth.

Frankly you'd be better off having a big closet full of base jumping equipment on the top floor, and that's not saying much.
#27
Old 08-22-2012, 08:09 AM
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Zombie thread issues aside, that's a pretty desperate plan. For starters, you'd need a net big enough to reach between the helicopters with sufficient space in between to prevent the jumpers from becoming chopped liver in the helicopter blades. The net would have to be strong enough to hold quite a lot of people, and the helicopters somehow able to keep from pulling toward one another with the weight of the net and all the people, not to mention dealing with the turbulence of the updrafts.

IANA helicopter expert so I don't know if such helicopters even exist. If they do, I doubt there are many of them hanging around NYC and certainly they probably don't have big nets. And of course there are the issues of people missing the nets or landing on other people or having to jump several floors down to the nets and so on and so forth.

Frankly you'd be better off having a big closet full of base jumping equipment on the top floor, and that's not saying much.
Concur - a net strung between two helocopters is an awful idea. A basket on a single cable beneath each of two single helicopters is better (although probably still not ideal) - the individual capacity is smaller, but operating two helicopters in careful conjunction is going to slow things down enormously.
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Old 08-22-2012, 08:13 AM
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I also forgot to mention the small matter of large chunks of debris falling off the building while all this is happening, even if the copters could get close enough to the side of the building to make jumping work.

And Frank, I note this is the second thread on the subject you've resurrected (the other now being locked). Any particular reason why?
#29
Old 08-22-2012, 02:44 PM
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Some of the people whose loss affects me most on 9/11, apart from rescue workers like firefighters, or volunteers like Rick Rescorla, were the broadcast engineers operating the transmitters on top of the North Tower, struggling to keep their stations on the air.
#30
Old 08-22-2012, 05:41 PM
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Originally Posted by Gyrate View Post
Frankly you'd be better off having a big closet full of base jumping equipment on the top floor, and that's not saying much.
There was an "idiot proof" parachute released for workers working in tall buildings a few years after 9/11. I wonder what came of it.
#31
Old 08-24-2012, 11:55 PM
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Originally Posted by Mangetout View Post
Concur - a net strung between two helocopters is an awful idea. A basket on a single cable beneath each of two single helicopters is better (although probably still not ideal) - the individual capacity is smaller, but operating two helicopters in careful conjunction is going to slow things down enormously.
That occurred to me too. A basket with an extension to the windows (not connected to them, its dangerous as tower goes down). Or you could cast a rope to the windows and let them slide to the basket.
BETTER SLOW THAN DOING NOTHING. AT LEAST A DOZEN OF THEM WOULD HAVE BEEN SAVED.
#32
Old 08-25-2012, 12:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Gyrate View Post
I also forgot to mention the small matter of large chunks of debris falling off the building while all this is happening, even if the copters could get close enough to the side of the building to make jumping work.

And Frank, I note this is the second thread on the subject you've resurrected (the other now being locked). Any particular reason why?
Remember the debris had not been a threat above the point of impact after a certain time. You could see people clearly waving their hands and clothes. People were stuck above the impact floors and debris was falling downwards. Therefore a helicopter (or a hot air balloon) could probably do this. The smoke was only close to the windows. Just a basket with an extension could save at least half dozen.

That other thread you mentioned was a wrong place where people blamed me for "fake smoke and fake victims and dolls". I was just curious to mention this as the only exit from the trapped floor was through the windows. Many of the jumpers proved it.
I WONDER WHAT THEY ARE BUILDING AT THE PLACE RIGHT NOW?
#33
Old 08-25-2012, 12:18 AM
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This is what they're building at the World Trade Center now. Well, a lot of things have been built or are under construction, but that's the biggest. Anyway I think this sounds like a Wile E. Coyote notion. It's not like there were any helicopters-with-nets or hot air balloons sitting around waiting for just such an occasion, and even if they could've saved people and could have approached the burning building, I am doubtful there was time to make any of it happen. The North Tower was hit at 8:46 and collapsed at 10:28 and the South tower was hit at 9:03 and collapsed at 9:59, and you've said yourself that the falling debris would have made that window even smaller (if there was any window at all).
#34
Old 08-25-2012, 01:55 AM
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Originally Posted by FrankDrebin View Post
That occurred to me too. A basket with an extension to the windows (not connected to them, its dangerous as tower goes down). Or you could cast a rope to the windows and let them slide to the basket.
BETTER SLOW THAN DOING NOTHING. AT LEAST A DOZEN OF THEM WOULD HAVE BEEN SAVED.
It's only really hindsight that allows us to say what might have been. If this was an easy, cheap, commonplace problem to solve, we'd be all over it.

But it isn't. The attributes of these sorts of extreme scenarios are sufficiently variable that any solution might just not be usable next time, or might not be in the right place at the right time. If we had unlimited resources to build a range of different solutions and deploy copies of them everywhere, we could be prepared for everything except the unexpected, but we can't afford that, and the next event might still include features we can't possibly anticipate, rendering preparation worthless.
#35
Old 08-25-2012, 01:48 PM
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Originally Posted by Gyrate View Post
Frankly you'd be better off having a big closet full of base jumping equipment on the top floor, and that's not saying much.
What about individual solutions along these lines? I'm not talking about official rescue organizations, or even corporate-sponsored emergency evac gear, but if an individual person wants to stash something for the "it's either die here, or try this damned-fool idea" situation, I'd rather have something to try than nothing. Wouldn't you?

Rescue groups' efforts would have to be safe (I can't see encouraging people to jump from way up high into a net of some sort - if anyone misses the net and splats on the ground, you don't want to be the chief explaining, "Yeah, but look at the ones we did save!" That usually doesn't go over too well. You also have to control the number of people on the device, to not exceed its load capacity. And so on...

But have people, or do they, stash cables or rappel and fire gear, or some type of hang glider / flying suit, or base jumping gear? If I worked way up high, it's something worth considering.

If I did have such gear in my office, I wouldn't tell a soul for fear of ridicule.
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