Talking Proud Archives --- Culture

Invisible waterfront hands: Evacuation of Manhattan, 9/11

"The ordinary achieving the extraordinary"

The September 11, 2001 air attacks against the United States consisted of a series of four coordinated attacks. Much of that day will remain in our memories forever. We will also remember forever the unparalleled bravery and courage of our first responders and many citizens. A story missed by many of us, however, was the maritime evacuation of Lower Manhattan. Private boats and their skippers along with the US Coast Guard (USCG) teamed up to evacuate some 500,000 people who were trapped between the devastation of the collapsed WTC building complex and the waters of the Hudson River, the East River and Upper New York Bay. The entire evacuation effort “Just Happened,” because every-day people decided this evacuation would happen. And it did.

June 21, 2017


The September 11, 2001 air attacks against the United States consisted of a series of four coordinated attacks, two in New York City at the two tall World Trade Center (WTC) buildings, one in Arlington, Virginia at the Pentagon, and the other over the skies of rural Pennsylvania, the last one aborted after passengers revolted and the aircraft crashed into a field. The attack against the North and South Towers of the WTC would result in the entire WTC complex coming to the ground.

Much of that day will remain in or memories forever. We will also remember forever the unparalleled bravery and courage of our first responders and many citizens.

A story missed by many of us, however, was the maritime evacuation of Lower Manhattan. Private boats and their skippers along with the US Coast Guard (USCG) teamed up to evacuate some 500,000 people who were trapped between the devastation of the two collapsed WTC buildings to their north and the waters of the Hudson River, the East River, and Upper New York Bay.

I want to emphasize, underline and underscore that all these foreign air attacks were a surprise, a bolt from the blue, a shock, on the order of the Japanese air attacks against Hawaii, killing more than were killed at Pearl Harbor. This report is not intended to nit-pic in a scenario like that. The fact is, however, the US was not prepared for this kind of attack. That makes the civilian maritime response even more notable and memorable.


I am deliberately going to put you through a lot before I get you to the uplifting, fun story about the boat-lift evacuation itself. I am doing this because I want to put you in the shoes of the 500,000 people who were evacuated, and help you understand they would have had some big problems had these civilian boaters not come to their rescue. I hope that will put you in a frame of mind to better comprehend the enormity of what these boaters did.

A quick overview of our area of interest


First, I need to give you a broad overview of the territories I'll be addressing. The WTC is shown by the Red Marker. For my purposes in this story, I am defining "Lower Manhattan" as everything below the green line all the way to Battery Park. Most consider Lower Manhattan larger than that but the focus here will be on all those people who went toward Battery Park after the attacks. They were the ones most likely blocked from going to the north of the green line, for example, to get to the Brooklyn Bridge and walk across. Broadly speaking, the area north of the green line suffered minor damages and experienced little smoke and debris.

I know many of you have seen many of these photos of the disaster site before. Speaking for myself, I can say I viewed them this time in a different light — from the shoes of those trying to escape the horror. That offers an interesting perspective.

The scope of the building disasters

The date is September 11, 2001. The weather was clear. Winds were 6-12 mph blowing from the north-northwest to the south-southeast, in some case directly to the south. This is important to the story.

The attacks against the two WTC towers themselves lasted about 16 minutes. The destructive impact on buildings in the near environs took longer.


This is a look at the target area. Most of us have concentrated our attention on 9/11 to the two towers. You will see the WTC complex was much larger.

The North Tower, the first to be struck, was known as WTC 1 (or 1 WTC). The South Tower, the second to be attacked yet the first to collapse, was known as WTC 2. They were the primary components of the WTC complex.

WTC 3 was known known as the World Trade Center Hotel, the Vista Hotel, and the Marriott Hotel. You do not get a good view of it on the graphic; you can see the numeral 3 between the two towers, on the southwest side of the towers. However, this photo of the Marriott pre-9/11 shows how it was sandwiched in between the two towers. You are viewing it from the west, so that is the North Tower WTC 1 to the left, and the South Tower WTC 2 to the right.


The others, WTC 4, 5, 6 and 7 had a range of occupancies, including office and retail spaces. WTC 4, 5, and 6 were built during the 1970s and looked almost identical, each less than 10 stories tall.

I want you to note WTC 2, 3, and 4 are all on the south side of the complex, on Liberty Street. The word "south" is huge in this report.

At 0846:31 foreign hijackers crashed American Airlines (AA) Flight 11 into the North Tower of the WTC. About 16 minutes later, at 0902:59 foreign hijackers crashed United Airlines (UA) Flight 175 into the South Tower of the WTC. We will concentrate on these two attacks.

That said, for the record foreign hijackers crashed AA Flight 77 into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia at 09:37:46. And at 1003:11 foreign hijackers crashed UA Flight 93 into a field in rural Pennsylvania, about six minutes after passengers had begun attacking them aboard the flight. The passengers sustained their attack until the crash. All souls aboard that flight were lost.

The 911 emergency telephone system was overwhelmed already by 08:47.


At 0958:59 the South Tower of the WTC collapsed. Its collapse cut the adjacent Marriott Hotel nearly into two pieces. Other adjacent buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged.


WTC 3 was close to the South Tower, WTC 2, and was heavily damaged on the roof by the debris from the South Tower. Several large portions of WTC 3 survived, though WTC 3 suffered heavy damage. People in the lobby, for example, survived. The photo shows the exterior columns of the South Tower falling on the southern part of WTC 3.


In many cases, those small pieces of debris you see are actually steel beams and girders such as shown in this construction photo.


The North Tower then collapsed at 10:28:25, about 30 minutes after the South Tower collapsed. Other adjacent buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged. The Marriott Hotel was completely destroyed.


The collapse of the North Tower finished off WTC 3. Debris fell along the entire length of the hotel. Lower floors at the southwest end survived but suffered extensive damage. This photo shows the end result of the damage done to WTC 3 after the North Tower collapsed.

In sum, the two attacks occurred between 08:46 and 09:02. The two towers collapsed between 09:58 and 10:28.



There was major damage to WTC 4 which destroyed all but the northern 50 feet of the building. It suffered from collapse of one or both of the towers, most probably the South Tower.


The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) published a WTC Building Performance Study in 2002. The entire study is available on-line. FEMA studied WTC 5 the most. WTC 5 was damaged by impact and then fires. Debris damage caused localized collapses from the roof to the 3rd floor of the building. Unchecked fires caused localized collapse from the 9th floor to the 4th floor.


Understandably, most of the rescue effort by firefighters and police was focused on the immediate WTC disaster area. The area around the WTC is a disaster, described by one reporter as a “hellscape.” The New York Times reported:

"The area around the World Trade Center resembled a desert after a terrible sandstorm. Parts of buildings, crushed vehicles and the shoes, purses, umbrellas and baby carriages of those who fled lay covered with thick, gray ash, through which weeping people wandered in search of safety, each with a story of pure horror."

There were not many first responders in the area when the attacks began, with some Port Authority Police and a few police in the area. They began rescue operations immediately after the North Tower was struck (08:46). The fire chief called in a live-two alarm to the Fire Department at 08:46 as well. It was expanded to a five-alarm at 08:59.

More than 1,000 firefighters from over 225 units and more than 100 fire trucks responded to the alarms at the WTC by 09:15. Many of us have driven in New York City. It's a tough haul on a normal day. But this day was anything but normal. Just imagine the traffic congestion.

I wish to underscore that the people closest to the disaster knew precious little about what was happening. The second attack convinced many that this was a terrorist attack. By that time, 09:02, the people involved determined the US was being attacked, that New York City was being attacked. No one knew what might happen next. What if there is another attack? Are there more attacks coming? From where, what kind etc.? People at home watching TV knew more about what was going on than the people involved. One more point. The air was so filled with smoke and debris, people wanting to escape often did not know which direction to take — many were lost — The
New York Times described it well: they wandering "in search of safety."

And of course, the rumor mill was pumping out all kinds of wild information among those involved. Bottom line: people simply did not know what was happening, what might happen, and in some cases did not know where they were or to where they should go to save their lives.

The scope of the "people problem" following the attack


The WTC occupied 16 acres. In the WTC itself, there were 430 companies. There was an average of 50,000 people working there on an average day. There were 140,000 people visiting daily. Of these, we know that 2,823, let’s say 3,000 were killed as a result of the WTC attacks. I show this photo to serve as a reminder that there were many office buildings immediately surrounding the WTC, also filled with workers.


Here's a graphic identifying most of those buildings close to the WTC complex. I have not found a number, but I would not be surprised to see a number that was well over 100,000, perhaps over 200,000 in the near environs of the WTC. Most of these buildings suffered major damage. The occupants of all the surrounding buildings, I understand, successfully evacuated. But we have to expand our view, and encompass the entire Financial District. So let's try our hand at that.

Financial District


Lower Manhattan is defined differently by different people. I found a graphic presenting this definition of the Financial District. I added the black line. Prior to 9/11, the WTC was part of the Financial District. The heart of the Financial District is often considered to be the corner of Wall Street and Broad Street, marked roughy by the red dot. The WTC is marked roughly by the blue dot. The area to the west outside the district is Battery Park City, which I'll talk to in a moment. The Hudson River is to the left (west), the East River to the right (east) and Upper New York Bay to the bottom (south) of the graphic. Note the Brooklyn Bridge over the East River and north of the black line. The area largely to the south of the black line is my area of interest. As said earlier, it was very hard for people to get north of this line. Note the Brooklyn Bridge to the northeast of the black line crossing the East River.


The Brooklyn Bridge was promptly closed to vehicle traffic. People evacuating the city were allowed to walk across. Note the smoke behind these people. That's important. For my purposes, I am suggesting that people south of the Brooklyn Bridge generally were not able to make it to the bridge. And to repeat, I would certainly say that people south of the black line on the map graphic would find it very hard to move to the north to get to the bridge.

I have suggested that the number of people working in the near environs of the WTC exceeded 100,000 and probably exceeded 200,000. I've looked everywhere to try to get a good estimate. I have based mine on the fact that the boat-lift took out 500,000 people in eight hours. I have further factored in that there were about 50,000 people working in the WTC. There were also about 20,000 living in the district at the time.

If we then factor in all the office buildings surrounding the WTC from the Hudson River on the west to the East River on the east, as shown in the next graphic, then I can sense with some certainty there were many hundreds of thousands of people working, living, and visiting in the district all together at the time of attack.

Let's add this, provided by Rick Spillman:

“Mass transit was shut down. The bridges and tunnels were closed and a significant portion of Lower Manhattan was shrouded in smoke, ash, and debris from the still burning wreckage of the collapsed towers. Many walked north. As many turned toward the water."

Furthermore, the subway system was shut down. People were streaming out of the subway stations by the thousands.


Here's a look at the surrounding buildings to west, east and south of the WTC complex. The green line roughly outlines the financial district. The Brooklyn Bridge is just outside the upper right corner of the graphic. Prior to 9/11, the area had more than 109 million square feet of office space, and the vacancy rate was only six percent. There were about 151,000 people employed in financial jobs alone.

So I conclude that it is plausible, perhaps probable, that 500,000 were evacuated from the area I have defined as south the WTC complex. Some observers have even suggested the boat-lift took out one million, others say from 300,000-500,000. I'll stick with the 500,000 figure.

Battery Park City


Battery Park City, a residential area of high rises straddled the WTC on its west side. The Hudson River bordered on its northern, western and southern sides. Notice North Cove in the middle. We'll talk about it later.


Battery Park City was sort of divided between north and south. To the north were mostly 20-45 story buildings positioned to the northwest of the WTC. The southern section hosted mostly residential apartment buildings and the majority of Battery Park City's residential areas.


There were about 8,000 people living in Battery Park City at the time. Most of them were displaced by the 9/11 attacks. Some of the residences were punctured by flying debris, some were severely damaged, and most of them were covered with dense dust from the tower collapses. There were no subway stations there.

The dust in many of the residences was very heavy. Dust and debris had engulfed much of lower ManhattanThe dust and debris would later cause serious health problems. I wish to insert here that it is my impression that most first responders and those involved in the boat-lift did not give the heavy dust and smoke much thought — they had a job to do and they did it.

As was the case in the WTC, except to a lesser degree, many residents had to run down several flights of stairs, as many as 30. While doing that, they had no idea what might happen next. Their singular thought was to get out.

Renee Little had an apartment here, and said she had to run down 25 flights of stairs to get out. When she came back, she commented, "It was as if someone had dumped ashtrays all over our apartment." Their neighborhood was seen as a crime scene, was cordoned off, and Army tanks surrounded it. In effect the residents and the businesses in the area were on a frozen zone.

Pat Moore lived on the third floor directly across from the WTC. She said, “Everything that was in the World Trade Center came into our apartment. There were huge boulders and a computer from one of the towers. There was stuff everywhere.”

The smoke, debris and weather: obstacles to those south of the WTC

The smoke, debris and weather posed huge obstacles to those people caught south of the WTC. I'll show you a few photos.


I present this graphic again to help you get your bearings. The WTC was on the west side of lower Manhattan, while much of the rest of the Financial Center including Wall Street was on the east side.


This photo shows the debris and smoke blasting their way through the west side of Lower Manhattan, and sliding over the Hudson River.


This photo shows the debris and smoke blasting their way through the east and south sides of Lower Manhattan, flowing generally to the southeast and south of the tip of Lower Manhattan.

Battery Park, where most people congregated to be evacuated, is to the lower right of this photo, on the southwest side of Lower Manhattan's extremity.

I'll now show you two satellite photos of the area.


In this satellite photo taken on 9/11, the smoke and debris are flowing to the southeast.


In this NASA MODA satellite photo taken on 9/11, the smoke and debris are flowing to the south.

These photos jive with the weather report on 9/11: Winds were 6-12 mph blowing from the north-northwest to the south-southeast, in some case directly to the south.

I'll mention here that as the boat-lift got underway, some of the captains were concerned the winds would shift the heavy smoke in their direction, possibly trapping ferries and tugs. The smoke was so bad that standing across the Hudson River looking straight at the towers that some captains could not even see the tip of Battery Park. Later on, when the towers fell, the problem became worse as the smoke was interspersed with clouds of cement dust.

The Boat-Lift Evacuation


Hopefully, you're firmly in the shoes of those people seeking evacuation. While their situation was certainly scary, the evacuation itself is quite uplifting.

The waterborne evacuation of Lower Manhattan was one of the largest of its kind in history, moving as many as half a million souls out of Manhattan in less than nine hours. It was carried out largely by civilian vessels spontaneously volunteering to help, according to a recent book on the effort by James M. Kendra and Tricia Wachtendorf,
American Dunkirk. The authors wrote:

"People left the towers and the general Lower Manhattan area in all directions. While some hiked north, others trundled eastward across Manhattan and then across the Brooklyn Bridge. But those who walked or ran south and west were brought up short by the waterfront. Soon, members of the city's maritime community saw the growing need for transportation and realized they could help."

What you'll see is that everyone helped everyone. They stepped in when they needed to. They did what they felt they were supposed to do. Nothing was planned. There was no training. One observer said:

"Morally this is the right way to go, and that's what I'm gonna do. And deep down, this is what I'm going to do."

It's hard to say exactly when the boat-lift evacuation began. Richard Michelle, reporting for Professional Mariner Magazine, said ferries were already in the Lower Manhattan area after the first tower, the North Tower, was hit at 08:43. (my timeline said 08:46). He quoted Arthur E. Imperatore Jr., shown here, president of NY Waterway, based in Weehawken, New Jersey, saying:

"We were there and on the scene. There was no one in charge yet, no central authority coordinating efforts at that time, so we just went ahead and did it."

Crews were tied up at the Hudson River Landing. Others were on their way and close by. Imperatore added:

"(The ferry captains) picked up people at our terminals and also nosed their boats into the seawalls letting people jump over the railings onto the boats."


Captain Vincent Ardolino, skipper of the Amberjack V charter fishing boat, talked about his thinking in the short film narrated by Tom Hanks, "Boat-lift." I listened to him early in my research and he motivated me to do this story. He said:

"I thought I was watching a movie. 'Towering Inferno' at first. And then I looked real close, and I noticed it was the World Trade Center. I was compelled because I am the type of person that can't stand by and watch other people suffer. And to me they were suffering, they wanted to get off the island. And there was no way for them to get off the island other than the water. And I had noticed while I was watching the television, that I saw a lot of, you know, the ferries, going up into the slips and taking the people off. I says 'fine, we can do the same thing. I can take people on my boat. Get in there, take them where they have to go.' And that's what we did.


"They were feeling helpless, and that's the worst feeling in the world. What was a person on the ground gonna do? Buildings were down, there were people laying under the rubble of a building, firemen, civilians. My wife was there, and I turned around and said, 'I've gotta go do something.' Just like that. She looked at me, and says, 'What are you going to do you maniac?' I says, 'I'm gonna take the Amberjack up into the city and help.' She says, 'But what if we're attacked again?' 'Well, then that's something I'll have to live with.' I says, 'I have to do what I have to do.' I says, 'And nobody can stop me right now. Even if I save one person, I rescue one person, that's one person less that will suffer and die. If I do it, and I failed, I tried. If I do it and succeed, better for me.' And I told my children the same thing. 'Never go through life saying you should have. If you wanna do something, you do it.' "

There were many Vincent Ardolinos out there that day.


Joe Milton reported for Workboat, "Shortly after the South Tower collapsed (09:59), thousands of frightened people fled towards the waterfront to escape the choking dust. About 25 minutes later the North Tower fell (10:28). By then, the evacuation had begun in earnest."

Milton quoted USCG Chief Petty Officer Brandon Brewer, shown here, on duty that morning at the the Battery Park building:

"When the buildings came down there was a mad rush of people heading for the water. They were running through the park, hurdling the benches and picnic tables.”

Tom Hanks narrated
“Boat-lift, An Untold Tale of Resilience,” and said:

“On the morning of September 11, when the towers came down, millions of people ran for safety. Hundreds of thousands of them ran south to the water's edge. That’s when they realized that Manhattan is indeed an island and that they were trapped."

There was a busy ferry service running on the East River, Hudson River, the Upper Bay connecting Manhattan with New Jersey, Governor's Island and Staten Island, and connecting one side of Manhattan to the other.


Several skippers saw what was happening and instinctively headed toward Battery Park, almost immediately. They were a motley fleet of boats, ferries, tugs, dinner boats and fishing boats, craft of all types and sizes. They rushed to the scene so quickly and in such numbers there was great risk of them running into each other. I'll add here that some people were so frantic they jumped into the water, and some of the boats had to be very careful not to run them over. At the same time, the rescue and evacuation effort began, early on.

Doug Van Horn was in Battery Park City on 9/11. He was getting ready for a Preschool Play program when the towers came down. He said:


“After the second tower fell (10:28), the dust cleared enough to see a bit. I was amazed to see all the boats coming across the harbor towards us.”

David Tarnow wrote a story,
"All available boats," published by transom. He assembled a recorded series of short narratives by those who worked on the river that day. You can go to the story to listen to the full narratives. I have attempted to summarize them below.


Kendra and Wachtendorf reported that Captain Rich Naruszewicz was among the first to arrive. They said he was in the vicinity when the first plane struck (08:46). Naruszewicz's boat was heading with passengers to 34th Street (East side, East River). He kept the passengers on board, swung back around to Pier 11 (Wall St., still East River), and picked up evacuees for the trip to Highlands, New Jersey, some twenty miles away (to the south). He refueled. and came right back, and would do that over and over. Naruszewicz captained a New York Fast Ferry 117-foot catamaran Finest. When asked how many he rescued, Naruszewicz said, "I lost count at 4,000."

Captain Russell Bostock, the company's general manager, said:

"When we docked at Pier 11, it was completely black from the smoke. There was no visibility. We came in by radar, and the radio communications with other vessels obviously was critical … We saw the smoke, and I called the other crew in New York on the VHF to stand by and await further directions. Most likely we would have to evacuate people.


"Some people had no shoes because they had run out of them. Some had no shirts or were using them to breathe through. We brought some people down to the Highlands (New Jersey) that were actually going to North Jersey, but when they boarded in New York, they just wanted to get the heck off of Manhattan."


James Parese, Captain, Staten Island Ferry, left the St. George Dock on the northeastern tip of Staten Island at about 08:48. He was headed north toward Manhattan. Once he entered the pilothouse, he notice there was smoke coming off the North Tower. Then he saw a plane coming overhead just off Governor's island. He watched it go straight at the South Tower. As many other had thought, he wondered whether the first smoke was due to an accident. But when he saw the second plane crash into the South Tower, he knew it was no accident. He radioed the office, the USCG, and a police boat. The police told him not to bring anyone to Manhattan, but instead to return to the St. George dock, drop off his passengers, and get over to the Battery Park area.

John W. Akerman, a pilot at Sandy Hook Harbor, was in his office on Staten Island. A crewmember notified him of the smoke from the North Tower. He said Andy McGovern, shown here, one of the pilots, was on his way to a USCG meeting but heard the news. As a result, he went to the USCG Vessel Traffic Service Center on Staten Island. He met with Lt. Michael Day, who was working at Coast Guard Activities New York. McGovern and Day quickly developed a plan. They wanted to get a Coast Guard officer at the scene to help coordinate the traffic. McGovern said:

"We put together a quick plan but anticipated we would be shooting from the hip once we got there, so I placed a call to the Sandy Hook Pilot station asking for the pilot boat New York, designated as Pilot No.1, and anything else we had floating."


They got their Pilot Nr. 1. Pilot Boat No. 1 was selected because it was highly maneuverable, it could remain on station for a long time, and it had some good communications. Maneuverability was important because of the large number of boats that were racing to the scene.

Lt. Day, USCG (shown in the photo a USCG commander), was alerted that a plane had hit one of the towers. Lt. Day recollected:

"We were unable to get any reports from lower Manhattan since all the communications systems failed. It was chaotic. People from multiple agencies were responding to the scene without any unity of purpose. There wasn’t a pre-planned response; there was no CONOP (Concept of Operations) for how to respond to two planes crashing into the Towers.”

However Day knew of the OPSAIL 2000 Plan. OPSAIL refers to a series of sailing events to celebrate special occasions featuring sailing vessels from around the world. The OPSAIL 2000 plan was the one used for the event in 2000. Without going into details, the relevant agencies meet to assemble a plan for the sailing events, plans should something go wrong, and produces an OPSAiL Plan for that year. Day commented:

"I knew it (OPSAIL Plan 2000) had a lot of ambulance staging areas. We had a lot of evacuation points identified. Although it wasn’t necessarily a full-scale evacuation plan, it had information."

Day left his office bound for the waterfront and with Andrew McGovern, whom I mentioned previously. He and McGovern grabbed some lifejackets, the OPSAIL Plan, a Coast Guard Ensign (a flag, not an officer) and headed for the pilot boat.

They employed Pilot No. 1. They got underway aboard Pilot No. 1and Day recalled:

"I remember listening to the radio because by this time we were underway on the boat and it was just… chaos. Every channel you clicked to people were screaming, ‘Help, people are here… I’ve got someone hurt here.’ ”

Day's communications were unreliable and the cell phone was not of much value either. Using what he had, he began using Coast Guardsmen ashore with hand-held radios to help coordinate and organize the movement of citizens. McGovern estimated they got on station ready to go by about 10:45.

Day then hoisted the Coast Guard Ensign on Pilot No. 1. The purpose of the flag is to allow ship captains to easily recognize those vessels having legal authority to stop and board them. This flag is flown only as a symbol of law enforcement authority and is never carried as a parade standard. For many of the captains out there, the ensign was a welcome sign that someone was their who could help take coordinate.


Ken Peterson is the port captain and safety director for Reinauer Transportation, a tug and barge company. He was on Staten Island at the time of the attack. Once the north Tower fell, standing on his deck, he decided he had to go in and help. At about the same time, one of his tugs, the Jill Reinauer, radioed in and advised the USCG had called for help. He had four tugboats at the dock, and decided he would take them all into the area to help. They got all the captains together, told them what they wanted done, warned them no one really knew what they might be getting into, and asked for volunteers. All four captains agreed to go. Peterson hopped on the Franklin Reinauer, shown in the photo. So out they went. As they approached Governor's Island, he called the USCG and said there were 10-15 tugboats out there, he was adding four more, and asked for permission to get on the (Manhattan) island. The USCG agreed.

Peterson got on the radio, and broadcast, "Break break, this is Kenny Peterson calling all Reinauer boats and anyone else, let's go in get the people." Shorty thereafter, he got on the island.

Reinauer's four boats arrived at the Battery seawall at about 11:30. Peterson commented:


"People started running for the boats and I got off and started directing traffic. The first day, we had 27 tugboats on the Battery wall and five at Pier 11. … They were dusty and bloodied. Some people had lost their homes completely, and didn’t know where to go.”

The crews took their bedsheets and towels, tried to wash the people stricken with the dust, and provide cover. Their objective was to keep the people "comfortable and warm, show the fact that people cared." He commented people hugged the crews and shook hands. The photo actually shows a policeman or fireman washing down a person's face, but I wanted to give you the idea.


At some point in time, early on, Lt. Day realized he had a lot of boat traffic to organize, but he also had a great many people who had to be rescued. He said:

"It quickly became a collaborative effort with Andy McGovern, Ken Peterson and me determining how to best employ all the resources."


So Lt. Day took his VHF radio and issued this all points call:

"All available boats, this is the United States Coast Guard aboard the Pilot Boat New York. Anyone want to help with the evacuation of lower Manhattan report to Governors island."


As I have mentioned, many skippers and their boats had already gone to the Battery Park area to begin rescuing people. But when the USCG comes out with this kind of appeal, very seldom heard, that lit fires under every skipper who had a boat he or she could make available, and off they went. This is a remarkable testament to the respect boaters in the region had for the Coast Guard. I get chills just thinking about it.


Day said he was not sure who or how many might respond. But he commented that within 15-20 minutes, there were boats all across the horizon. He would later say:

“It was a shining hour for the maritime community … They did a remarkable job.”

I'm starting to lose my chronology timeline, so I will insert this here. Kurt Erlandson, owner of Randive Inc., Perth Amboy, New Jersey, became worried that there were so many boats in a small area. This increased the risk of lines getting tangled up with propellers with so many boats operating in close quarters. Erlandson had a Randive dive crew working in the anchorage south of the Verrazano Narrows Bridge. he said:

"I pulled them out of there and dispatched them to assist the evacuation. Then the rest of the crew and I arrived in New York on Randive's boat with a complete diving spread about 11:30, after we got clearance to go to the Battery."

The divers averaged six jobs a day clearing cables and hawsers (thick rope or cable) from the response boats and tugboats.

Paul Amico, the owner of Amico Ironworks in Secaucus, New Jersey was about five miles west of the Hudson River and Manhattan, and also saw the smoke from the WTC. He went back to his shop, got a marine radio, some life jackets, and went to the ferry terminal in lower Jersey City. I think he went to the Paulus Hook terminal. The ferry goes straight across to the WTC area, to a place called North Cove.



Half-way across, he saw the first tower fall (09:59). There was quite a bit of smoke, with almost no visibility. His ferry had to work its way through the poor visibility by radar. He said there was about 8-9 ferries already there evacuating people. These two photos show the enormous amount of smoke and debris flowing toward the Hudson River. The bottom photo, at the very bottom, underscores how the smoke and debris were coming directly at some boats trying to rescue people.


The ferry took Amico to the World Financial Docks at North Cove, highlighted by the arrow on the Hudson River. I think shortly after he arrived, the police closed the World Financial Docks because of the very poor visibility,

So Amico took the passengers and led the way north up the seawall (yellow line attempts to portray) to a location near Stuyvesant High School (marked by the green dot) where the police would let them work. Amico then directed the ferries in by radio. They took "man-overboard ladders" and hung them over the railing. He said the ferries powered in fairly hard because of the very strong currents in this area. The water was about 60 ft. deep along the edge of the wall.

They lowered people onto the ferries using the ladders. They loaded up the injured first, mostly firemen, and then sent the ferry back to Jersey. The ferry captains called ahead to let them know on the other side they had injured and would need medical help. Other boats were sent to replace those that left. Amico said they were loading boats three and four at a time.


The next shoe to drop was the police closed the Stuyvesant High School area (again marked by the green dot). Amico then told the ferries he would be moving the people north again to Pier 26, (marked by "red marker - A" on the photo above this one). Pier 26 was the home of a kayak club, Amico was a member, and he knew there was enough water to get the ferries in. Amico went to the boat house where he knew there were plenty of tools, so he grabbed an acetylene torch and other tools. He and others then started cutting the fences. The ferries came in.


Amico remarked that everyone involved knew what they had to do without being told. The staff of New York Waterway came down to help, and they knew what they had to do. Ferry mechanics became ship hands. Everyone saw their jobs as getting the people off Manhattan, so that's what they did. They did so without knowing very much about what was happening at the WTC, which as you see on the Google Earth graphic, was not far away. They did not know whether a building would fall on them, they heard jets above, which turned out to be US fighters, but they were aware there could be more attacks, so even there they were unsure. Nonetheless, they kept on working. The rescuers led people across the cut-down fences to the boats. They felt most of the people were orderly even though fearful. People were separated from their families, and the captains tried to get them back together. There was no time to react, only time to act.

I'll say that God had to have put Amico aboard that ferry at that time to cross over to Manhattan. Amico Ironworks is a fabricator for ferry docks, floating docks and gangways. As such, he is the main fabricator for all the docks on the New York and New Jersey sides, so he new this particular area extremely well. Furthermore, he knew how the ferries operated, he knew the shoreline, he knew about Pier 26, and he knew about the boathouse containing useful tools that he and others would use to cut the fences. Truly Amazing.


Tom Sullivan is a fireman for New York City and at the time was assigned to the fireboat John McKean, serving the city as Marine Company 1. He and the others jumped aboard the McKean as soon as they spotted the smoke and got to the scene within five minutes. As they were nosing into the pier, they could hear the roar of another plane. He thought it sounded like takeoff. He could see the Statue of Liberty and the aircraft was barreling in and descending, engines revving, coming down, accelerating and then tipping its wings as it smashed into the South Tower. At that moment he and the others knew this was terror. They thought it was the onset of WW III.

He said:

"We just got there as the second plane hit the building (0902:59). I did hear the ground shaking and saw the water shaking … The firefighters were covered in soot. It was a glue-like substance. I did mouth-to-mouth on one of the firefighters. He had soot on his mouth. I didn't think nothing of it. I was very ignorant to the fact of the chemicals. I just did what I had to do."

Sullivan commented that people were coming out fleeing the area, burned, cut up, looking for help. People were helping them, carrying them, and holding onto them.


He said ferries came in. His crew secured the McKean to the sea wall, took the worst injured first, and administered first aid. Some were screaming and yelling, This was tough for them as the tide was low, and they had to jump down 10-15 ft. to get the deck of the boat. Some broke their legs. People were "just diving onto the boat, we had to catch 'em." People dropped their infants to others already on the boat who would catch them. The crew put the children into the crew quarters, four in a bunk lined up. Two women jumped and missed the boat. One was getting pushed between the boat and the bulkhead. Someone jumped in, and grabbed her by the waist. She appeared to have given up. yelling "leave me alone." She could not hold on

They dropped a Jacobs ladder over the side, she could to reach it, men held the ladder, she got one hand on the ladder but ran out of energy and went use water. So the person who was with her dove under and put is head under her butt and pushed her up. She got two hands on the laser, took a few breaths, got another boost from down under, got a knee onto the ladder, then got her body on the ladder, and people on board reached down and pulled her up. What a story! This photo is a Navy training photo using the Jacob's Ladder, to give you an idea what the rescuers and the lady were working with. Imagine that sailor is in the water, imagine he's the woman, and there's a rescuer under her pushing her up!


Peterson said he and the other captains took the attitude they were just a taxi service. They asked where people wanted to go. They took some to Jersey City, and alerted the city they were coming. The photo shows people evacuated from New York getting off the ferry at Exchange Place in New York City.


This is a post-9/11 photo of the Paulus Hook Ferry Terminal, Exchange Place, Jersey City, New Jersey.



The city responded by having help available at the Jersey docks, including ambulances and medical teams.


They arranged bus and taxi service to their homes, where they had lost there homes, arranged hotel accommodations and brought in hot food and water, often bought with their own money, as is the case with this lady giving out free water and bananas. Dinner boats also showed up and provided hot food. Peterson thought it was amazing they came together so quickly, amazing since boat companies usually don’t work well with others, but there were no questions asked. StevenWarRan Research has assembled a superb photo gallery of Jersey City people helping the evacuees. I urge you view the photos. I have presented three.


With Pilot Boat No. 1 up at North Cove, Peterson decided to distribute some radios and telephones to people he knew who had already arrived on the island, and together they all started coordinating the movement of the tugboats. As a result, they were able to put 100-150 aboard each tugboat. They then tried to get people on a boat who wanted to go to the same place. The tugs then left, dropped off their passengers, and came back.

He said he got on the island at about 11:30 on Tuesday (September 11, 2001), and stayed until Friday night. They did 24 hour shifts. When Friday night came along, they knew they were going to be relieved, so again he got on the radio and told all the tug captains they were being relieved by the National Guard and others. So they left, happy about what they had done. Captains from the other tugs thanked him and told him they'd work with him any time.


Tim Ivory was the chief engineer aboard the FDNY Fireboat John J. Harvey, shown here. Tom White, a lieutenant from Marine 6, saw the Harvey working out on the water picking up and delivering passengers. It had evacuated 150 people. However, as they approached the waterfront and pulled into the pier, White asked them if their pumps still worked. The answer was a "thumbs up." He used a thumbs up to avoid shouting over others. Then White yelled back, "Can you take hoses?" The response again was a thumbs up. The fireboat can suck the water on which it floats and pump out 20,000 gallons per minute, the power of 20 fire trucks. In this case, the Harvey had about 300 gallons of fuel on board. The crew told White they could pump for about an hour. Clearly that was not going to be long enough. So White got on the radio and called all hands to bring over fuel. Shortly thereafter a Corps of Engineers tug pulled up alongside and said they were prepared to deliver the needed fuel. Ivory said, "To me this was awe inspiring."



They connected the hoses and within about 30 minutes of arrival at the waterfront, they were pumping water, as shown here in these photo. The top photo shows lines connected to other fireboats. The bottom photo shows them connected to the Harvey.

More lines started coming over to them and at their peak they had four lines pushing with about 150 lbs of pressure. That was strong enough to pump the water inland about two blocks. That water in turn force fed the bombed out firetrucks which were then used to help fight the fires at the WTC. It was as though the fire trucks were hooked up to the hydrant when in fact they were hooked up to the
Harvey two blocks away! That was critical because they could not get any more firetrucks into the disaster area.

The next day, water pumping facilities inland were restored and the
Harvey was no longer needed. However, some of the officials and the Harvey crew decided they better stay just in case. And they did.

Captain Patrick Harris was among that armada that came to the rescue of stranded Downtowners on 9/11. He recalled the sight of the ad hoc flotilla coming across the harbor:

“I saw this V-shaped formation of about a half a dozen or so tugboats charging up in our direction … It was actually very inspiring to see that, knowing those guys were going in there and that’s where all the trouble was.”

Harris is the captain of the historic sailboat Ventura, which operates out of Battery Park City’s North Cove Marina. Harris took a few boatloads of survivors to safety on the Ventura, before he docked the nearly century-old sailboat to help crew the larger, more powerful Royal Princess, a party boat that was filled beyond capacity over and over that day, ferrying about 300 people each trip.

His most poignant memory of that day, however, came when he was still aboard the Ventura, ferrying his first mate’s family across the Hudson as the Twin Towers still burned. Their mother had been on a bus heading to Newark Airport when news broke of the attack, and she immediately disembarked. She knew her whole family was near the World Trade Center, and she made her way to the coast in a panic.

There, as she helplessly watched the towers burn, she saw an approaching boat that she recognized — the
Ventura — and on the deck was her family.

“That’s something I’ll never forget,” said Harris. “It was one of those acts of God, where she just happened to be there and was standing aghast and suddenly saw the
Ventura and all of her family safe.

He commented further:


“We were unloading people off the Royal Princess, standing at the gangway helping them off, these disoriented New Yorkers, not knowing where they were, and about a third of them stopped and touched my arm and said, ‘Thanks for helping out' … It made me reflect that this is a culture we can be proud of. They took a big shot, they got back up, and they kept their manners.”

In short, the bravery of the rescuers was matched by the gratitude of the rescued.

Eventually, as the rescue teams and captains developed a rhythm to their evacuation effort, they started putting signs on their boats telling the people where they were going, like "Brooklyn, Queens, Weehawken, Jersey City and Staten Island." This is the Tug Janice Ann Reinauer with a bedsheets sign showing the intended route. I believe it says "NJ Sail."


Furthermore, the captains learned that many people were able to walk to the north after evacuating the WTC area. There was no transportation available for them either. Everything had been shut down, except the rescue boats. NY Waterway evacuated many people from their midtown locations at the foot of West 38th Street to their Hoboken, New Jersey terminal, adjacent to a major commuter New Jersey Transit rail station. The green arrow points to the location of the WTC, while the green box reflects the W. 38th and W. 42nd Street docks.

KendraJames Wachtendorf

I earlier mentioned James M. Kendra (left) and Tricia Wachtendorf (right), authors of American Dunkirk. James Kendra is a Professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration and Director of the Disaster Research Center (DRC), University of Delaware. Wachtendorf is an Associate Professor, Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice, and is also a Director of the DRC. Project MUSE, a provider of digital humanities and social science content for the scholarly community, wrote this about their effort in preparing American Dunkirk:

"American Dunkirk shows how people, many of whom were volunteers, mobilized rescue efforts in various improvised and spontaneous ways on that fateful date. Disaster experts James Kendra and Tricia Wachtendorf examine the efforts through fieldwork and interviews with many of the participants to understand the evacuation and its larger implications for the entire practice of disaster management. The authors ultimately explore how people—as individuals, groups, and formal organizations—pull together to respond to and recover from startling, destructive events."

Kendra and Wachtendorf wrote this:

“The maritime response to 9/11 shows a stolid and determined pragmatism that counters the geometric elegance of scripted emergency plans, with their boxes and arrows…. In the absence of any plan, and in the most serious emergency to face a U.S. urban area in many years, the maritime workers of New York made a space of normalcy and turned their usual skills into a coordinated effort.

“The wise mariner develops habits of looking, thinking, and questioning, and exhibits the qualities of vigilance, skepticism, and doubt. Their professional lives are always on the edge of crisis, looking ahead to possible dangers, planning maneuvers far in advance, having an escape strategy for a dicey traffic situation, having a little extra speed in reserve, just in case. These habits, it turns out, are excellent preparation for disaster response.

“All disasters are cases of the ordinary achieving the extraordinary— in the case of the boat evacuations, with tremendous success. The principal insight that we hope readers take away from this book is that people have more capacity than they think.”

“A hero is a man who does what he can.”

Romain Rolland


Brief Photo Gallery of those who were rescued, and the rescuers



Brendon Turecamo, Moran Corp.


Tugs lined up at the Esplanade at Battery City Park, picking up people