Networks Air Live Coverage of Scaffolding Rescue at World Trade Center

World Trade Center Scaffolding Rescue - H 2014
AP Images

World Trade Center Scaffolding Rescue - H 2014

New York's ABC, NBC and CBS affiliates all broke into their scheduled programming

Local New York City network affiliates broke into scheduled programming on Wednesday afternoon, after two window washers were trapped on a scaffolding on the south side of the new World Trade Center building.

The scaffolding on the south side of the new tower was being returned to the top of the building when a cable snapped, leaving the platform dangling and the window washers trapped on the 68th floor of the building.

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The windows on the new tower cannot be opened unless they're broken or cut through, New York's ABC affiliate noted. But firefighters managed to cut through the glass on the 69th floor and slowly pulled the workers into the building, one at a time.

ABC, NBC and CBS broke into scheduled programming to broadcast live coverage of the rescue effort as anchors reported on what was being done and consulted experts, including former members of the FDNY. The networks also reported on the interest in the effort on the ground. After the glass was cleared, the networks aired live footage of the workers being brought into the building.

The window washers' ordeal began on the lower Manhattan building's south side at around 12:40 p.m. when one of the platform's four cables abruptly developed slack, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. The open-topped platform tilted sharply and swayed slightly in the wind between the 68th and 69th floors, he said.

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"It suddenly went from horizontal to nearly vertical," he said.

Officials haven't determined what caused the cable problem. The cables are controlled from the scaffold vehicle, the fire commissioner said.

About 100 firefighters rushed to the skyscraper, some of them lowering ropes from the roof so the workers could secure themselves and a two-way radio for them to communicate, Nigro said. The workers also were harnessed to the platform.

Firefighters first used diamond cutters to saw through part of a two-layered, more than inch-thick glass window on the 68th floor. They shattered the thick glass in place, then carefully pulled the broken pieces into the building.

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Firefighters also began inching another scaffold down the building as a backup rescue plan, but they were able to bring the workers to safety through the roughly 4-by-8-foot window hole by 2:30 p.m.

"It was a fairly straightforward operation," said Battalion Chief Joseph Jardin, who oversees the fire department's special operations.

Firefighters generally seek to cut out windows to make such rescues, but Nigro noted the trade center's thick glass: a double-paned inner layer and an outer pane.

"And, of course, they were 68 stories up," he said. "That presented a little bit more of a challenge."

The workers had mild hypothermia but seemed otherwise O.K., Nigro said. They were taken to a hospital to be checked out.

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People on the ground had been moved back in case glass began flying. Office workers and construction workers streamed onto a nearby street, their necks craning to watch the scaffold as it waved in the wind.

Window washer Ramon Castro, who stood with the onlookers before the rescue, said he hoped the workers were able to stay calm.

"When you start panicking, it makes things worse," he said, adding that he had encountered dangerous situations on the 22nd and 25th floors of other buildings. "You have to say your prayers. You have to use your experience."

Carol Thomas and Lisa Cogliano, both of whom work for an insurance company, were returning to their nearby office from a meeting.

"Oh God, I don't want to know what he is feeling," said Thomas. "I can't imagine."

"It's horrific," said Cogliano. "Hopefully, they find a way to get him out."

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As of 2:30 p.m. ET, when the networks switched back to their previously scheduled programming, the scaffolding still had to be brought up, but it was expected to just be pulled up the tower.

One World Trade Center just opened last Monday with Conde Nast moving in as the first commercial tenant in the 104-story, $3.9 billion skyscraper that is America's tallest building, at 1,776 feet.

The publishing giant is set to occupy five floors of the tower. 

The building was also the subject of Chris Rock's jokes during his recent Saturday Night Live monologue, about the fact that the skyscraper sits on the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

"They should change the name from the Freedom Tower to the 'Never Going in There Tower,' 'cause I'm never going in there," he said. "Who's the corporate sponsor, Target? … They put another skyscraper in the same spot? … I am never going in the Freedom Tower, man. Are you kidding me? It's the same spot. I got robbed on 48th and Eighth a few years ago. I have not been back to 48th and Eighth. … I don't care if Scarlett Johansson is butt-naked on the 89th floor in a plate of ribs. I'm not going in there."

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.

3:19 p.m. This story has been updated with more details from The Associated Press on the rescue operation.