Photographer reveals twist in September 11 Falling Man story


The photographer behind one of September 11, 2001’s most iconic images has revealed a twist to the story as the world commemorates the 20th anniversary of the terror attacks.

Richard Drew had no idea he was about to capture one of the most compelling and controversial photographs in history on that day.

Drew, an AP photographer, had been shooting a maternity fashion show for New York Fashion Week in Bryant Park, in the city’s mid-town area, when he received a tip from a CNN cameraman that a plane had just crashed into the north tower of the Twin Towers. Sixteen minutes later, another would strike the south tower.

He took a gamble and headed for the subway.

What he saw when he emerged, one block from the World Trade Centre, was utter mayhem. Both buildings were on fire. Smoke filled the air. He had no idea a second plane had hit until he was standing between a police officer and an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT).

“The officer said the second plane was ‘a big effin’ plane’,” Drew recalled.

Watching the horror unfold, he began to take pictures. By this stage both towers had been hit and were billowing smoke.

Of the scenes that began to unfold, many survivors still say the bodies falling from the sky were one of their most haunting memories.

The north tower held for 102 minutes after the plane hit. People jumped constantly, consistently, through that entire time. Most jumped from the north tower; a handful from the south.

They were either “forced out by the smoke and flames or blown out”, Ellen Borakove, the New York City medical examiner’s office spokeswoman, told USA Today.

Images and footage of the horror unfolding were seen around the world, but Drew captured one photo like no other: The Falling Man.

Controversy of the Falling Man

Captured at 9.41am the man, falling from the north tower of the World Trade Centre, is believed to have been trapped on one of the upper levels.

Controversy initially surrounded the picture, which was thought at the time to be the most controversial of all to come out of 9/11 at the time, and it disappeared until it resurfaced in an Esquire article in 2003.

Critics said it was one of the only images to show someone dying and it was labelled “exploitative”.

In the years to pass, opinion has widely changed, with the series of Falling Man photographs now becoming a historical centrepiece for the horrors that befell so many that day.

“I didn’t take the picture. The camera took the picture of the falling man,” Drew told CBS This Morning in a new interview.

“And when these people were falling, I would then put my finger on the trigger of the camera and I’d hold the camera up, and I’d photograph and follow them going down, and then the camera would open and close and take the pictures as they were going down.

“I have, I think, eight or nine frames of this gentleman falling, and the camera just happened to cycle in that time when he was completely vertical.

“I didn’t see that picture really until I got back to the office and then started looking at my stuff on my laptop. I didn’t see it.”

Search to find Falling Man

As time passed, there were calls for Drew’s image to be investigated; who was the Falling Man and what was his story?

Although attempts have been made to formally identify him, none have proved successful to this day. Two possibilities exist though: Jonathan Eric Briley and Norberto Hernandez.

Hernandez worked at Windows on the World, a restaurant at the top of the north tower, as a pastry chef.

Briley was a 43-year-old sound engineer who also worked at Windows and was a light-skinned black man, with a moustache, goatee and short hair. His co-workers believe the Falling Man is him. Hernandez’s family aren’t so sure.

But there is a twist to the story.

The Falling Woman

Despite the sadness surrounding the mystery identity of the Falling Man, Drew has revealed there was also a “Falling Woman”.

“I can’t remember how many actual people I photographed during it, but it wasn’t just one or two people,” he said.

Drew revealed a man by the name of Richard Pecorella had called the AP after the terror attacks in a desperate attempt to locate his missing fiancee, 52-year-old Karen Juday, an administrative assistant for the Cantor Fitzgerald brokerage.

Mr Pecorella had said she had not returned after 9/11 and was missing, her body had also not been recovered. It was 2004.

“I need to know how she died: Did she burn? Did she jump? Did she suffer?” Mr Pecorella told NBC News in 2006.

“I would have hoped she jumped, rather than burn.”

Mr Pecorella said he knew what Ms Juday was wearing on the fateful day she walked into the Twin Towers and wondered if he could look through Drew’s photographs in the hope to find her.

“I actually sat with him on my laptop, and we looked at it, frame by frame, of the people falling from the building,” Drew said.

“And he saw it. Yeah, he said, ‘Oh, that’s her.’ And that was it.”

Along with other images from AP photographer Amy Sancetta of that day, Mr Pecorella now believes his fiancee jumped from the 101st floor of the burning north tower.

“I saw her,” Mr Pecorella said.

“She was wearing a blue bandana, like she did at work to hold her hair back, and it was her shape. She had on a blue sweater and cream-coloured pants that day.”

The only item recovered of Ms Juday was a single bone found in the ruins.

Mr Pecorella died suddenly on February 10, 2016, but not before recording a remembrance of his fiancee.

“Her eyes sparkled to me,” he said. “It was magical.

“One day they were blue, the next they were green.

“Karen, I will always be in love with you and I will see you again. I will do enough good to make it up to you,” he said.

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