Eyewitness to Terror

Tuesday, Sept. 11, began as an ordinary workday for Dan Cohen, a producer for the Fox News Channel's most popular primetime show, The O'Reilly Factor.

Cohen, who has worked for Fox News for more than five years, has been an emergency medical technician since he was 18 years old. 

He was still in his Greenwich Village apartment shortly before 9 a.m. on Tuesday when his wife called him from her Wall Street office. She told him, "I've just felt a major explosion, turn on the TV!" He did, and as he put it: "I first said to her, 'I've got to go to work.' But then I started thinking, 'I can't go to work, I've got to go down there!' Then I began thinking, 'How am I going to get down there?'

"At that this point, it's after both planes had hit the towers. And there was traffic everywhere. So I flagged down what I thought looked like an undercover cop car, it had gotten stuck in some traffic and I kind of banged on the window. He opened the door. I told him, 'I'm an EMT' and he said, 'get in.'

"We just started flying down there in the car. At this point we were sort of in a caravan of vehicles. This guy was actually an FBI agent and we were both trying to get through to people on our cell phones. We reached a point where the agent said, 'I think they're setting up an FBI command center here.'

"So I got out. I looked up at the two towers. They were up there and there were just two big holes and debris.

"Then people started jumping." Cohen tells Fox News that he saw about ten people jumping out of the two buildings. "Where I was standing at that point, they weren't really landing anywhere that I could see. And thank God. Because I would not want to see that."

As he made his way closer to the two World Trade Center towers, Cohen asked emergency personnel to direct him to their command post. Once he made it to the location, he found about 20 EMTs and rescue equipment.

Cohen was the only volunteer on the scene. He was in a group with New York City EMTs and Fire Department EMTs. They told him to put on a special reflective vest that would identify him as an emergency medical technician. He was told that he would be part of a group that would act as a "fast" team. That would mean that once people at the command center had determined where victims were located, the team would rush to the scene, "load them up and then go." One team member would stay with an ambulance and the others would run to the scene.

The group went in front of what was known as the "American Express Tower." As they were getting repositioned there, Cohen heard a loud noise. "It was like a jet landing on our head. It was so loud. At first I thought it was another plane. And then I looked up. It looked like a slice of the tower just started peeling away, like a banana, and just started coming down. I had just taken off that vest. We just ran. And I never saw any of those guys again."

While he hastens to add that because he never saw the people who had been part of his rescue team again, that doesn't mean that they perished in the collapse of the tower, Cohen was left on his own.

"I ran around the corner. As I'm running, I see this big wall of smoke and debris and dust coming at us. I just knew that if I got around the corner, no big chunks would be coming at me. We got out of it, but we could still hear people trapped in the cloud created by the collapse of the tower.

"At this point, it was me and a couple of firemen and a couple of cops. Most of the people could still walk but they couldn't see. So they didn't know where to go. They were coughing, and even stumbling around. We were kind of dragging them."

Although the cloud was thick, Cohen was still able to "sort of" see. "At this point, somebody took a sheet and put it over our mouths to help us cover ourselves. We weren't in it, so we could see a little. So we would run in and grab them and help them out.

"And most of the ambulances we had in place were gone. We had no equipment, no ambulances or anything. I somehow found a couple of oxygen tanks down there. I started to give people oxygen." But Cohen had to make sure that some of the debris was removed before I could give them the air. "People were coming over with water, dumping it on their faces and then I was trying to give them oxygen."

As one of the EMTs in the middle of the crisis, Cohen was no longer conscious of time. While he was helping the victims of the first building collapse, he couldn't have imagined that the second tower would also fall. "To me, it felt like two minutes later. But apparently, it was quite a bit later," but then the unimaginable happened. "Someone started shouting, 'the tower's leaning,' and sure enough, it started and we just RAN. The first time, the sound got us. The second time, it wasn't the sound, it was the shouting.

"But the whole thing came down. And again, I ran about two blocks. It was just a whole thing of dust and debris. The first time, when we were helping people, it seemed to be mostly civilians. The second time, it seemed to be all firemen and people from the Mayor's Office of Emergency Management. And these firemen were freaking out! Because they knew that most of them didn't make it out. And they started screaming on the radios. Because they knew they were probably the only ones who got out."

In an attempt to flee from the buildings, Cohen and the others had been moving westward and away from the buildings towards the Hudson River. "By this point, we were pretty near the water. We flagged down a ferry. We started carrying a fireman who looked like he was having a heart attack. I'm sure he was having a heart attack. He was in bad shape and we put him on the ferry and told it to cross the river to Jersey City.

"At this point, I had no communications. I had no way tell anyone about the ferry and the fireman. But also, I couldn't tell my wife, Alisa, that I was alive. And ironically, my cell phone could receive messages on voicemail but I couldn't call out on it.

"Some of the fireman and myself started just running into buildings [near the trade center] looking for phones. One woman I took out of a building said, 'I just had back surgery.' She couldn't even walk. She was completely beside herself. She had tried very hard to get out of her building. So we took her from an evacuated building. Someone from the Parks Department had a vehicle that resembled a golf cart type of thing. As we were driving, we started picking people up. We just started flying just through everything.

"I saw some firemen going into a building. I found some phones. I called Rob (another Factor producer) and Alisa. They were both completely freaking out because they knew I was down there [at the World Trade Center]."

Cohen remained on the scene near the wreckage of the World Trade Center for quite a while. But finally, he began to feel that "it seems like everybody that could get out, had gotten out.

"Somebody said that there was a treatment center being set up at Chelsea Piers [an area next to the Hudson River, about 20 blocks north of the Twin Towers]." Cohen made his way to the treatment center by flagging down another car. He went to Chelsea Piers and was directed to a sound stage. The sound stage is actually where the cast and crew of the television show Law & Order usually tape their series. Emergency workers were turning the sound stage into a makeshift hospital.

Rooms at the treatment center were set up by color. "We were in the 'red room,' which was designated for critical injuries." Red was for victims who had critical injuries; yellow was for those who might have life-threatening injuries; green was for "people who weren't that bad off" and black was set up for the dead.

There were at least 500 doctors, nurses and EMTs at Chelsea Piers, according to Cohen. "We kept getting ready and they would get more set up, they would bring in all kinds of stuff. But as time wore on, we realized that everyone was dead because we got no one."

Because he had to return to Fox News, Cohen had to leave Chelsea Piers at 7 p.m. During the entire time he was there, no one came. "We were under the impression that at any minute, we were going to get hundreds of patients. And they were just so concerned about trying to have all the right equipment for any eventuality. And they just kept saying 'let's get ready.' And as we sat there ... and sat there ... it began to be clear that there was not going to be anyone coming out of this building."

After he was finished with his work at Fox News, Cohen returned to Chelsea Piers. "There were still 500 doctors there, waiting for patients. They had, had a couple people. But they still had 500 doctors and other personnel. They only had about 10 people with very minor injuries. When I left, at about midnight, they were still completely ready. Just in case."

Cohen was told to check back in the morning. "And then I walked home. There was not one person, not one car. It was so freaky."

On Wednesday morning, Cohen got up at 5 a.m. He had been instructed to "check in when it gets light outside." Once he was up, Cohen turned on the television. "And I heard them saying that they were pulling two or three people out of the building. I knew that they wouldn't need me for that."

As someone who was directly on the scene, we asked Cohen if he could possibly estimate the number of people who might have been trapped inside the World Trade Center towers. "I have no idea how many people were able to get out. I know that when that the first plane hit the tower, they were making announcements saying, 'don't leave. This is a contained incident, it's under control.' You don't want everybody to panic. So there were thousands."