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City to Release World Trade Center 911 Calls

Christopher Hanley had to repeat his story to two different dispatchers after calling 911 from the Windows on the World restaurant on Sept. 11, 2001.

"Yeah. Hi. I'm on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center. We just had an explosion on the, on the like 105th floor," Hanley, 35, told a dispatcher. Later, he says, 'We have smoke and — it's pretty bad." The dispatcher tells him to "sit tight. Do not leave, OK?"

Hanley, who died in the trade center, was one of 28 people identified among about 130 emergency calls the city planned to release Friday. Hanley's parents shared the tape with The New York Times, which had sued the city for access to all the calls.

An appeals court ruled last year that the public could only hear the voices of 911 operators and other government employees on the tapes, saying the frantic calls of victims in the burning twin towers were too emotional to be released without families' consent.

But a state judge ruled Wednesday that the city must provide the names of the 28 people, along with other excerpts that could help identify more callers. On Thursday, the city filed an appeal, effectively staying that order. The Times would need to seek an appellate hearing to lift the stay.

The newspaper, joined in its lawsuit by relatives of several Sept. 11 victims, is hoping the tapes will offer clues to the experiences of the 2,749 people who were killed after hijacked jetliners crashed into the towers. Attorney Norman Siegel, who represents the victims' families, said he wants to learn whether operators' instructions affected evacuations.

"We will potentially hear Operator A say, 'Go to the roof,"' Siegel said. "We might hear Operator B say, 'Stay in place. We're coming to get you."'

Sally Regenhard, who lost her firefighter son and is one of the plaintiffs, said the public should be allowed to hear both sides of the conversation to get a true picture of what happened inside the towers.

"What we're getting is only half of the truth, half of the story," Regenhard said.

She also said families should be able to listen to the callers who were not identified, to try to hear their loved ones' voices. "Only a mother could listen to recordings and maybe hear some glimmer of your child's voice, even though his name may have been garbled," she said.

The appeals ruling allows the public release of the 28 tapes only if families consent. So far, at least three families have asked to listen to their loved ones' voices. As of Thursday, only the tape of Hanley had been released.

Hanley, an employee of Radianz, a division of Reuters, made the call four minutes after a plane struck the north tower. He had been attending a conference at the Windows on the World restaurant.

After taking his name, the police dispatcher transferred the call to a fire department dispatcher, which is routine for fire emergencies. The fire department picked up after 30 seconds and six rings.

The fire dispatcher told Hanley to stay put and promised that firefighters were on the way. "All right," he replied. "Please hurry."

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