New Delhi: People jumping from the World Trade Center to their deaths is one of the most horrifyingly enduring images from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but for one survivor, it is the sound of the bodies smashing against the ground that remains in his memory.
Edouard Pierre Goubert, a French-American with roots in Pondicherry (now Puducherry), works as an interest rates broker with brokerage firm TP ICAP. It had offices on the 25th and 26th floors the North Tower, and the 55th floor the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
Goubert worked in the North Tower when it was hit by two hijacked planes on Tuesday, 11 September 2001. Two planes crashed into the 110-storey towers — symbols of American economic power — while a third plane hit the Pentagon and a fourth crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. The attacks were part of a larger coordinated one by Islamist terrorist group Al Qaeda.
Today, 19 years after the attack that shook not just Manhattan but the world, the annual tradition of reading out names of nearly 3,000 who perished at Ground Zero may not take place due to Covid-19 concerns but the much-cherished ‘Tribute in Light’ installation will be continue.
A ‘normal trading day’ now seared in memory
Brokerage firm TP ICAP, which 54-year-old Goubert has been working for since 1996 with a specialisation in interest rate swaps, lost one employee in the attacks — a woman attending a conference on a top floor — out of 800-odd brokers, traders, and support staff. “We were on lower floors. That basically explains why I’m talking to you,” he told ThePrint.
Goubert remembers it as “a normal trading day” before the tragedy was displayed on televisions across the world. “The first thing I saw was debris falling by the glass window and the floor was shaking. But I looked around and people were still trading,” he said. He got a call on his Motorola flip phone from his wife who worked near the towers. She told him: “I think a small plane just hit your building. You better get out of there”. This was at about 8.45 am.
The company security started ushering traders out, much to their dismay. “Some literally had to be pulled out of their chairs. You know what young traders in their 20s and 30s are like — they think they’re invincible because they’re making a lot of money.”
When asked if the panic had set in as yet, Goubert said there was still a “trading high” even as they made their way down the stairs and firefighters went up. “Not too long after, there was a really loud noise,” which he believed was when the second tower hit at approximately 9 am.
But it wasn’t until he and his colleagues exited the building and saw a huge grey plume of smoke that it became clear they got out in the nick of time. “The shock happened when I got out of the building and started walking in the courtyard. It was the sound of bodies being smashed to the ground. I’ll never forget that,” Goubert said.
By then, cell phone reception was unavailable as several ISPs and telecommunication lines, be it AT&T Local Systems, Genuity or Verizon, had points of presence (POPs) located in the Trade Center complex itself. Much later, with the help of a French-Canadian couple who were getting reception, Goubert managed to call his brother in Montreal, who then informed his parents in Pondicherry that he was alive. His wife remained unreachable.
Goubert was one of nearly 5,00,000 who were transported from lower Manhattan to New Jersey in a mass maritime evacuation across the Hudson River, spontaneously executed by ferries, fishing boats, tour boats and mariners. Civilians also escaped via the Brooklyn Bridge, mostly on foot as there was an immediate shutdown on movement and transportation. “I waited for my wife in our New Jersey home. She came back, having fled the Brooklyn route.”
The World Trade Center was rebuilt over a decade, along with a transportation hub, a museum and a memorial.
Also read: US will no longer screen international travellers for Covid at airports