NEW YORK -- In the frenzy of phone calls that followed the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, trapped workers begged in vain for an escape route and anguished wives desperately sought lost husbands. Screams and sirens echoed in the background as bodies dropped out of the sky.
The haunting images emerged Thursday as the Port Authority released 2,000 pages of transcripts from emergency calls and radio transmissions that provide a fierce first glimpse behind the scenes in the moments after the deadliest terrorist attack in U.S. history.
From 1 World Trade Center, the assistant manager of the Windows on the World restaurant made four calls pleading for help as 100 people remained trapped with her near the top of the 110-story tower. "We're trying to get up to you, dear," a police officer offered reassuringly.
At least two wives, unaware they were to be widows, tried in vain to learn their husband's whereabouts. Neither Port Authority officer Donald McIntyre nor his boss, executive director Neil Levin, ever made it home.
There were references to howling sirens in the background and static buzz on the phone lines, and callers repeatedly spoke over each other after the plane crashed into the first tower at 8:46 a.m.
Many callers were inaudible, yet the horror and hysteria of the morning when 2,792 people died jumps off the typed pages.
"Yo, I've got dozens of bodies, people just jumping from the top of the building onto ... in front of One World Trade," says a male caller. "People. Bodies are just coming from out of the sky. ... up top of the building."
"Bodies?" replied a female operator.
Callers reported missiles fired downtown from the top of the Chrysler Building, and a bomb scare came in from the George Washington Bridge. There were decisions that proved disastrous, like setting up a command center in the doomed north tower.
For some, there was the sweet relief of breathing in the temporarily fresh air.
"I'm alive, Dennis," said one anonymous male. "I'm outside the building and I'm healthy."
Others were less fortunate. People were stranded throughout the buildings, with calls for help pouring in from the 78th floor, the 88th, the 103rd, the 107th. One male caller from the 92nd floor of the second tower asked a Port Authority police officer, "Should we stay or should we not?"
"I would wait 'til further notice," the officer replied. A second, similar call -- with the same police response -- came in shortly after. No one in the top floors of the tower survived after the second plane hit around the 80th floor shortly after 9 a.m.
The evacuation of 2 World Trade Center, the second tower hit, became a source of anguish to the victims' families. Some survivors have already said they were advised to remain in the Port Authority-owned building.
The transcripts illustrate the contradictory information within the Port Authority itself in the initial moments, with one conversation reflecting an early discussion of evacuating people from the two buildings after the first plane hit. In all, an estimated 25,000 people did successfully evacuate the towers.
In general, the transcripts show people performing their duties heroically and professionally on a day of horror, Port Authority spokesman Greg Trevor said.
Gene Raggio, 55, an operations supervisor at the trade center, responded to a call for help from a woman trapped on the 22nd floor. "How are you doing up there?" he asked.
A woman responded they had used wet tissues to keep the smoke out, but they couldn't escape.
"OK," said Raggio, one of 47 civilian Port Authority employees killed in the attack. "We are working our way up to 22."
One unidentified caller reached the roof high above the Hudson River, but made it no further. Windows on the World assistant manager Christine Olender called to report people stranded on the 106th floor. "We need direction as to where we need to direct our guests and our employees, as soon as possible," she says, citing increasing smoke.
"We're doing our best ... we're trying to get up to you, dear," replied a Port Authority officer.
Jeannine McIntyre, whose police officer husband died in the attack, saw the first tower fall and immediately called one of his co-workers.
"Is my husband in that building that just collapsed?" she asked. "He was going up."
She repeated her sad mantra four times: "He was going up."
Christy Ferer made a similar call to check on her husband, Port Authority head Neil Levin. She wound up speaking to trade center director Alan Reiss, who had not heard from him.
"God forbid. I went through this in '93," he said, a reference to the first terrorist attack in lower Manhattan.
Some surviving family members were angered or upset by the transcripts' release, which followed a court battle between the Port Authority and the New York Times. Others said the transcripts could provide valuable insight into the tragedy; still others declined to even view the transcripts before their release to the media.
"It's not that I don't have an interest," said Theresa Riccardelli, whose husband, Francis, was killed. "I can't."
The Port Authority had initially sought to withhold the transcripts, fearing it could traumatize the victims' families.
The transcripts include communications between Port Authority police officers and department employees, along with calls between command centers at the trade center and several sites in New Jersey.