It's been 10 years since the terrorist attacks on the U.S. Memories of the terrible tragedy and its aftermath have not faded. D.Ann Shiffler reports
Jimmy Lomma was driving past Newark Liberty International Airport when he heard the news on the radio. Robert Weiss was on an airplane in route to Washington D.C., oblivious that anything was going on. Joel Dandrea was sitting in his office at the SC&RA headquarters when a staff member came in and said they had better turn on the television. Frank Bardonaro was called into a Maxim Crane board room just in time to watch the second jet crash into the second World Trade Center tower.
Where were you on the morning of September 11, 2001? Most every adult can recall the moment when they found out what would play out to be the worst attack on American soil in its history.
Lomma, president of New York Crane, remembers the day as sunny and bright. He glanced over at the Manhattan skyline. "I saw it, I saw smoke, but I didn't know what it was," he says. "It came over the radio five minutes later. Maybe a small plane hit one of the Twin Towers?"
Back at his office a short time later, Lomma saw the towers crumble, watching from his New Jersey office. He knew cranes were going to be needed to help with the search and rescue. By 1 p.m. the Mayor's office was on the phone.
"You have to remember the phones were not working," he says. "About 1 p.m. Mayor Giuliani's office got through. Basically, we mobilized our cranes and went to the site. Two cranes were set up, one on the north end and one on the south end."
For the first six days, Lomma didn't leave Ground Zero, working around the clock with firemen, policemen, ironworkers and others there to rescue survivors. Lomma was put in charge of all crane operation. It was a grueling assignment. But he wanted to help.
Within hours the need for cranes would grow exponentially. "We used our own cranes, and then we set up cranes from Cranes Inc., Bay Crane and All Erection," Lomma remembers.
Initially, they all worked tirelessly to find survivors. "But you know what happens when you think people are still alive and it's a search and rescue effort, and then after a period of time you realize it's not that anymore," Lomma says.
It doesn't seem possible that it's been 10 years, Lomma reflects. He still has cranes at the site, now working on the new Freedom Tower.
While it's not something he talks about very often, Lomma remembers what he felt and what all Americans felt. "We worked hard," he says of those hours and days after the tragedy. "America does that. It's an American thing. We always fight back. They didn't win."
The Pentagon and New York City were being attacked by terrorists. When Dandrea, executive vice president of the SC&RA, realized what was going on, all sorts of things went through his mind. "There was a sense of disbelief, anger, fear and even caution. But through it all, certainly, there was a strong sense of American pride."
Living and working in the Washington D.C. area, Dandrea remembers watching the American flag flying over a nearby building and feeling the chill of reality. "As the crow flies, the Pentagon is in our back yard," he says. "And the field in Pennsylvania is an hour from where I grew up."
While what happened was so incredibly tragic, Dandrea is still very proud of how the nation responded. "It was pretty damned aggressive and pretty strong," he says. "We have to give an incredible amount of credit to the police and firemen and all the first responders. There was no uncertainty and no delay in responding with what had to happen, whether you are talking about the Twin Towers or at the Pentagon. And there was also the immediate posturing of our military to be prepared for what potentially was coming next."
The phones started ringing and Dandrea began talking to crane, rigging and transportation members all over the country. "We put out information to both transportation and crane and rigging members in the respective areas," he says. "We provided a host of emergency contact numbers in New York and in D.C. Here's the contact information if you would like to offer assistance. Many members did just that."
One of the first phone calls was to Jimmy Lomma. "We talked a couple of times that day and quite a lot over the next few days and months," says Dandrea.
Among the biggest decisions Dandrea had to make was whether or not to cancel the upcoming Crane & Rigging Workshop scheduled about 10 days later in Lexington, KY. After talking with board members there was a strong sentiment to hold the meeting.
"In thinking back on that day, there was not an absence of fear, but there was a resistance to it and mastering through it," Dandrea says. "Ours is a tough, committed industry and that was clearly demonstrated by what our members did on 9/11 and the days following. And especially, certainly, Jimmy Lomma."
Bardonaro was in Cincinnati, working as general manager of Maxim Cranes. (Today he is vice president of Terex Cranes, Americas.) He was also a designated crane and rigging expert for FEMA. While he was sitting in that conference room watching the Twin Towers being attacked on television, his pager started buzzing. "It was FEMA," he says. "They told me I was being deployed and for me to get the Wright Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton as soon as possible."
After stopping to kiss his daughter goodbye, Bardonaro headed out. Once he got to Dayton, he started helping crews load up a plane. But then they learned that the FAA had grounded all flights. So they loaded up a convoy of buses and tractor trailers and headed to Manhattan. They arrived at 5 a.m. on the September 12 and were dispatched immediately to Ground Zero.
"One thing I remember is it reminded me of when the movie 'The Wizard of Oz" went from black and white to color," he says. "Only it was the other way around. When we came out of the tunnel all you could see was smoke and black and white."
Ironically, this was the first time that Bardonaro had ever been to New York City.
Immediately Bardonaro's team was assigned to one of four designated quadrants, and they started erecting cranes. The ground was unstable.
"I didn't realize how bad the underground was," he says. "We were putting up cranes anywhere we could put them up safely. We wanted to look for survivors."
Bardonaro was impressed with how hard everyone worked and how professional the crane and rigging people were. "You had Jimmy Lomma and Ken Bernardo there," he says. "Their operators were so professional and so astute in finding a way to set these cranes set up safely."
Thinking back on his time at Ground Zero, Bardonaro used a common word, "surreal." He was there for six days straight, 24-hours-a-day, trying to find survivors. "Unfortunately, as far as I know in the areas I was responsible for, there were no survivors. It's really a tough situation to think about."
Today, Bardonaro considers the turn of events. "The people I met are some of my closest friends and the most respected people I know in the industry," he says. "During that time, everyone was focused on helping our country. All the people who died in those attacks, all the people who were in harm's way, I've never seen such bravery from iron workers and firemen and policemen. I hope I never have to see that again in my life, but the people who were there those first couple of weeks are very special people. It really was a war zone and I don't think people realize all of the unknowns and fears that were ignored to try to find people."
Another amazing memory, Bardonaro says, is that seven cranes were working in that one quadrant, and there was not one incident. "We had seven cranes working in a confined area, and they were swinging over each other," he says. "We were swinging steel faster than you can sling fruit off a boat. It was pretty amazing work. Everything you did, pulling one piece of steel out, would affect the next piece. The iron workers were artists cutting the steel and rigging it."
On the morning of the attacks, Rob Weiss, vice president of Cranes Inc., was somewhere no American wanted to be -- on an airplane. He and a colleague had taken the 8 a.m. Delta Shuttle from LaGuardia to Washington Reagan. "It was a crystal clear morning, the sky a beautiful blue, as our plane made a gentle left turn over Yankee Stadium and headed south along the Hudson River," he remembers. "The view of Manhattan was breathtaking. I remember looking out at the World Trade Center buildings, still intact, one-half hour before the attack, and remarking to my colleague how beautiful everything looked."
His plane touched down at Reagan at around 9 a.m., likely the last plane of the day to land at its scheduled destination. Everything seemed normal, until they reached the rental car counter and the agent told them what was happening.
"The agent had an ominous warning," Weiss says. "Word was that authorities would be sealing down the whole airport and that we better quickly get on our way or we would be stuck there. We heeded her advice and headed to our scheduled meeting, all the while glued to the radio reports from New York. We had just passed the Pentagon, with Washington's famous monuments in clear view, when the shocking news came that the Pentagon itself had been hit. I remember the chilling words that my colleague said to me at that moment: 'We are at war.'"
They never got to their meeting. Instead they drove back to New York City, a process that took nine hours. Bridges and tunnels were closed, forcing them to drive to upstate New York to cross the river. "My one strong memory of the drive was the thick black smoke trail rising from the burning rubble, which was visible from as far away as South Jersey," he says. "We had no communication with work or home, so we had no way to let anyone know we were OK or to find out if they were alright."
Weiss says he finally pulled into his driveway, relieved and exhausted. The morning after the attacks, there was acrid smell in the air and nothing but a burning cloud of smoke in South Manhattan where the towers had once risen, he says.
After getting to work, he learned that his team had already taken action. "While I was still out of communication, my father, Larry Weiss, and our sales manager, Manny Zaccone, had coordinated with the NYPD and dispatched all of our available rough terrain cranes to Ground Zero. As you can imagine, the surrounding streets were littered with debris - burned out cars and trucks and shards of twisted metal - that were preventing rescue equipment from accessing the site."
They decided to mobilize their Link-Belt HC-218 fleet, along with volunteer operators, to Ground Zero. The cranes were rigged with large clam shell buckets, capable of quickly removing major debris, Weiss says.
They also decided visit the site to determine what more they could do. "I remember seeing many familiar faces down at the pile, mainly operators and ironworkers, valiantly digging through the debris in search of survivors," says Weiss. "As I walked the site, I was struck by the amount of paper - it was everywhere. We were trudging through it like snow, and it was all evidence of the normal everyday life that had existed before the terrorists had changed everything. There were bank statements, payroll checks, phone message slips, and letters to loved ones that never would be delivered."
It was in this type of chaos that the brave operators and construction workers toiled for the first few weeks, as the search and rescue operation slowly, and sadly, morphed into a recovery and clearing operation, Weiss says.
"Warning blasts were a common occurrence in those early days, as unstable pieces of rubble constantly shifted and settled," he remembers. "And all the while, police, firemen, and ironworkers ventured out into the pile, removing debris and searching for survivors. It was amazing how the whole construction and crane industry came together during that time."
Eventually, streets were cleared enough to allow larger cranes to be mobilized, including one of Cranes Inc's Liebherr LR 1400s.
"The crane spent the better part of the year at the site, often lowering workers with wrecking torches into the debris pile so that other cranes could hook into the tangled steel and remove it to waiting trucks," Weiss says.