WTC attacks caught on audiotape
NEW YORK (CNN) -- The first complete audio record known to exist of the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center provides a chilling slice of life starting with the ordinary sounds of the start of a business day and ending with the chaos and panic of the immediate aftermath.
The tape is a recording of an FBI wire worn by an undercover informant who was meeting a suspect in probe of city tax assessors. CNN obtained a copy of the tape with the help of the New York Daily News, which broke the story.
"That was an explosion -- that was an explosion," says Stephen McArdle, a tax consultant who wore the wire for the FBI, just after the first plane hits. He is in a restaurant of the Marriott World Trade Center Hotel, part of the Trade Center complex, where he and the suspect are having breakfast.
The loud "explosion" McArdle hears is followed by some 28 seconds of roars and fire alarms. The Daily News said officials believe the sounds are of the flaming jet fuel from the plane coursing down through the tower to the lower floors.
The sound of sirens on police cars and fire engines then underscores the disaster occurring all around.
The 90-minute tape begins with McArdle and an FBI agent turning on the wire device to record the undercover operation. McArdle is then heard making his way through a concourse, buying a pack of cigarettes with a Rod Stewart song playing in the background, before he meets the assessor.
Glasses are heard clinking and McArdle has just asked for a glass of water when the muffled boom begins -- the sound of American Airlines Flight 11 hitting the first tower.
"Oh my God, oh my God," comes the voice. "Let's get out of here!"
The room scrambles to get out, and McArdle begins to run. "Go! Go! Come on, go!"
Out on the street, someone asks, "What just happened?"
"They blew up the Trade Center," McArdle says.
"Why?" comes the response, but McArdle doesn't answer.
More fire engines are heard, sounds of people screaming and saying, "Oh my God," and then McArdle, now an accidental narrator, witnesses horror.
"Oh, those are people," says a man as a woman screams. People inside the twin towers are jumping out and landing on the ground.
Seeing the people fall, McArdle repeats over and over, "No, no, no, no, no."
Roughly 10 minutes later, another explosion is heard on the tape, so loud that it distorts the tape. The time is 9:03 a.m., when United Airlines Flight 175 strikes the second tower.
In the background someone says, "It's another one, it's another one!"
"It's a second pilot!" McArdle says. "Holy S***!"
Someone then orders, "Everybody outta here. Everybody out. Go!"
A siren is heard, and then a woman cries, "I was up in the tower." McArdle asks, "Do you know what happened?" but she says no.
Then a woman is heard wailing, and a man tells her, "Don't be upset."
"That's my husband inside," the woman cries. The tape then ends.
According to the Daily News, McArdle and the suspect he met with that morning both survived physically unhurt. The two FBI agents monitoring the tape also had to run for their lives but managed to escape, the paper said.
McArdle's name was never mentioned when, on February 25, Manhattan U.S. Attorney James Comey announced the arrests of 18 current and former city tax assessors as a result of the corruption investigation, the Daily News reported.
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