Workers rescued after being trapped on scaffold at the World Trade Center


Two window washers were rescued Wednesday afternoon from a malfunctioning scaffold that dangled dozens of floors above the street at the new World Trade Center.

The high-altitude drama started just before 1:00 p.m. when the platform dropped steeply on one side after a cable slackened as it lowered down to the 69th floor, officials said. The window washers, identified as Juan Lopez and Juan Lizama, were rescued about 90 minutes later.

Neither Lopez nor Lizama suffered any serious injuries.

New York Fire Department and Port Authority Police rescue workers descended on One World Trade Center, which opened to tenants only last week, within minutes of the incident, according to Joe Pentangelo, a spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns the building.

Initial reports suggested the cable snapped, but officials were quick to point out that no cables broke, and that they instead somehow developed slack, which caused the platform both washers were in to drop on its left side and dangle at about a 75-degree angle.

The dramatic rescue operation watched live by millions as news helicopters hovered overhead started when firefighters dropped a rope from the 1,776-foot tall building's roof down to the scaffold in order to secure it, footage showed.

Firefighters then used a diamond saw to cut through the skyscraper's two-inch, three-layer thick reinforced windows in order to reach the men, authorities said.

Also known as the Freedom Tower, the building's windows cannot be opened without being broken or removed.

At about 1,000-pounds each, removal was not an option with the scaffold dangling just inches away. And at a staggering height, repelling down the side of the building or scaling it using special suction cups also were not seen as viable.

Rescuers simultaneously lowered a second scaffold from the roof down the building's south side just above the trapped window washers, in case the firefighters could not get through the glass.

Temperatures were unseasonably warm, in the mid-60s, Wednesday in New York, but an approaching cold front added an element of urgency to the operation since temperatures are expected to plummet through the 40s shortly after sunset.

About 90-minutes into the rescue operation, firefighters were able to open a giant gap in the Freedom Tower's glass facade, peel them back to keep the glass from harming the window washers and then quickly pull them to safety without any serious threat to their safety.

Despite the relatively mild weather, the two trapped workers were found by paramedics on the scene to have suffered from mild hypothermia from the ordeal, officials said. Outside of bumps and bruises, no other injuries occurred.

Lopez and Lizama, first identified by NY1, are expected to make a full recovery.

Visitors to the 9/11 Memorial were told to stand back Wednesday afternoon as the dramatic rescue operation got underway. Officials could be heard on television shouting at tourists and reporters alike to move as firefighters worked to break through the heavy-gauge glass.

Construction crews and emergency responders were still working late Wednesday afternoon to pull the scaffold back up the side of the gleaming new building, officials said.

Tenants of the U.S.' tallest skyscraper, including some 175 employees of Condé Nast, officially moved last week into the heavily fortified $3.9 billion tower that is the centerpiece of a 16-acre memorial site on the ground formerly occupied by the Twin Towers and a handful of other buildings destroyed on September 11, 2001.

About 3,000 more Condé Nast employees are expected to move in by early next year, eventually occupying 25 floors, the media firm previously announced.

One World Trade Center stands at 1,776 feet, including the spire atop the roof, and boasts 104 stories.

FDNY Rescues Window Washers Dangling From World Trade Center
FDNY Rescues Window Washers Dangling From World Trade Center

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

More from
Ohio man jumps from bridge to avoid crash, dies
NTSB: Spaceship pilot was thrown free by breakup
Arctic chill settles across Upper Midwest, Rockies