|Gédéon Naudet (left) and Jules Naudet, known for the documentary film 9/11, pose with their Peabody Award, May 2003.|
Friday, September 11, 2020
RETRO FILES / 9-11 WORLD CHANGING MOMENT CAUGHT ON VIDEO
Not since Abraham Zapruder filmed in real time the fatal moment President John F. Kennedy was murdered has there been such a stark, eyewitness to history moment as when Jules Naudet pointed his camera at the American Airlines Flight 11 that crashed into the World Trade Center at 8:46 am on September 11, 2001. For historic video click here.
Jules and his brother Gedeon were in New York City working as documentary filmmakers. The Naudet brothers were in the process of making a documentary on New York firefighters, following Antonio "Tony" Benetatos, a rookie firefighter or "probie," through his experiences in New York City Fire Department (FDNY) academy training and into a firehouse.
On the morning of September 11, Jules accompanied several firefighters as they headed out to investigate reports of a gas leak in Lower Manhattan, leaving Gédéon in the firehouse to continue filming with Benetatos. On the way to Lower Manhattan, Jules and the firefighters had stopped at the corner of Lispenard and Church Streets when American Airlines Flight 11 flew right over them. Jules filmed its impact as it flew directly into the North Tower.
Jules went with the FDNY into the North Tower as they responded to the incident. He entered the lobby of the North Tower with the FDNY and filmed the fire chiefs as they set up a command post and sent firefighters up the stairs. While inside, Jules filmed the evacuating civilians and the firefighters' reactions to subsequent events, including the second plane hitting the South Tower, the debris and "jumpers" falling from the upper floors, and obstructed communications.
When the South Tower began to collapse, he took shelter with Battalion 1 Chief Joseph Pfeifer and the remaining firefighters, using his camera's floodlight to help them gather the wounded, lost, and deceased as they evacuated the North Tower. He followed the firefighters as they headed north and tried to establish another command post.
Meanwhile, Gédéon filmed Benetatos (by now, the only firefighter left in the firehouse) taking calls from the other departments, but eventually took to the streets out of worry for Jules. He walked for some time, filming people's reactions and the damage done by flying debris, and managed to film the impact of United Airlines Flight 175 into the South Tower. Realizing that he could not get any closer to the WTC, he returned to the firehouse, where he filmed the arrival of various off-duty firefighters.
He caught the arrival of retired Battalion 1 Chief Larry Byrnes, but was unable to follow him and Benetatos as they left for the WTC. Gédéon resumed filming the people's reactions as the South Tower collapsed before returning to the firehouse and joining a trio of off-duty firefighters as they headed out to the disaster area. Unable to follow the firefighters to the North Tower, he remained in the area and filmed his surroundings.
When the North Tower collapsed, the Naudet’s fled with the rest of the people still in the area. Jules and Chief Pfeifer took shelter between two cars before returning to the WTC to assess the situation; less than a block away, Gédéon helped an FBI agent carry a civilian who had been overcome by the dust before making his way to a deli to recuperate. Worrying for Jules, he attempted to return to the WTC's ruins, but was turned away by police patrols. He then returned to the firehouse and filmed the returning firefighters' reactions to the attacks. Meanwhile, Jules returned with Chief Pfeifer's group and had an emotional reunion with his brother.
The Naudets' video footage became some of the most comprehensive on-site coverage of the 9/11 attacks in New York. Their film was one of only two sources of video footage of Flight 11 striking the World Trade Center, the other being a video shot by Pavel Hlava (an immigrant worker from the Czech Republic); additionally, a series of web camera images from Wolfgang Staehle show the approach of Flight 11 and the after-impact.