By JAKE PEARSON
NEW YORK (AP) — Two window washers trapped on a dangling scaffold nearly 70 stories up the new 1 World Trade Center tower were rescued Wednesday by firefighters who sawed through a window to reach them.
The washers were stuck for nearly two hours before their dramatic rescue, as New Yorkers looked on from the ground and people around the country watched on live TV. The scaffold accident, which officials said was caused by a malfunctioning cable, happened little more than a week after workers began moving into the nation’s tallest building.
It was unclear whether the scaffold had been used on the 1,776-foot, 104-story skyscraper before or whether anything about the building’s design complicates working a scaffold there. Officials stressed that firefighters had trained for various emergencies at the tower, the centerpiece of the rebuilt World Trade Center.
The window washers’ ordeal began on the lower Manhattan building’s south side at around 12:40 p.m. when one of the platform’s four cables abruptly developed slack, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. The open-topped platform tilted sharply and swayed slightly in the wind between the 68th and 69th floors, he said.
“It suddenly went from horizontal to nearly vertical,” he said.
Officials haven’t determined what caused the cable problem. The cables are controlled from the scaffold vehicle, the fire commissioner said.
About 100 firefighters rushed to the skyscraper, some of them lowering ropes from the roof so the workers could secure themselves and a two-way radio for them to communicate, Nigro said. The workers also were harnessed to the platform.
Firefighters first used diamond cutters to saw through part of a two-layered, more than inch-thick glass window on the 68th floor. They shattered the thick glass in place, then carefully pulled the broken pieces into the building.
Firefighters also began inching another scaffold down the building as a backup rescue plan, but they were able to bring the workers to safety through the roughly 4-by-8-foot window hole by 2:30 p.m.
“It was a fairly straightforward operation,” said Battalion Chief Joseph Jardin, who oversees the fire department’s special operations.
Firefighters generally seek to cut out windows to make such rescues, but Nigro noted the trade center’s thick glass: a double-paned inner layer and an outer pane.
“And, of course, they were 68 stories up,” he said. “That presented a little bit more of a challenge.”
The workers had mild hypothermia but seemed otherwise OK, Nigro said. They were taken to a hospital to be checked out.
People on the ground had been moved back in case glass began flying. Office workers and construction workers streamed onto a nearby street, their necks craning to watch the scaffold as it waved in the wind.
Window washer Ramon Castro, who stood with the onlookers before the rescue, said he hoped the workers were able to stay calm.
“When you start panicking, it makes things worse,” he said, adding that he had encountered dangerous situations on the 22nd and 25th floors of other buildings. “You have to say your prayers. You have to use your experience.”
Carol Thomas and Lisa Cogliano, who work for an insurance company, were returning to their nearby office from a meeting.
“It’s horrific,” Cogliano said.
The silvery skyscraper, which rose from the ashes of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack, reopened last week to 175 employees of magazine publisher Conde Nast. About 3,000 more Conde Nast employees are expected to move in by early next year, eventually occupying 25 floors of the $3.9 billion tower.
Steps away from the new tower are two memorial fountains built on the footprints of the decimated twin towers, a reminder of the more than 2,700 people who died in the Sept. 11 attack.
Associated Press writers Kiley Armstrong and Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.
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