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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Tapes of Sept. 11 Victims Revive Families' Pain

NEW YORK -- No, Joe and Marie Hanley decided at first, they would not listen to the 911 tape of their son, Chris, calling for help from Windows on the World restaurant.

And no, Jack Gentul and his sons agreed, they had no intention of playing the tape of Alayne Gentul, wife and mother, calling 911 from the south tower of the World Trade Center.

Will Sept. 11, 2001, ever be over, Debbie Andreacchio wondered, after the New York mayor's office called her on Monday, on her brother Jack's birthday, to say he had telephoned 911 on that morning 4 1/2 years ago.

These three families were among 27 who learned in the last few days that the city had tape recordings of phone calls to the 911 emergency telephone number made by loved ones from inside the twin towers. Faced with a court order issued three years ago and the prospect of new ultimatums, city lawyers this week offered tapes of the individual calls to the next of kin.

"Everything that surrounds 9/11 is insane," Andreacchio said. "Why wouldn't they let something like this out sooner? It never settles."

Disruptive as they are, the tapes hold unique power as aural relics and as portals into a lost and unseen moment for these three families. So the Andreacchios, the Gentuls and the Hanleys have decided to go ahead and obtain them.

On Monday, the Hanleys went to the city's law department, signed some papers and took the recording back to their home on the East Side of Manhattan.

They ejected a disc labeled "Beethoven Concerto for Piano and Orchestra," and pushed in a white disc printed with the name of their only child, Christopher James Hanley.

"Time of the call oh-eight-hundred hours, 50 minutes and 30 seconds," a stranger's voice intoned.

That would be 8:50:30 a.m. -- just four minutes after the first plane struck.

Then a familiar voice came from the speakers.

"Yeah, hi, I am on the 106th floor of the World Trade Center, which had an explosion," their son said.

"The 106th floor?" the operator replied.

"We had a conference up here," Chris Hanley said. "There's about 100 people up here."

Hanley, 35, worked for Radianz, then a division of Reuters. That morning, he was attending a conference organized by Risk Waters, a financial publisher, at the top of the north tower.

The plane had crashed into the building between the 94th and 99th floors, 80 feet or so below the restaurant, but the smoke had forced itself to the very top of the building. So despite its distance from the area of the impact, conditions at the restaurant quickly became difficult.

The available records suggest that Hanley was among the first people inside either tower to reach the 911 system. His voice is clear.

"What is your last name?" asked the operator.

"Hanley," he replied.

"H-a-n," the operator said.

"We have smoke and it's pretty bad," he said.

A moment later, the operator said, "OK, we have the job. Let me connect you with the fire, OK?"

"Yes," Hanley replied, hearing the word fire. "There is fire, smoke. We have about 100 people here. We can't get down the stairs."

His parents, who played the recording on Wednesday for a reporter, said they recognized their son, not only in his tone, but his manner.

"He was strong and was thinking so clearly and beautifully," Marie Hanley said. "Patient with the Fire Department and 911. It brought everything back up again."

The valor of the emergency responders quickly became a familiar part of the chronicles of Sept. 11. The acts of civilians trapped on the high floors remained largely invisible.

Alayne Gentul, who worked in the south tower, the second of the buildings to be hit, had given decisive orders for her staff and others to leave the 90th and 94th floors, according to the accounts of survivors. Then she and others made their way to the 97th floor to clear out a team of computer specialists visiting her firm for a disaster drill.

She was trapped with them when the second plane hit.

Jack Gentul discussed his wife's tape with his children, he said.

"We are going to request the recordings, but we have no intention of listening to it," said Gentul, the dean of students at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark. "We thought we would request it to keep the choice open for the children or for their children."

On Friday, the city was scheduled to release all the calls from the towers but with the voices of the callers erased, leaving only the operators' sides of the communications. The city won court approval for this approach by arguing that the privacy of the callers should be protected.

On Thursday, acting on a request by The New York Times, a state judge in Manhattan said that the city must leave in the names of the callers if the operators mentioned them. The city plans to appeal.

For many of those closest to the day, the release of the tapes is yet another Sisyphean moment in the march away from Sept. 11, in which every step forward in time seems to be matched by one that sends them lurching back toward the day again.

"Part of us wishes this whole matter could move on and our lives could move on," said Gentul, who remarried last year. "I'm very proud of her. It's just what happens. Life happens."

Jack Andreacchio, who worked on the 80th floor of the south tower, had moved many people off the floor and had actually gotten 10 floors down when he chose to return to the 80th floor. The wing of the second plane essentially sliced his floor in half.

Andreacchio managed to call his sister Debbie and describe his plight and to apologize for the ghastly memory that he was imposing on her. Their call dropped out, she said.

Then Andreacchio was connected by chance to the 911 system. A man who called into the trade center, in search of a relative, instead found Andreacchio and transferred him to a 911 operator.

Debbie Andreacchio had not known about that call, she said, until a reporter told her about it this week.

"I want to hear it," she said. "I want to hear exactly what's on it. I'd like certain people to hear it. This thing just keeps coming back and hitting us in the face. I want to get the tape."

Joe and Marie Hanley said that they were puzzled by much about Sept. 11 -- citing U.S. President George. W. Bush's use of the attack on New York to justify the war in Iraq, and the procedures at the 911 system, in which a police operator took information from their son and then passed his call to a dispatcher in the fire department, who picked up after six rings.

"Just keep the windows open," the fire dispatcher said. "It's going to be a while because there is a fire going on downstairs."

"We can't open the windows unless we break them," Hanley said.

"OK. Just sit tight," the dispatcher said. "Just sit tight, we are on the way."

"All right," Hanley replied. "Please hurry."

His mother said it was only in those final two words that she detected any note of worry in his voice.

Those were the words, his father said, that have stayed with him.

"That was the cruncher," he said. "'Please hurry.'"