There were many iconic photos and videos taken during the tragic terror attacks that took place on September 11, 2001. However, the images and videos of the “falling man” who lept to his death to escape the building are by far the most disturbing. As the planes struck the World Trade Center buildings in New York City on that historic day, many occupants in the building desperately rushed for safety.
Sadly, many people were unable to find an exit to escape, and instead jumped from the building. These jumpers likely knew that they were going to die, but the fate of being killed by the fire in the building was far more terrifying.
One of the clearest photos of this tragic occurrence was taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew.
Richard Drew is a photographer for Associated Press.
In a later interview, Drew recalled the photo, saying that, “It’s a very quiet photograph. It’s not like a lot of other violent photographs from other disasters.”
According to Drew, when he took the picture he had no clue that he was in the midst of a terror attack that would change history. Drew says that on the morning of September 11, he was working the first day of Fashion Week in the city.
While on the set of Fashion Week, Drew was told about the incident taking place at the World Trade Center, so he caught a train across town and rushed to the scene.
The iconic photograph of the “Falling Man.” / Photo Credit: Richard Drew
When drew arrived at ground zero, he found that the situation was far worse than he expected. One of the first sights he witnessed was people jumping from buildings.
“I didn’t know I had that photograph of that man in that position until I actually saw it on my computer. I called one of our photo editors and I showed him the picture and I said ‘This is it, this has got to be the picture,’” Drew recalled.
However, once the photo was published it was met by criticism because many people felt that the image was too graphic.
“It was a very brave thing for them to use that picture. It was the only picture that was like that… the only picture that showed any kind of human interaction [with the building] like that,” Drew explained.
Sadly, the victim in the photo has never been identified.
“We don’t know if he died on the way down… they say there are rumors that you die before you… you know, if you fall… We don’t know if he was forced out by [the] fire or if he chose his fate,” Drew said.
The body of the man was never recovered, but there have been some theories about his identity.
One Canadian reporter with The Globe and Mail, believes that the man was Norberto Hernandez, a pastry chef at Windows on the World, a cafe on the 106th floor of the North Tower. At first, the man’s family agreed with the theory, but after studying the video they believed he was wearing different clothes on that day.
A reporter for Esquire said that the victim was a different Windows on the World employee. The Esquire reporter believed that the victim was a sound engineer named Jonathan Briley, who was the Manager at Windows on the World. In this case, the man’s family said that the clothing matched.
“When I first looked at the picture […] and I saw it was a man — tall, slim, I said, ‘If I didn’t know any better, that could be Jonathan,‘” his sister Gwendolyn told The Sunday Mirror.
Drew says that he thinks he made the right decision taking the photo that day.
“I’ve never regretted taking that photograph. It’s one of the only photographs that shows someone dying that day. We have a terrorist attack on our own soil and we still don’t have pictures of people dying,” he said.
However, Drew doesn’t believe that the man’s identity is incredibly important because he can be a symbol for the many people who died on that day.
“I like to think of him as sort of the unknown soldier. Let him represent everyone that had that fate that day,” Drew said.