9/11 anniversary – Harrowing true story of Falling Man pictured plunging from Twin Towers whose identity still a mystery

ON the nineteenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the identity of one of their most well-known victims remains a mystery.

The man was seen jumping from the North Tower after the first plane struck, and was captured mid-air in a haunting image now known as the Falling Man.

The photo was taken by Associated Press photographer Richard Drew, who had been shooting a fashion show nearby when he heard that a plane had just hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

Drew got onto the subway – which he found empty – and headed for the site.

By the time he exited, the second plane had hit the South Tower, but the air was so filled with smoke and debris that he had no idea until he was told by a police officer.

As he watched the scene unfold, he saw what other onlookers had begun to notice within minutes of the first attack: people falling from the upper floors of the buildings.

“[People were] forced out by the smoke and flames or blown out,” Ellen Borakove of the New York City medical examiner's office later told USA Today.

Drew took dozens of photos that day, but one more than any other would spark debate and controversy around the world.

Taken at 9.41am, it showed a man falling head-first towards the ground, his legs pointed skyward, and the steel exterior of the North Tower in the background.

His face isn't clear, but for many the image humanised the victims of the attacks and captured something of the horror of the day.

“On a day of mass tragedy, Falling Man is one of the only widely seen pictures that shows someone dying,” said Time.


The image was printed by The New York Times the following day, but was labelled by critics as "exploitative" and "voyeuristic", and it was two years before it appeared in another major publication.

In the years since, many attempts have been maid to identify the Falling Man, but none have so far proved successful.

In a number of the images Drew took, the man can be seen to have a goatee and to be wearing black trousers and a white tunic, like the clothes of a restaurant worker.

He is also thought to be Latino.

The search for the man's identity has focused on the restaurants of the North Tower, which collectively are known to have lost at least 100 workers.

One man most often cited as a candidate is Norberto Hernandez, a pastry chef who worked at Windows on the World, a restaurant on the 106th floor.

Shown Drew's picture, Hernandez's brother and sister both identified him as its subject, but other members of his family have refuted the claim.

Some members of the family believe Hernandez would not have jumped from the two because of his religious faith, news.com.au reported.

The man in the image can also be seen to be wearing an orange shirt beneath his tunic, and Hernandez's wife has denied that he ever wore orange.


But the detail has been used to identify Jonathan Briley, a sound engineer who also worked at Windows on the World, as a possible candidate.

His brother Timothy has said he wore an orange shirt so frequently it became a joked between them.

“When are you going to get rid of that orange shirt, Slim?” Timothy would ask him.

Sister Gwendolyn has also said that Jonathan suffered with asthma and would have struggled to breathe in the heat and smoke.

Drew himself has said he “likes to think of [the man in the photograph] as the unknown soldier".

"Let him represent everyone [for whom] that was their fate that day,” he told the Telegraph.

“I hope people can look at it now and accept that it’s a part of what happened that day.

"We saw pictures of the rescuers, we saw pictures of the planes hitting the building, we saw the recovery effort.

"And now we can also try to accept that as part of what really happened that day.”

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