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Full horror of WTC attack on FBI tape

By Greg Smith in New York
August 7 2002


A remarkable tape recording has emerged of the horror inside the World Trade Centre on September 11, from the crash of the first hijacked plane to terror on the streets as people jumped to their deaths and the second jet rammed its target.

"That was an explosion," says Stephen McArdle, a tax consultant who, as part of an FBI operation, was secretly taping a breakfast meeting in the Marriott World Trade Centre hotel.

Then comes a longer and much louder explosion. Officials believe the second blast is the sound of the flaming jet fuel from the plane coursing through the tower to the lower floors.

"Let's get out of here!" he shouts, and both men begin to run.

Mr McArdle was co-operating with an FBI investigation of New York tax assessors, and was wearing a wire during the meeting.

The tape is believed to be the only known uninterrupted audio recording of the entire attack, from before the first plane hit to shortly after the impact of the second plane.

It begins with the mundane events of what seems to be an ordinary day. At 7.36am, New York time, in an FBI office several blocks from the World Trade Centre, Mr McArdle and Special Agent Rodney Miller turned on the recording device.

Mr McArdle is then heard walking inside the concourse before meeting the assessor and exchanging pleasantries as they walk to the hotel's Greenhouse Cafe - facing the plaza between the towers. "I love this place," Mr McArdle says. "Isn't it great?" the assessor replies.

The tape records the normal sounds of the restaurant as Mr McArdle and the assessor casually discuss the nuts and bolts of bribery. Suddenly there's a muffled boom from far off - followed by a second, much louder and closer explosion. It continues for 28 seconds, building in intensity. The hotel alarm blares, and people scatter.

The men split up. Mr McArdle breaks into a run, but it takes him more than two minutes to get out to West Street. "Oh my God," he says when he looks up at the north tower.

"Can you believe it? Somebody hit the building," a female passerby says to Mr McArdle.

"What happened?" asks another woman. "They blew up the World Trade Centre," Mr McArdle says. "Why?" the woman asks, but he does not reply. Apparently, he and the others around him have noticed people are jumping from the north tower.

A woman begins to scream, "Oh my God!"

"Ohhhh," says a man, distraught. "Those are people."

Mr McArdle repeats over and over, "No no no no no."

As Mr McArdle walks along the street, the chaos seems to drop into the background. It is relatively quiet, and then a roar is heard. A huge explosion fills the air. All around Mr McArdle, people scream hysterically. The sound of United Flight 175 crashing into the south tower is so loud the speakers distort.

"It's another one! It's another one! It's another one," says a man's voice.

"It's a second pilot!" Mr McArdle shouts. "Holy shit!"

A woman cries hysterically; a stranger says: "It's like a missile."

Another woman begins to wail. A man comes to her side, muttering, "Jesus, Lord", and tries to console her.

"Please don't get upset," he says. "That's my husband inside," she replies, weeping."

The tape runs out.

Mr McArdle survived the morning physically unscathed. The FBI investigation ended in the arrest of 18 tax assessors in one of the biggest public corruption scandals to hit the city in years. Mr McArdle's name was never mentioned.

Knight-Ridder

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