Sgt. Tells Story of 1993 WTC Rooftop Helicopter Rescue

NYPD members Thomas Defresco, Joseph Zogbi, Timothy Farrell, Gregory Semendinger, Richard Troche and Robert Schierenback pose for a photo in their uniforms.
From left to right: NYPD P.O. Thomas DeFresco, P.O. Joseph Zogbi, Sgt. Timothy Farrell, Det. Gregory Semendinger, Richard Troche and P.O. Robert Schierenback

On Feb. 26, 1993, a group of terrorists detonated a bomb inside a van in the parking garage below the World Trade Center. Moments later, calls poured into emergency dispatchers and hundreds of first responders arrived to aid in the rescue effort. NYPD Sgt. Timothy Farrell, who worked in the Emergency Service Unit (ESU), was among them.

On that cold, blustery afternoon Farrell boarded an NYPD helicopter at Floyd Bennett Field in Brooklyn and headed toward lower Manhattan to rescue victims from the towers. Flying overhead, Farrell saw thick smoke billowing out of the North Tower and told the crew chief they should investigate the roof. There was only one problem—the pilot determined at that moment, the helicopter landing on the roof was impossible. As the aircraft hovered over the North Tower, Farrell mustered his courage, threw a rope out of the helicopter, and rappelled down to the roof.

After landing safely, Farrell surveyed the area and broke through a locked rooftop door. He emerged inside a dark, smoky stairwell on the 110th floor, where he found several victims. He escorted the individuals to the roof and instructed them to wait for further assistance. Then, he returned to the stairwell, searching for victims floor by floor.

Collection of 9/11 Memorial Museum, Gift of Sgt. Timothy Farrell 

Farrell worked with elevator engineers to rescue trapped victims. In one elevator, Farrell discovered Carl Selinger, a manager in the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey’s Aviation Department, who was rationing his lunch and wrote a goodbye letter to his family, uncertain when—or if—he would be freed. Farrell worked tirelessly to rescue victims and operations continued until late in the evening. Over the course of several hours, the NYPD’s Emergency Service Unit helicopter crews airlifted 28 people to safety. Farrell’s NYPD ESU jacket, which he wore during his rescue operation on Feb. 26, 1993, is a part of the 9/11 Memorial Museum’s permanent collection.

Listen to Farrell recount his experience during the 1993 bombing rescue operation below.

By Elizabeth Bistrow, 9/11 Memorial Staff

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