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Two Window Washers Rescued from Scaffold Dangling 80 Stories From Freedom Tower

November 13, 2014  |  Posted by: Giovanni DePhillips
Two Window Washers Rescued from Scaffold Dangling 80 Stories From Freedom Tower Image courtesy of businessinsider.com

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For 90 nerve-wracking minutes, two veteran window washers shared a Lower Manhattan view both breathtaking and terrifying.

A scaffold malfunction trapped the pair Wednesday outside the 68th floor of 1 World Trade Center, with the dangling duo stuck amid the skyline until FDNY rescuers plucked them from midair.

“We were just reassuring them. ‘We’re here,’” said Lt. Billy Ryan, 45, of FDNY Rescue 1. “They knew they were in a bad spot, but they’re professionals, too. They knew what was going on and they were not panicked.”

Firefighters, using a miniature circle saw, cut through a thick, double-paned window to reach the two men, who were suspended outside an unoccupied floor of the newly opened skyscraper.

The twin windows were sliced in small sections to prevent falling glass, with the stranded workers finally able to shimmy down the tilted scaffold and through a 2-by-8-foot hole.

Their great escape was made 827 feet above the street, before a live television audience and crowds of lunchtime gawkers staring skyward.

“At 68 stories, that’s difficult to do,” said an impressed Ryan. “It’s almost like getting off a boat. They’re 68 stories up and it’s uneven.”

The rescued workers, identified as Juan Lizama, 41, and Juan Lopez, 33, of the Bronx, suffered mild hypothermia from their dizzying stint outside the building, authorities said.

They were treated and released from Bellevue Hospital. Both were experienced washers with years of experience.

The pair never had an inkling of impending trouble as they headed down the south side of the tower around 12:45 p.m.

“Suddenly (the scaffold) went from horizontal to nearly vertical,” said FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro. “The cables did not break.”

Ryan said his team never considered the emotional significance of returning to Ground Zero, where 343 firefighters died on 9/11.

“You worry about that later,” he said. “The task at hand is what you worry about.”

Once firefighters got into place on the 68th floor, the two trapped workers flashed them a thumbs-up through the inch-thick glass — one interior and one exterior window.

A second FDNY squad led by Capt. Brian Smith was on the roof of the 1,776-foot building, and they used ropes to deliver a radio so the men could stay in communication with the rescuers.

“We just pointed to the ropes,” he said. “It was like a game of charades. They got that part of it. They weren’t traumatized,” Smith said.

The workers tied the ropes to their harnesses so they would not plummet to the ground if the scaffold collapsed. The two finally pulled to safety, ending their frightening ordeal.

The City and State of New York are conducting an investigation as to why the rig-scaffold collapsed.

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