By Jake Pearson
NEW YORK — Two window washers were trapped on a dangling scaffold nearly 70 stories up the new 1 World Trade Center tower for nearly two hours on Wednesday before firefighters sawed through a thick double-layered window to reach them.
The dramatic rescue, coming a little more than a week after the nation’s tallest building officially opened, was followed by throngs of New Yorkers on the ground and many more around the world watching on live TV.
The window washers, Juan Lizama and Juan Lopez, were working on the lower Manhattan building’s south side when one of the platform’s four cables abruptly developed slack, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. The open-topped platform tilted sharply and swayed slightly between the 68th and 69th floors, he said.
“It suddenly went from horizontal to nearly vertical,” he said.
About 100 firefighters rushed to the skyscraper, some of them lowering ropes from the roof so the workers could secure themselves and a two-way radio for them to communicate, Nigro said. The workers, who have more than 20 years of experience between them, also were harnessed to the platform, and the building’s owner said they had all the requisite safety gear and training.
Firefighters used diamond cutters to saw through part of a two-layered, inch-thick glass window on the 68th floor, which is still under construction.
They shattered the glass in place, then carefully pulled the broken pieces into the building. Firefighters also began inching another scaffold down the building as a backup rescue plan, but they were able to bring the workers to safety through the roughly 4-by-8-foot window hole.
“It was a fairly straightforward operation,” said Battalion Chief Joseph Jardin, who oversees the fire department’s special operations. Officials stressed that firefighters had trained for various emergencies at the tower, the centerpiece of the rebuilt World Trade Center. Firefighters generally seek to cut out windows to make such rescues, but Nigro noted the trade center’s thick glass: a double-paned inner layer and an outer pane.
“And, of course, they were 68 stories up,” he said. “That presented a little bit more of a challenge.”
Lizama and Lopez were checked out at a hospital and were released.
Officials haven’t determined what caused the cable problem Wednesday.