Based on the testimonies of survivors, victims’ families, emergency workers and city officials, Inside the Twin Towers opens with a glimpse of the everyday world of work and office life. It is easy to relate to Melanie de Vere, the 30-year-old British publishing executive helping to host a conference in the North Tower, and also with Stanley Praimnath, a banker devoted to his religion and family. We meet Hong Zhu, the broker who was caught up in the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, and Jan Demczur, the window cleaner who knows so many faces throughout the buildings.
In an instant, fate decrees who will have the opportunity to escape and who will not. Some have the option of being able to leave, but not all have the strength to do what is required to survive. On Sept. 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower at 8:46 a.m. and in the following 17 minutes, Melanie, Hong and Jan find that they are among the thousands of people suddenly confronted by confusion and uncertainty. While they search for answers, individuals such as construction manager Frank De Martini are fighting to rescue those trapped by tons of debris. Frank, supported by his colleagues Pablo and Mak, are pushing their way up into the wreckage of the dying building, rolling back the boundary between life and death.
Outside the North Tower, New York officials, supported by the Port Authority, are mobilizing the largest rescue operation in the city's history. Well over 1,000 emergency staff are being deployed, an organized evacuation has begun, and the critical decision that the fire cannot be fought has been made. Most of the North Tower’s elevators have stopped working and any firefighter attempting to reach the seat of the blaze will take more than an hour to climb up to the 91st floor. It is at this level that the three emergency stairwells have been severed by the direct force of the remnants of the aircraft. Rescuers will not be able to climb any farther – nor will anybody be able to descend from the higher floors. At least 1,300 people are trapped on the 19 floors above and immediately below the point of collision. Then the second tower is hit.
Stuck in elevators, confronted by dark and smoky exit routes, or hemmed in by burning wreckage, office workers in both towers were beyond the immediate help of the outside world. Individuals were forced to rely on their own resources in making the best of the options available to them. In buildings 110 stories tall, where fires burning at 1,300 degrees Centigrade were melting the steel floor supports, it was a perilous journey down to the ground. Not everybody would escape before the towers collapsed.