Everything About The Falling Man 9/11 : Richard Drew Taken Photograph From World Trade Center

The event that left the whole world mourning and the photograph which left the whole world wondering- who is the falling man? From different speculations to the journey of finding the truth, the falling man is a mystery that remains unsolved and yet made history.




On the 11th of September, 2001, a tragic attack happened at the twin towers of the world trade center. The attack was reported as an airplane hijack, a suicide attack, and a mass murder, as per the sources the attack was planned by a terrorist group called “the al-Qaida”. The attack reportedly happened through an air crash. First, an airplane crashed into the north tower and a few minutes later another plane crashed the south tower, blowing off the buildings as the fire began to spread, people inside it were trapped and hence they started to jump. As per the reports, almost 2606 people were killed inside the world trade center and 200 people were believed to have fallen or jumped.


The Story


The fallen man was one of them. It is a photograph of a man falling from the north tower and it was captured by an associated press photographer: “Richard Drew”. The photograph was taken at 9:41 am a few minutes after the accident. Drew at that moment was shooting pregnant models during which he got a call from his editor informing him about the crash. He immediately packed his equipment, hurried through the subway, when he reached there, the towers were burning and people were dying and some were already dead. He examined the area, he saw what was going on and then suddenly he heard people gasping as the workers and the people who were stuck in there were jumping from the building. He recalled shooting through a 20mm lens. He was standing between an officer and a fireman, and every time one of them said,” there goes another one” he started clicking photographs, as they fell down. He was able to get 9 to 12 shot sequences of about 10 to 15 people until he moved to the north tower- where history was about to be made. 


How did the picture get its name? Tom Juneau, the author of the esquire article came up with the name the falling man and then it got stuck, forever.

And hence started the story of the man, falling from the north tower, falling in desperation and in hope, the desperation of a man with no choice but to jump down from the burning skyscraper, wanting to breathe the fresh air, feel the winds, one last time, one time before his head hits the ground and it’s all blood and bones. And the hope of a man, who wishes that once he hits the ground he survives, not to be a survivor or a hero, but to be an ordinary man, who can see tomorrow and who can return home.




“I like to think of the falling man as a sort of unknown soldier. I let him represent everyone that had the fall on that day, said Drew while expressing his thoughts on the photograph.


The Falling Man 


In the picture, the man departed like an arrow. He did not choose this for him but yet he accepted it in his last minutes alive. He appears to be flying and not falling, his black boots still on, his pockets flying off from his pants. He seems to be calm and collected in the grip of unimaginable motion. He was falling at the rate of 32 feet per second and yet he seems okay. His left leg is bent at the knee, his arms are at his side, he did not seem to be diverted through gravity’s divine suction. 

In other pictures of people doing what he did, they seemed terrified, struggling in the air, some of them shirtless with shoes falling, hands waving as if almost they’re not ready to jump, not willing to die being crushed to the ground, that this is not just the end for them.


Those who fell jumped or took a leap of faith that day, the newspaper, the TV channels, termed them as jumpers. They were classified and believed to be as jumpers until ellen borakan rectified that a jumper is somebody who goes to the office in the morning knowing he would commit suicide, where on the other side those who jumped were forced, not because they wanted to but because they had too, as there was no other choice.

When asked what made him select this photograph to send to his editor, drew said he reached his office, it was crowded and got to his desk and He inserted the disc from his digital camera into his laptop and started looking. And when he saw this, he instantly knew that this was it. It was something that no one else saw or was able to capture-there was something about this falling man, that drew knew, that it was capable of making history. The next morning, the photograph appeared on page 7 on the new york times on the 12th of September,2001. Then it also appeared in thousands of other newspapers, the falling man- the frame that had the look of making history- its identity? Still unknown.


The Identification


After the release of the photo, two families identified the man as one of their own. First, he was identified as “Jonathan Eric Briley”. Jonathan was a manager at a window on the world which was at the 106th floor of the north tower. His co-workers identified him as the falling man. They described Jonathan which vaguely matched the description of the falling man, as there was no clear image of it, they assumed that the man was almost in his 40’s with a goatee and wearing an orange shirt.jonathan’s father was a preacher, so on the 11th of September, he gathered his family and prayed to god, to tell him where his son was, to let him know if he was in a good health, to make give him any signs that he was alive. And so the Lord gave him a sign. The next day, the FBI called, they said they found Jonathan’s body, and so Timothy, the youngest son, went in hope to verify that it was indeed his brother and miraculously it was. He recognized him by the black boots, he took one of the boots as a memorial of his late brother.

The second identification of the falling man was Noberto Hernandaz. Noberto was a pastry chef at a window on the world and the photograph was identified by his sister Jacqueline. As Jacqueline mentioned, the motto of their family was “ together forever” but they were not together anymore, they were torn apart. Their son and brother were forced to jump out of a window, knowing that he just might not survive. Jacqueline refused to let her mother be aware of it, but eventually, she did as she lost both of her sons in the attack of 9/11. Catherine, daughter of Norberto said “he wouldn’t have jumped off the window, not Papi, he was trying to come home ”. although Eulogia, Noberto’s wife dressed him every morning, the man in the frame was not her husband, as he never owned an orange shirt.


The man could be Jonathan. He might be the one falling from the window. but he didn’t jump because of love or a betrayal or that he had lost all of his hope, but he jumped because he saw a chance of survival. No one jumps right off into the arms of god, no one in their right mind would jump off and hope to survive, because you cant jump to meet god, no you have to fall. The falling man might be Jonathan, and the only proof of that is, the 15 seconds after 9:41 am, when Richard drew arrived and when the man took a leap of faith- falling through space and time, it’s marking history- a man with no identity became something more, and yet the photographer went unnoticed.


The Jump

What made those people jump? They started jumping not long before the plane hit the north tower, and they kept jumping till the tower fell down. They jumped through the broken windows and when that was not an option, they broke the windows and jumped. They jumped to breath one last time, they jumped with a faith in their god that they would survive after fatal injuries. They jumped from all four sides of the tower, from every floor, through every window. For more than an hour and a half, they kept jumping, building courage from the sight of the fellow man jumping. A photograph taken from a distance shows them falling, like parachutes, in a line before getting scattered. They even tried parachutes, before the force of air increased and ripped their drapes apart. They tried gathering every piece of cloth they could so that they could make it to the ground. They were all very much alive on their way down, they were not killed in the air, but rather were destroyed when they hit the ground. As Arthur Conan Doyle said, “It’s not the fall that kills you, it’s the landing”.


So the question after 2 decades later is still unanswered, who was the falling man. We all know his faith was death, but who was the man that so calmly accepted it as if he saw it coming. And what about all of those who took the fall that day, what about them? We know about the falling man because Richard Drew was able to capture him, but there were 200 more of the fallen man- that we still don’t know about. The photograph doesn’t have an idealistic or historical meaning behind it- but the meaning is simple, a man who had enough courage to take a leap of faith and when he knew seconds after he took the jump, that he was going to die- he embraced it heroically. The photograph of the man doesn’t represent a single man’s faith, it tells a story, of everyone who had to take the tragic fall and it is also a point of intersection between those who were jumping off the building and those who watched the tragedy from afar.

The photograph is resented in the US, because of the pain and horror it brings even if it’s been 2 decades, there is something so rebellious about the time frame as though one is faced with the inevitability of death and chooses it to accept it without any moment of hesitation.


The Conclusion


The people of America like to think of him as sort of unknown soldier, who did what he had to do, even if it meant not coming home, he showed bravery and so did the others.

September 11, 2001. If someone would have said at that time that a photograph would make history and would arise a question without an answer- no one would have believed it, But they had to believe- the falling man, representation of the horror and the agony and fright of the people stuck inside of the twin tower. If anyone had a choice or lack of luck and you were in that burning building, what would they have done to survive, what would you, the readers have done? 


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