9/11 At 20: Incredible Story Of The Man Who Wire-Walked Between The Twin Towers
The Twin Towers are most often remembered solely in relation to the 9/11 attacks, but in the three decades they spent dominating the New York City skyline, they acted as the centre of many other stories.
The construction of the World Trade Center was one of the most ambitious projects in history when it began in 1966, having been inspired by the first World Trade Center that was created in 1939 in dedication to promoting world peace through trade.
At 110 storeys, the towers were designed to be the tallest buildings in the world, making them hard to miss for anyone looking at New York’s skyline, but in particular for acrobat Philippe Petit.
Petit, from France, began practising wire-walking when he was teenager before taking on his first big, illegal public display with a wire walk between the towers of Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris in 1971.
He followed the impressive feat with a venture between the pylons of Sydney Harbour Bridge in Australia in 1973, but after learning about the construction of the World Trade Center in an article in 1968, he set his sights on the towers for a future walk.
Petit visited New York in January 1974 following the completion of the World Trade Center in 1973, at which time he managed to sneak onto the roof of one of the towers in a reconnaissance mission.
He built a scale model of the towers to help him plan his walk, and, according to Biography, practised in a French field on a 200-foot wire that his friends shook violently in an effort to simulate the wind that would be battering Petit at the top of the towers.
Speaking to Inside Edition about his challenge, Petit recalled describing the towers as his own, saying:
I would visit them for eight months in New York, measuring things secretly, taking … quickly some pictures [of] where to attach the cable, how to pass the cable across. So after all those years and months of studying them for my illegal walk, of course they were ‘my towers’ and that’s how my friends would refer to them.
On the night of August 6, 1974, Petit’s team snuck onto each roof of the towers and used an arrow to shoot fishing wire across the gap, using the line to drag the thick steel cable into place. Following on from his months of practise, Petit stepped onto the wire shortly after 7.00am on August 7, balancing 1,350 feet in the air on nothing more than an inch of steel wire.
With his 50lb, 26ft balancing pole used to help him, Petit not only walked along the wire, but also knelt down on one knee and even went as far as to lie down on his narrow steel walkway.
Considering Petit’s act was entirely illegal, it’s no surprise police officers quickly gathered on the top of both towers, ready to arrest the acrobat as soon as he stepped back onto the rooftop. With his skill of wire-walking perfected, however, Petit took his time between the towers, taunting officers as he enjoyed conversations with the seagulls that joined him in the air.
One crossing between the towers proved insufficient for Petit, and he ended up crossing the quarter-mile-high wire a total of eight times before finally giving himself over to the police, at which point he was immediately arrested.
Explaining his need to cross the towers, Petit said: ‘When I see two oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk.’
Officers took Petit in for psychological evaluation and he was charged with criminal trespassing and disorderly conduct, but his charges were dropped on the condition that he perform a free show for the public in Central Park, to which he happily obliged.
Following his incredible accomplishment, Petit accepted a permanent pass to the Observation Deck of the World Trade Center. Of course, less than 30 years later, the towers where Petit performed his stomach-churning walk were destroyed.
Recalling the horrific events of 9/11, Petit said:
I looked at the sky because I knew there was a plane involved and it was a magnificent day and I knew – my intuition was this is not an airplane accident – it was something else.
So I ran to my friends at the top of the hill and I sat in front of the television like millions of other people and I saw my towers being attacked and destroyed and taking with them thousands of lives.
From that day, Petit decided to stop referring to the Twin Towers as ‘my towers’, describing them instead as ‘our towers’.
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