Remembering September 11 & 'The Man in the Red Bandana'

As Sept. 11 comes around every year, we are asked to examine ourselves and our relationship to our fellow countrymen to appreciate their belonging in our lives. Although a generation apart from us now, the attack on the World Trade Center in New York City on 9/11/2001 is still fresh in the minds of many Americans. It was and still is a testament that the brutal reality, the conflicts of the world, are not a far away fantasy, and very well can be manifested within our own lives.

It is highly unfortunate that these events still take place around the world. All we can call from within ourselves is to stand courageous and selfless as many of those who faced the great tragedy so many years ago. There is one such man that 9/11 survivors speak highly of that fits these heroic characteristics: That of a man named Welles Crowthers, better known colloquially as “The Man in the Red Bandana.” Here is his very real story, told so that it may be remembered, shared and perhaps learned from.

In 1999, Welles Crowthers was an equities trader for Sandler O'Neill and Partners, serving on the 104th floor of the south-most World Trade Tower in downtown Manhattan. According to accounts of those who worked with Crowthers, he was a polite and upstanding young man who seemed to be going places in his career. When Crowthers was young, his father gifted him a red bandana which would serve as a calling card for Crowthers, and an item he seemingly always kept by his side. Although he had a background in economics, Crowthers entertained the idea of joining New York’s Fire Department or a specialized unit in the FBI, a dream that although never realized directly came to fruition on that September morning 22 years ago.

At 7:59 a.m. and 8:14 a.m. respectively, American Airlines Flight 11 & United Airlines Flight 175 departed from Logan Airport in Boston, Massachusetts headed for Los Angeles carrying a total of 157 passengers, among them ten al-Qaeda terrorist hijackers. By 9:02 a.m., the Manhattan skyline was engulfed in smoke and fire after both planes crashed into the World Trade Centers, killing all people aboard, and hundreds more inside. Clocked in that morning was Welles Crowther, who upon realization of the attack on the tower, called his mother leaving a message on the receiver that he was okay. Welles was spotted a few minutes later down past the impact-site carrying a badly injured woman on his back. There he met an evacuation party of around 17 survivors, waiting for the sky lobby’s elevators. Crowthers gave possession of the badly injured woman to the party and returned back up towards the impact site’s floors. By this point, the smoke from the burning debris and jet began to fill entire corridors and office spaces, and so Crowthers began using his red bandana as a face mask. Through the fires and smoke, he found another group of survivors, many of them badly burned and injured. He led them back to the sky lobby where they too waited for the elevators.

Over the course of the next 40 or so minutes, Crowthers assisted around 18 survivors in finding their way to the South Tower’s elevators. He was last seen at 9:54 a.m. alongside NYFD firefighters, heading back up towards the impact site. At 9:59 a.m., with the progressively weakening structure of the South Tower due to the raging fires at the impact zone reaching around 1,400 degrees, the external steel beams of floors 77-85 were too weakened to hold up the thirty or so above it. The South Tower collapsed, killing an estimated 1,000 people, including hundreds of firefighters and dozens of police officers.

With both towers collapsed by 10:30 a.m., volunteers, made up of both professional and amateur personnel, began digging through the wreckage in search of any survivors immediately. Upon Ground Zero laid close to two million tons of debris which for the next nine months would be slowly cleaned up, scrap by scrap. In March of 2002, Welles Crowthers was found within the heaps of steel, his signature red bandana a few feet away. Crowther’s family found out of his heroism from one of the people he saved, Judy Wein, who wrote about a “Man in a Red Bandana” in The New York Times. Upon searching Crowther’s home, investigators found within a drawer a completed application to the New York Fire Department. In 2006 he was declared an honorary city firefighter.