Remembering Bill Biggart on 9/11

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Remembering the horrible events of the Sept. 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center on its 15th anniversary, among the 2,996 people killed that day to honor was Bill Biggart who raced from his family to photograph the unfolding tragedy, forever now part of it, the only member of the news media killed that day.

by Blake Pembroke Sell

For those of you who shared that horrible morning with me at the World Trade Center site as the towers burned and then fell, you know first hand how these 9/11 anniversaries bring back a flood of memories and reminders of horrors we witnessed.

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Bill Biggart

If you know me you know I don’t talk about that day, but I want to remind us of the ultimate sacrifice paid by photographer Bill Biggart, the only media person who died covering this horrible event and contributing to the immense tragedy of that day. His body and cameras were found by rescuers days later under the pedestrian skyway just beyond the flag pole flying the shredded American flag in my picture.

I was there when Chip East pried the memory card from the crumpled remains of Bill’s digital camera with a pair of pliers and shared the elation and sadness when we put it into a Mac in the office and saw the card still worked and that Bill had photographed the moment of his own death as the pedestrian skyway fell towards him.

I took the crumpled rolls of film found in his scorched belt pack to the photo lab and had them processed with little hope of recovering images but found many of his pictures of that morning visible between burned out areas of the film rolls.

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Bill Biggart’s camera equipment found with his body. Photo by Chip East, Sept. 2001.

Newsweek

Newsweek magazine published Bill’s story, pulled together in just a few hours by the very talented writer Jerry Adler, in the October 15, 2001 edition across three full pages and photo director Simon Barnett used Bill’s burned out film rolls as a graphical border across the pages to help tell his story.

Newseum

Bill’s melted and crushed camera equipment, bags and press cards found with his body are on display in the World Trade Center gallery on the top floor at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., donated by Bill’s widow Wendy Doremus and their four children.

Remembrance

I took this photo leading this article just after the collapse of the north tower while everyone else who had been there moments before lay buried in the rubble, before the living rushed back to the site to search for them.

My strongest memory from that morning is standing in shock, surrounded by smoke and debris, caked in WTC dust and blood dripping down my legs and a fireman who was one of the first back to the area grabbing me by the shoulders and shouting at me: “Are you going to try to help find these people or are you just going to take pictures.”

I put the cameras down on top of some debris and dug along with the firemen at the faint beeps of dead firemen’s rescue devices breaking through the rubble. We didn’t save anyone.

Blake Pembroke Sell, Sept. 11, 2016
Photo by Blake Pembroke Sell, Sept. 11, 2001.

Links:

Newsweek’s article on Bill Biggart
Bill Biggart’s equipment on display at the Newseum

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