The two embarked on their own search and rescue mission, walking over the treacherous rubble and screaming.
Below the surface at around 8 pm Jimeno heard their call, “United States Marine Corps, can anyone hear us?”
“I couldn’t believe it,” recalls Jimeno. “I started screaming as loud as I could. “PAPD officers on the ground!” PAPD officers down! And they kept saying, “Keep on screaming, we hear you!” “They said, ‘Who is there?’ I said, ‘Port Authority Police, Officer Jimeno, my sergeant is down. We have men here. We have men who are dead, ”and they said,“ Wait, mate, ”Jimeno remembers.
The Marines began trying to locate Jimeno in the debris below with a flashlight; all he could do was wave his left hand to get their attention, but his hand was just as covered in concrete dust as the debris and difficult to distinguish from the rubble itself. It took them about five minutes to find it. Above, the Marines shouted for others to help.
Two officers arrived from the NYPD Emergency Services Unit, Truck Number One, Scott Strauss and Paddy McGee, both members of the department’s elite and SWAT-style rescue team. “We started to run in that direction,” Strauss later recalled. “We climb on this twisted steel – some were very, very hot – jumping from one to the other. We slide on the dust. It was a very perilous hike. Through the dust and smoke I saw a guy waving a flashlight, I walked over to him. I said, ‘What’s the matter?’ He says, ‘You got two guys, two cops in this hole.’ So I look, and there’s this hole a little bigger than the size of a manhole. I fell in, about six to eight feet. It was like a very, very small closet.
Strauss, McGee, and civilian paramedic, Chuck Sereika, began an arduous, hour-long effort to free Jimeno. They removed their own rescue gear and the officers removed their gun belts, getting rid of whatever they could to allow them to dig deeper into the rubble. “I’m crawling in this hole. Paddy is behind me, and we go around some beams that are hot – the fire is going up on the other side – it’s filled with smoke. We cough. We are suffocating, ”recalls Strauss.
“I tell myself, to my children, ‘I love you. I’m sorry for doing this, because I’m going to die,” he recalls. “The worst – probably the worst thing I had to do in my life. I said [my wife] Pat, I loved him and I walked in through that hole – didn’t call anyone on the cell phone, I just thought that to myself.
Finally, after crawling about 20 to 30 feet, they came across Pezzullo’s body and, further on, Jimeno. “The only thing we can see of Will is his head, his right arm and part of his right side,” Strauss recalls. “The rest, it looks like it was poured out of a dump truck. He’s just laying there, and he’s on his side. He can move his head a bit and he can move his right hand.
Only one person could pass through the opening at a time – a space described by Strauss as “no larger than the area under a chair.” Strauss offered Jimeno water, and eventually Sereika hooked the injured officer into an IV. And then they got down to business. Strauss begins to scrape the rubble. Little by little, they chipped the enveloping concrete; it was exhausting work and every 15 to 20 minutes Strauss and Sereika would switch places. As they chipped, they passed the broken concrete to McGee, who would throw it lower into the scorching fires and piles of debris beneath them.
The situation was serious. “It seems like. At first they were perplexed as Jimeno kept asking them to save his partner – Strauss and his colleagues could see Pezzulo’s body nearby and feared that Jimeno, in shock, would not realize that the officer was dead. It wasn’t until halfway through the rescue that they heard another voice in the rubble.
“We’re scratching, scratching, then we hear Sergeant McLoughlin’s voice, and he’s like, ‘Hey, how are you guys? I’m like ‘Who is that?’ Will is like, ‘This is my partner’, like, You are idiots. What do you think I talked about? So we say to ourselves: ‘We thought he was your partner. He said, ‘No, it’s Dominick. He is dead.’ I’m like, Oh my God! Now we have another rescue we need to do.
For three hours, they worked to free Jimeno, refusing several orders from other rescuers to evacuate the site as the debris was too dangerous and unstable. “For the next three hours, they worked on me,” recalls Jimeno. “It was very, very painful – they managed to free my right leg, and then it took a long time for them to try to pull me out from under that wall. They must have cut my Scott Airpack. It was just a nightmare that night.
At one point, they considered amputating Jimeno’s leg, but they only had one knife and instead continued to dig. The space was so tight that Jimeno never even saw Strauss’s face – he spent the entire rescue only being able to see the officer’s bald head a few inches from his own.
“Will is screaming in pain and Sergeant McLoughlin’s is fading the entire time,” Strauss recalls. “We’re talking to McLoughlin and Paddy McGee – I can’t be more Irish than him, he was born on St. Patrick’s Day, he is in the Police Department bagpipe group – and John McLoughlin, another Irishman, and Paddy like, ‘Hey Irish eyes are you still with us?’ Sometimes he would answer, sometimes not. When he didn’t answer, Will got angry. “John – Sarge, come on, Sarge, wait, Sarge!” Then you would hear him in a groggy voice say, “I’m here.” I am here.'”
Finally, Jimeno was released around 11 p.m., hoisted in a rescue basket to the surface, where he faced the unimaginable devastation above his head. “As they started pulling me out of the stretcher, in that hole, I remember looking around and I said, ‘Where’s it all?’ Because I could see the moon, and I could see the smoke, but I couldn’t see the buildings. That’s when a firefighter said, “It’s all gone, kid.” This was the first time I cried that night.
It took another eight hours to reach McLoughlin, who was finally released around 7 a.m. the next morning.
That night, doctors took Jimeno to Bellevue Hospital in New York; the ambulance driver, too, had arrived from upstate and needed directions to find his way. There Jimeno was confronted with the emptiness of the emergency room: “I remember when we got to the hospital, I think there are going to be thousands of people in there. This is the second time that I cry. As they got me out of the ambulance, I see these doctors standing and nurses. I said, ‘Where is everyone?’ They’re like, ‘You are.’ They tell me there is no one else.
This is where most of the tales in Will Jimeno’s story end: the miraculous rescue, some of the last – and only – of the people pulled from the searing rubble of Ground Zero. The triumph of the hero saved by other heroes on America’s darkest day.
But what impresses me the most about PAPD Officer Will Jimeno is what comes next.