It is one of the emblematic photos of September 11th. The man who falls into the void of the burning Twin Towers after the terrorist attacks. It has jumped into space, 15 seconds after 9.41 local time. The frames of this fall follow him until he disappears from the photographer's field of vision.
The man who immortalized this dramatic fall, the Associated Press photographer Richard Drew, has been present at other historical moments. When he was just 21, he was standing next to Bob Kennedy when he was assassinated. His jacket filled with Kennedy blood but he immediately jumped on a table and started taking pictures – the ones that went down in history. So on September 11th. As soon as he learned of what was happening he hurried to the spot. Suddenly he heard those around him shouting looking up. People had started jumping from the burning towers. They jumped to escape the smoke and fire when the ceilings and floors collapsed. They jumped to breathe one last time before they died. He picked up the camera and followed their path. When he returned to the office he hurried to see the photos he had taken. He immediately singled her out. The image of the man falling vertically against the backdrop of the towers. “It was so tragic in its absolute symmetry,” she tells Esquire magazine. The next day he appeared in all the newspapers of the world. Nobody knew who the man he was portraying was, the “Falling Man”.
Investigations began with newspapers and channels everywhere. The Toronto Globe and Mail commissioned reporter Peter Cheney to solve the mystery in a city trying to locate thousands of missing people in the towers. Try to enlarge the photo as much as possible. The man was not black, he had dark skin, maybe he was Hispanic, he had a little beard, he wore a white tunic, like the one worn by restaurant workers. Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the North Tower, lost 79 employees on September 11 and 91 customers. But who was the man?
As he returned home one night, eight days after the attack, he saw posters of the missing everywhere. One caught his eye. It showed a man with all these characteristics. His name was Norberto Hernandez. He took the photo of Drios, enlarged to his brothers Tino and Milagros. They confirmed it. Yes, that was Norberto. All that was left was for his wife and his three daughters to confirm his identity. They did not want to talk to Cheney, especially since what was left of Norberto – his torso and one arm – was identified through DNA. They were angry about the publication of the image.
This anger quickly spread to many Americans, who denounced the reproduction of these images. Investigations estimate that about 200 people were killed by jumping from the top floors, mainly of the north tower. Poems and dedications were written for Norberto. Even the orange t-shirt that he seemed to be wearing inside was reported. Those who knew, that is, his family, refused to speak. They do it now in “Esquire”. Giulia's wife, who chose his clothes every day, says he left home in a blue T-shirt, and Kathryn's daughter, who worked with him at the restaurant, describes how he changed clothes before putting on his uniform and wearing white. Definitely not orange.
After that, the search for the man in the photo started again. Many names were considered. Among them is Jonathan Braille, with many features in common with Hernandez, just a little darker skin. He used to always wear an orange t-shirt inside. When his body was found, all his clothes were dismantled. Maybe he is the one in the famous photo of “The man who fell”. The image that became the monument of the Unknown Soldier in a war whose end we have not yet seen. This photo is his cenotaph.