NEW YORK, Aug. 16 -- The calls haunt even five years later, the last panicked pleas for help from people trapped in the upper reaches of the 110-story World Trade Center towers.
There's a call from the 100th-floor conference room, where a man lies on the floor, struggling to draw a breath. And another from the 103rd floor, where the caller asks about tossing a chair through a window to get more air.
And then there's 32-year-old Melissa Doi on the 83rd floor of the south tower. Panic in her voice, she asks the dispatcher over and over again: "I'm going to die, aren't I?"
Less than a month shy of the fifth anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, New York City officials released the tapes of 1,613 emergency calls made as the towers burned. The tapes cast an ear back to the confusion, panic and heroism as thousands unwittingly drew closer to the moment of their death.
The tapes include 31 phone calls from inside the burning towers, made by 10 civilians, 19 firefighters and two emergency medical technicians. City officials released another batch of tapes this spring -- the city's fire commissioner said officials had overlooked the tapes released Wednesday.
On the latest tapes, fire and EMS dispatchers can be heard talking to firefighters struggling up dozens of flights of stairs to rescue trapped office workers. There are constant calls for surgeons, for nurses, for rescue workers. Chief Dennis Devlin of Battalion 9 is heard as he stands inside the lobby of the south tower and desperately tries to figure out where his men are and how to get help to those above.
"We are in state of confusion," Devlin said to a dispatcher. "I need you do me something because we have no cellphone service anywhere because this is a disaster. I need you to call Division 3 and have the messenger van and bring all the additional handy-talkies he can."
Devlin tried to get a list of all the companies dispatched. He was standing inside the south tower when it collapsed at 9:59 a.m.
Another fire lieutenant, who is not identified, shouts into the phone: "One of the towers just collapsed. . . . There's got to be thousands of people inside. One of the towers just came down on everybody."
Former mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani testified several years ago that the firefighters who died were "standing their ground" to help victims.
But the release of the tapes Wednesday reinforced what earlier tapes, investigations and a new book -- "Grand Illusion: The Untold Story of Rudy Giuliani and 9/11" -- have made clear: That Giuliani and his top aides did not put in place a clear chain of command for police officers and firefighters, which led to much confusion at the scene. And firefighters never heard calls to leave because they carried outmoded radios that did not work inside the stairwells of the burning towers.
After the south tower collapsed, pilots in police helicopters used their radios to warn that the north tower, too, was near collapse. But most of the 121 firefighters who died in the north tower never heard those broadcasts. Indeed, some firefighters were not even aware that the south tower had fallen.
The chairmen of the Sept. 11 commission, Thomas H. Kean and Lee H. Hamilton, have acknowledged that they did not ask tough questions of Giuliani and his top advisers, terming this a "low point."
"It proved difficult, if not impossible, to raise hard questions about 9/11 in New York without it being perceived as criticism of the individual police and firefighters or of Mayor Giuliani," the chairmen wrote in their book, "Without Precedent: The Inside Story of the 9/11 Commission."
"We did not . . . get all of the information we needed to put on the public record."
More than a dozen family members of Sept. 11 victims listened Wednesday to the tapes in a Midtown Manhattan conference room. The New York Times and family members had sued for access to the tapes and to hundreds of oral histories taken from firefighters.
City officials initially resisted such demands, and they have deleted the voices of the victims. They argue that the calls for help are too emotional and disturbing to be released without the consent of every family.
Dorine Ettzel lost her brother Thomas, a firefighter. She said that the tapes paint a fuller picture of that terrible day and suggest how the city might prevent another.
"These tapes help to learn what we can do differently," Ettzel said. "You're listening to hours of dispatch callers not knowing where to send people."
The tapes also make clear the terrible role that fell to the 911 and fire dispatchers, who found themselves talking and counseling and praying with dozens of people as death approached. So you listen to a dispatcher calmly taking cellphone calls from 30 people trapped on the 103rd floor, where it's getting smoky.
"Ma'am, if you need to break a window, break it," a fire dispatcher says. "If you don't have to break it, don't. Ma'am, I'm going to try and get someone there as fast as I can."
Another fire dispatcher talks to an unidentified caller on the 105th floor of the south tower, where 60 people are trapped. "Tell them to try and stay as low to the ground as possible," the dispatcher says. "And not too much talking -- you're going to waste your breath."
There were no survivors from either floor.
Then there is the dispatcher who spoke with Melissa Doi, a 5-foot-2 fiscal systems manager who lived in Queens. The dispatcher, an unidentified woman, tried to comfort Doi over the course of a 20-minute phone call. A four-minute portion of Doi's end of the conversation was played for jurors in April at the trial of Sept. 11 conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui.
"It's so hot, I'm burning up," Doi tells the dispatcher at about 9:18 a.m. "I don't see any air anymore."
"Okay, dear, I'm so sorry," the dispatcher replies. "Listen, the call is --"
"I'm going to die!"
"No, no, no," the dispatcher tells her. "Ma'am, you're not going to die. Say your prayers. You're doing great. We're going to get help."
Later, the dispatcher takes the name of Doi's mother and promises to call her. The dispatcher remains on the line even as Doi's answers become faint. As she appears to fall unconscious, the dispatcher repeats over and over: "Hold on, baby, hold on. You're going to be fine, baby, can you hear me? You're going to be fine, you're going to be fine."
Then there is a long silence.
"Melissa? Melissa? Melissa? Hold on, honey."
"Oh, my God," the dispatcher says eventually. "The line is dead."
Doi died that day.