William Rodriguez
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The story...

William Rodriguez says he heard an explosion at the WTC "just seconds before" the plane hit.

Declared a hero for saving numerous lives at Ground Zero, he was the janitor on duty the morning of 9/11 who heard and felt explosions rock the basement sub-levels of the north tower just seconds before the jetliner struck the top floors.

He not only claims he felt explosions coming from below the first sub-level while working in the basement, he says the walls were cracking around him and he pulled a man to safety by the name of Felipe David, who was severely burned from the basement explosions.

Our take...

We're not quite sure what the suggestion is here. Why would a bomb in the basement be required to go off as the plane hit? What's the point? It wasn't aimed to demolish the building, presumably. It increased the risk of detection, required more effort in planting and hiding it, careful timing, and yet (if there were bombs elsewhere in the building) would achieve nothing at all.

It might weaken the structure, you're saying? Why? The towers collapsed from the impact point down, not from the base. There’s nothing a bomb 90+ floors below could do to affect that. And remember, the very base of the towers were left standing. This part of the structure is all that remained, which is why a few people survived in the lower stairwells and basement levels. No sign of it being weakened there.

Still, that's another argument. Our first concern with Rodriguez is the way his story has expanded since its first hearing, reported soon after the attacks.

William Rodriguez worked on the basement level of the north tower and was in the building when the first plane struck his building.

"We heard a loud rumble, then all of a sudden we heard another rumble like someone moving a whole lot of furniture," Rodriguez said. "And then the elevator opened and a man came into our office and all of his skin was off."

Two rumbles, not explosions. Nothing about the location of either, and no suggestion of bombs. Has this been edited? Certainly the general accusation made is that the US media hasn’t reported Rodriguez accurately:

Rodriguez looked forward to his appearance at a closed-door hearing of the 9/11 Commission. "Up to that moment, I was thinking that they were going to do the right thing." He states that he started changing his mind as he saw how the commission did its work, and also when the American media edited out his testimonies about hearing bombs in the buildings, whilst the Spanish media did report it un-edited.

9/11 National Hero William Rodriguez . The last man out of the North Tower who in the North Tower saved hundreds of lives, but the 9/11 Commission and the Major Media hid his revealing testimony from YOU, the American people!

If the Spanish media did include the bomb claims at the time then that would offer Rodriguez some support: we look forward to someone providing a reference that supports this. But in the meantime, we can at least look at what Rodriguez has said elsewhere. For example, the CNN quote above came from a live interview on the afternoon of 9/11, which in full looked like this:

AARON BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: William Rodriguez (ph) is a maintenance worker at the Trade Center, I believe. In any case, he's on the phone with us now.

Mr. Rodriguez can you hear me?


BROWN: Tell me where you were when -- which of those two buildings were you in?

RODRIGUEZ: I work in building one. The one that got hit the first time.

BROWN: Tell me what happened.

RODRIGUEZ: I was in the basement, which is the support floor for the maintenance company, and we hear like a big rumble. Not like an impact, like a rumble, like moving furniture in a massive way. And all of sudden we hear another rumble, and a guy comes running, running into our office, and all of skin was off his body. All of the skin.

We went crazy, we started screaming, we told him to get out. We took everybody out of the office outside to the loading dock area. Then I went back in, and when I went back in I saw people -- I heard people that were stuck on an the elevator, on a freight elevator because all of the elevators went down. And water was going in, and they were probably getting drowned. And we get a couple of pipes and opened the elevator and we got the people out.

I went back up and saw one of the officers from the Port Authority Police, I been working there for 20 years so I knew him very well. My routine on the World Trade Center is in charge of the staircase, and since there was no elevator service, I have the master keys for all the staircase doors.

So, I went up with the police officer and a group of firemen. As we went up, there was a lot of people coming up, and while we got -- it was very difficult to get up.

BROWN: Mr. Rodriguez, how many time has taken -- has elapsed here in this, as you recount the events? Did it seem like hours, minutes, seconds? RODRIGUEZ: No, it wasn't hours.

BROWN: What did it seem like?

RODRIGUEZ: Well there was a big time, like a gap. There was a gap of time. I won't be able to tell you if it was 15 or 20 minutes.


RODRIGUEZ: But there was a gap of time. We heard, while we were on the 33rd floor, I'm sorry on the 23rd floor, because we stopped there with the fire department because their equipped was very heavy and they were breathing very hard. They took a break because they couldn't continue going up. So they wanted take a break.

And we had a person on a wheelchair that we were going to bring down on a gurney, and a lady that was having problems with a heart attack, and some other guy that was bleeding hard. And we went a couple of floors up. While they were putting the person in the gurney, got up to the 39th floor, and we heard on the radio that the 65th floor collapsed. It collapsed.

BROWN: Mr. Rodriguez, let me stop you there at the 65th floor, and let me add you are a lucky man, it seems like, today. Thank you for joining us.

The “editing” claim doesn’t seem to apply here: it’s a live interview, and this is the statement Rodriguez offered. Which still contains nothing specific about timing or the direction the rumbles came from, no use of words like "explosions", not a hint of bombs. Why not?

And this appears to be an accurate transcript, too, according to a CNN clip we’ve seen. Download the 4.5 MB video to check it for yourself.

On the first anniversary of 9/11, Rodriguez was interviewed by CNN again. (He appears in the transcript as “unidentified male”, however as the presenter calls him Rodriguez, he calls himself “Willie”, says he was involved with maintenance and had the master key to the building, so his identity is clear):

On the subject of your friends, one of them is with you, a relatively new friend I know, William Rodriguez (ph). If Mr. Rodriguez (ph) is actually close enough, we've got a mike on him, just tell the story of how -- William, tell the story of how the two of you met.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, no, we knew each other for many years. We work at the -- I work at the building. I personally in charge of all the stairs, of all the maintenance of the stairs in the building. And I knew David for probably 15, 16 years.

And at that terrible day when I took people out of the office, one of them totally burned because he was standing in front of the freight elevator and the ball of fire came down the duct of the elevator itself, I put him on the ambulance. And I came back running into the building. And the only person that I found there was Officer David Lim. And the first thing that he told me was, Willie (ph), do you have the key. Meaning if I had the master key to the building, which I have and I still have. It's over here. This is the key that opened all the doors on the staircase. It's called a T2 (ph) key. And he said let's go.

And we went up, he opened the door on the lobby. We went on the basement, number one. And there when we opened the door, the fire department was there waiting in front of the 50 car elevator, which was already gone, because the airplane, when he came through the building, broke all the cables and practically destroyed the elevator because the elevator went down seven flights of floors. And, he said to the -- to the firemen, follow me, we know the best way to go up and we have the access key. So we started going up the stairs and opening all the doors.

Nothing about two explosions here, and an apparent acceptance that the fireball came down the elevator, not up from a lower level. Is this really all explained by “editing”?

Fast forward to October 21st, 2004, and now Rodriguez’ name is attached to a RICO suit against Bush, Cheney and more than 50 others, alleging (amongst many other things) that the WTC towers and WTC7 were destroyed by controlled demolition. You might assume that, as a supposedly key witness, Rodriguez would mention the explosion that he says preceded the impact. But we found no such references (check for yourself here). There is talk of a basement explosion, but pre-collapse, not pre-impact:

106. Jet fuel fires as the effective cause of the Twin Towers’ collapses are discredited also by seismic evidence. The Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory in Palisades, New York (in Rockland County, roughly 21 miles or 34 km north of the WTC) recorded seismographs on 9-11 that show seismic events at the beginning of the collapse of each of the Twin Towers. There was a 2.1 magnitude earthquake just as the South Tower began its 10-second collapse at 9:59:04, and a 2.3 magnitude earthquake as the North Tower began its collapse at 10:28:31...

107. The obvious difficulty that the seismic recordings present to the believer in the Official Story, however, is that, in addition to having the resources and the skill to pull off the hijackings and the flying of the planes into buildings, for the Official Story to be credible the hijackers had to have, first, obtained explosives sufficient to produce the massive explosions recorded. Then, they would have had to gain access to sub-basement areas of each building, some seven stories below street level. They would have had to know how and at what locations to place the explosives in advance of 9-11, so as to produce the effect of blowing out massive steel columns connected to bedrock.

Why would a suit brought by Rodriguez not relate his personal experience, which surely was the most important piece of evidence he could bring to it? Does that seem plausible to you? And how does the explanation of “editing” his testimony apply here?

One defence made against these criticisms is that Rodriguez account is corroborated by others:

His eyewitness account, backed up by at least 14 people at the scene with him, isn’t speculation or conjecture.

This would of course be much more interesting if they were available for us to consider. However, it’s not entirely clear what they are corroborating:

It’s a story about 14 people who felt and heard the same explosion and even saw Rodriguez, moments after the airplane hit, take David to safety, after he was burnt so bad from the basement explosion flesh was hanging from his face and both arms.

Rodriguez story is about hearing two explosions, the first originating from below, the second from above. If other witnesses heard, felt or saw one explosion only then they are definitely not supporting him.

Of course, going back to his original account, we still have a pair of events: rumble one and rumble two. Is there a possible answer for this, other than bombs? Maybe so.

As you'll probably remember from watching the initial impact video, the first plane didn't explode on the outside of the building. It disappeared inside first, the explosion following a fraction of a second later.

Now, how is Rodriguez going to hear the explosion? He's a long way below, but plainly something like this is going to reach him through the air. The speed of sound is 767 miles per hour (http://library.thinkquest.org/19537/Physics4.html) at 20 degrees, which means it'll travel 1,124 feet in a second. That's a reasonable approximation of Rodriguez distance from the impact site, actually, so we'll live with it for now.

Except, to clarify, that's just sound through the air. Sound travels through steel more than 17 times faster, 13,332 mph (http://library.thinkquest.org/19537/Physics4.html), which means the impact sound (and related physical effects as the building flexes) could reach someone 1,124 feet away in under 0.06 of a second.

The 9/11 Commission reported another consequence of the explosion.

A jet fuel fireball erupted upon impact and shot down at least one bank of elevators.The fireball exploded onto numerous lower floors, including the 77th and 22nd; the West Street lobby level; and the B4 level, four stories below ground

This could provide a third source of sound and physical manifestations of an explosion, following immediately after the other two. Others say that the fireball couldn’t have caused such effects that far down, but there is some supporting evidence. Consider this from a worker below Rodriguez:

...the whole building seemed to shake and there was a loud explosion. They had been told to stay where they were and “sit tight” until the Assistant Chief got back to them. By this time, however, the room they were working in began to fill with a white smoke. “We smelled kerosene,” Mike recalled...

Kerosene? That would be consistent with an explosion caused by jet fuel.

Anyway, put it all together and we have something that looks like this. 

The plane hits the building. The first sound and effects of this reaches Rodriguez potentially before the explosion has taken place.

The jet fuel explodes, the sound of the initial impact and this reaching Rodriguez through the air almost a second later.

Then we have the sound of the fireball shooting down elevators close to Rodriguez location. This would presumably occur virtually at the same time as the second, airborne sound, but would also be distinct from that (it would appear to come from somewhere else).

Mixed up in all this is the reaction of the building. Seismic records of the first impact show major movement for over ten seconds (http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/LCSN/Eq/WTC_20010911.html) as the structure flexes from the initial impact. How would that manifest itself in the lower levels? Would workers there realise that any noticeable effects were separate from the other events, or would they tie them together, and think they were caused by (say) the fireball in the elevator?

It's important to note that we don't have the answers here. We don't know exactly how Rodriguez story ties in to the whole, which "rumble" relates to which event. However, it's plain that the first version of his story is quite different to the second. And as you see in the first quote, it’s expanding with details that he can’t possibly know, like explosions occurring “before” the airliner hit. He didn’t see the impact, that’s an after-the-fact interpretation. If this were a court of law then that kind of comment would be taken out, and we’d consider only what he experienced himself.

We're also not convinced that Rodriguez could reliably tell whether an explosion occurred above, or beneath him, especially if he's talking about the elevator fireball. And as the initial flex of the building, and impact sound, would have arrived through steel around a second before sound carried through the air. Perhaps there are other explanations here than "bombs in the basement".

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