World Trade Center Stunts During The 1970s
Willig is a mountain-climber from Queens, New York, United States, who climbed the South Tower (2 WTC) of the World Trade Center on 26 May 1977, about 2½ years after tightrope walker Phillippe Petit walked between the tops of the two towers. At the time, it was the third tallest building in the world (behind 1 WTC and the Willis Tower). It took him 3.5 hours to scale the tower. New York City Mayor Abraham Beame fined him $1.10, one cent for each of the skyscraper’s 110 stories.
Before the stunt, Willig was a toymaker. He visited the towers a year before the stunt and took measurements for the equipment he would need. He made special clamps that fit into the window washing tracks of the South Tower. The clamps he designed would lock into place when they were pulled down by his body weight. They would release when he decided to raise them. Once he built the equipment, he went to the World Trade Center 4 to 5 times at night to test the equipment. He began his climb at 6:30 a.m. that Thursday morning. As he was climbing, two police officers, one a suicide expert, were lowered down in a window washing basket to try to get Willig to give up. Willig swung away from the officers so they could not grab him. Willig and the officers talked, and the suicide expert realized that Willig knew what he was doing and was not a threat. The officer passed him a pen and paper, and Willig signed it “Best Wishes to my co-ascender.” Police helped him to the top of the tower, by pulling him through a tiny window hatch at 10:05 a.m. and he was arrested. Willig said he could hear the crowd cheering from ground level. His climb received plenty of attention because it took 3½ hours to complete, allowing news cameras and spectators to gather. The only significant problem Willig ran into was irregularities in window washing tracks. However, he was prepared for this because he brought a small hammer to fix the irregularities. He signed his name and the date on a piece of metal on the observation deck of the South Tower, which was still visible until the tower was destroyed on September 11, 2001.
The stunt paved the way for appearances on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, Good Morning America, The Merv Griffin Show, and ABC’s Wide World of Sports. He also got jobs as a stuntman on The Six Million Dollar Man, Trauma Center, and Hollywood Beat.
In 1979, he published a book called Going It Alone (ISBN 0-385-14726-0).
After the 9/11 attacks that destroyed both towers of the World Trade Center, Mr. Willig publicly said he regretted climbing the towers, as his actions may have brought them to the attention of terrorists. But he later told CNN that was just an initial, emotional reaction and that he was still glad to have climbed the towers.
On July 22, with his friend Mike Sergio, Quinn disguised himself as a construction worker and hid his parachute in a duffel bag (covered with tools) and made his way up the North Tower. They were met by a security guard, and while Sergio distracted him, Quinn continued toward the roof and got into his parachute. Quinn says he “stepped back about 15 feet and ran fast right to the end”. Sergio shot a picture and called it “The Point of No Return”. Quinn wore a blue football jersey with the biblical verse, Matthew 19:26: “But Jesus beheld them and said unto them, with men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”.
When he landed, he was arrested by Port Authority Police and taken for psychiatric exams at two different hospitals, Elmhurst and St. Vincent. When it was concluded that he was in fact sane, he was booked and charged with trespassing, disorderly conduct, and reckless endangerment. Within the course of a year Quinn made 19 appearances in court, but the case was eventually dropped.
On Wednesday, 7 August 1974, shortly after 7:15 a.m., Petit stepped off the South Tower and onto his 3/4″ 6×19 IWRC (independent wire rope core) steel cable. He walked the wire for 45 minutes, making eight crossings between the towers, a quarter of a mile above the sidewalks of Manhattan. In addition to walking, he sat on the wire, gave knee salutes and, while lying on the wire, spoke with a gull circling above his head.
As soon as Petit was observed by witnesses on the ground, the Port Authority Police Department dispatched officers to take him into custody. One of the officers, Sgt. Charles Daniels, later reported his experience:
I observed the tightrope ‘dancer’—because you couldn’t call him a ‘walker’—approximately halfway between the two towers. And upon seeing us he started to smile and laugh and he started going into a dancing routine on the high wire….And when he got to the building we asked him to get off the high wire but instead he turned around and ran back out into the middle….He was bouncing up and down. His feet were actually leaving the wire and then he would resettle back on the wire again….Unbelievable really….Everybody was spellbound in the watching of it.
Petit was warned by his friend on the South Tower that a police helicopter would come to pick him off the wire unless he got off. Rain had begun to fall, and Petit decided he had taken enough risks, so he decided to give himself up to the police waiting for him on the South Tower. He was arrested once he stepped off the wire. Provoked by his taunting behaviour while on the wire, police handcuffed him behind his back and roughly pushed him down a flight of stairs. This he later described as the most dangerous part of the stunt.
His high-wire performance made headlines around the world. When asked why he did the stunt, Petit would say, “When I see three oranges, I juggle; when I see two towers, I walk.”
Although movie cameras were on the roof during the walk, the person who was supposed to film the walk did not do so, apparently due to exhaustion from pulling the heavy cable tight after some of it had fallen, creating slack while the rigging was being set up.