Members of two local amateur radio clubs, including a retired NYPD officer who was at Ground Zero when the World Trade Center collapsed, will remember the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 terror attacks Saturday — talking to other ham radio operators around the globe using the special event call sign W2T.
The operators, who will broadcast from Queens' Fort Totten, in the shadow of the Throgs Neck Bridge, plan to be on the air from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and hope to make contact with thousands of other ham, or amateur, radio operators worldwide.
The goal, said Lou Maggio, 72, of Islip Terrace, is to honor those lost on 9/11, as well as the heroes who responded to help.
"That day, of all days, we want people to never forget," Maggio said.
The event will include members of the Suffolk-based Great South Bay Amateur Radio Club and the Queens-based Northeast Wireless Radio Club. Maggio, a member of the Suffolk club, said operators would communicate via voice, Morse code and satellite using VHF, HF and UHF frequencies.
"We want to talk to as many people as we can," said Maggio, call sign NO2C. His wife, Salli, also a skilled ham radio operator, will participate, too.
Anyone making radio contact Saturday can print a downloadable "special event" certificate featuring the call sign W2T, a commemorative logo with the phrase "WE WILL NEVER FORGET" and the Manhattan skyline at night, blue spotlights reaching skyward to memorialize the Twin Towers lost in the attack in 2001.
One participant, Mike KC2SYF, is a retired NYPD TARU [Technical Assistance Research Unit] officer who responded with his partner from Fort Totten to Ground Zero on 9/11. The retired officer, who asked he not be identified by full name, is 53 years old and lives in Babylon. His daughter was a toddler in 2001.
"The event is very personal to me," Mike KC2SYF said.
Mike KC2SYF said he was getting breakfast when the call of a plane hitting the north tower came in. He and his partner were "racing up the BQE [Brooklyn-Queens Expressway]" thinking a small private plane had crashed, when the second jetliner hit the south tower, he said. He saw the destruction up close.
"There were airplane parts all around, there were body parts," he said. "There were embers, coming off the buildings, and you had to watch for people falling out of the towers — so somebody didn't fall on you. Never in a million years did I expect the towers to collapse. When I first heard that rumbling sound I really didn't understand — until I looked up." He said he and his partner were on West and Vesey Streets when the first tower fell and, covered in ash and debris, where evacuating people from surrounding buildings when the second collapsed.
Mike KC2SYF was not a ham radio operator then, but became one because most cellphone networks — and even satellite phones — didn't work on 9/11.
"Only NEXTEL worked that day and I called my wife and she was relaying information from me to the families of firemen and policemen to let them know they were OK," he said, adding: "It still brings tears to my eyes now listening to [radio] transmissions from that day — a person calling from an airplane or from the towers, saying what's going on, saying they've been hijacked or they're stuck up on one of the floors, waiting for help to come, knowing what happened."
He hopes the W2T event will help keep 9/11 in the minds of those who weren't at Ground Zero, the Pentagon or in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the fourth jetliner crashed — brought down by passengers who thwarted the hijackers on United Airlines Flight 93.
"Unless you were in any of those places, you really can't understand," he said. "But being on the air, talking about it, if it sparks interest in those who don't know, if it makes them do a Google search, look for more information, it'll be worth it."