MIAMI (CBS4) – Few of us will ever forget what they saw ten years ago when two planes collided with the World Trade Center causing both towers to collapse.
But there are other pictures and video from that time that have never become public…. until now.
The images, shot by a video camera crew from FEMA, documented a first draft of history.
In the middle of it all Lieutenant David Walters and Captain Dave Duenas. The two were part of a six member urban search and rescue squad from Miami’s Fire Department who dug through the rubble at ground zero.
Ten years later, they still have vivid memories of that experience.
“It’s dusty, it’s gritty and it smells like HR… human remains,” Capt. Duenas told CBS4 Investigative Reporter Stephen Stock, who obtained the exclusive videotape.
“It smelled like death, yeah, it smelled like death. You couldn’t get away from that,” agreed Lt. Walters. “It was uh, for me, it was a nightmare.”
They, along with 70 other specialists from Miami-Dade, made up Task Force 2 a group that rushed to New York City immediately after the attacks to help.
Stock asked Walters if this was a personal mission for him.
“Yes it was,” responded Walter. “I grew up in New Jersey in Montclair. I saw the towers going up. I’d been there many times. And to see them in that condition, afterwards, it affected me and still affects me to this day.”
As Walters and Duenas climbed over, down and through the rubble that was once the World Trade Center, their every move was videotaped.
Lt. Walters remembered, “It was upside down. Everything was backwards. The entire tunnel was dark.”
Digging through the dark, cramped debris of destruction Walters uncovered the source of this devastation.
“And this particular piece of equipment is painted this tell-tale green that’s the inside of the aircraft. And there it was in front of us it was the front landing gear off of one of the airplanes,” Walters told Stock.
Until now, very few people have seen this FEMA video, now shared 10 years later with CBS News and the CBS4 I-Team.
“I was the tunnel rat,” said Duenas.
Tunneling through tight spaces and darkness, with the occasional shaft of light from an opening in the rubble six stories above… Capt. Duenas talked about what it was like.
“It’s hot, because you have fires that are burning. There were fires burning the entire time we were there.”
Today back in Miami, Duenas and Walters teach and train younger rescue teams to do what they did… tunnel through the dark and into the abyss trying to find life and hope… two things that were in short supply 10 years ago.
“It really is surreal. The only thing I can equate it to is if a building collapsed on the moon,” said Duenas. “The reason I say that is because at the World Trade Center everything was covered in this fine dust… this powder. It’s in some places almost two to three feet thick. You’re almost swimming through this stuff. And what it is, is remnants of pulverized concrete and other building materials. And you would not find one intact desk, a computer, a file cabinet, you wouldn’t see those things.”
Working in shifts for 11 straight days 24-7 they didn’t find any people alive. But they did find remarkable discoveries at the end of some long, dark tunnels.
Duenas remembered a remarkable find. “So I stuck my head through and as I peered in and looked around I realized this is a subway station. You could see it was an intact area of subway station, the Courtland Yard subway station which was below the remnants of the World Trade Center. So this was an encapsulated area that since the collapse of the towers, no one had been in. It was a moment frozen in time. I recall a briefcase that was open lying on the ground on this platform. A half-eaten McDonald’s Egg McMuffin that was still in the wrapper. There was a clock that was in there and it was stopped. It was literally a moment frozen in time.”
Duenas, Walters and their squad also found four firefighters from New York Fire Rescue #2… crushed beneath the rubble.
They considered it the ultimate honor that the survivors of that rescue squad asked them to help remove their firefighter brothers’ remains.
On the 10th anniversary of 9/11… both men agreed to share their story in order Americans never forget.