On September 11th, 2001, as hundreds of thousands fled south from the burning towers, people quickly discovered something we often forget: that Manhattan is an island. As officials closed all bridges, tunnels and commuter lines linking Manhattan to the rest of the world, people were trapped.
The little told story of what happened next is the focus of my documentary short film, BOATLIFT, narrated by Tom Hanks. The film premiered at the Center for National Policy's 9/11 Ten Year Anniversary Summit, in Washington, D.C.
BOATLIFT is the story of the largest maritime evacuation in history.
On 9/11, over 500,000 people were rescued from Manhattan's seawalls in just nine hours. How did this happen? What heroism made this possible? The answer lies in the resilience of the every day people at the scene that day, and the brave community of mariners who ply the waters of New York's Harbor.
As the buildings fell, hundreds of tugboats, ferries, fishing boats, coast guard cutters and other vessels rushed towards the disaster. They did so at great personal risk. James Parese, the captain of the Staten Island Ferry, assumed he might be next. "We're a big orange target in the middle of that harbor."
Vincent Ardolino, captain of the Amberjack V, was at home in Brooklyn, watching the burning buildings on TV. He said, "I gotta go do something," kissed his wife goodbye, dashed to his charter boat.
These men, and hundreds like them, pushed their boats into the harbor, and filled over and over with dazed passengers. That the evacuation was unplanned and unrehearsed is remarkable. But what is even more impressive is that not a single person was injured in the process.
The story of the 9/11 boatlift is a reminder of the sense of shared purpose and resilience that pervaded New York - and the world - in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.
It was that spirit that I hope we remember and celebrate this week.
As Stephen Flynn from the Center for National Policy and the organizer of today's summit says, "First responders will always do their best to assist us. But, in real life, success or failure in our moments of greatest need is usually determined by the actions of regular people."
BOATLIFT pays tribute to some of those who answered the call on 9/11/2001. We should all be prepared to do the same.