This article was first published on PassageMaker.com in 2015. On the 17th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, we are reposting this incredible story of seamanship, compassion, and community.
Fourteen years ago an unthinkable act scarred the lives of countless, leaving a physical wound on a iconic skyline.
Through the seemingly impenetrable shroud cast over Manhattan Island, The city's mariners cast a ray of hope.
New York City is an island. For most it never reveals itself that way as anything you could possibly desire is readily available, a characteristic not normally indicative of island life. When the towers fell all means of transportation was halted leaving thousands stranded in a war zone, except for one, the city's boats.
Boatlift, a video produced by Eddie Rosenstein of Eyepop Productions and narrated by Tom Hanks, tells the little-known story of what would become the largest water-based evacuation in human history—all at the drop of a hat.
With no planning or directions for a mass-level evacuation in place, ferries, tug boats, private boats, and party boats sprang to action and worked in conjunction with the Coast Guard to move 500,000 people to safety in a mere nine hours.
“I worked on the water for 28 years, I’ve never seen that many boats come together at one time that fast. One radio call and they just all came together,” said Robin Jones, engineer of the Mary Gellatly. “You couldn’t have planned nothing to happen that fast, that quick.”
By contrast, Dunkirk, the second largest marine-evacuation on record moved 339,000 people over the course of nine days.
“We wanted to tell a story that reminds Americans that this is a country that bounces back from adversity,” the President of the Center for National Policy Stephen Flynn, who had been a U.S. Coast Guard officer, told Reuters. “Our national DNA is resilience. The key for us is to move forward with some key lessons and one of the lessons missing is the strength of civil society and how it responded when 9/11 happened.”
It was an act designed and carried out to tear us Americans apart; a resounding failure that only succeeded in bringing many of us together.
This 10-minute documentary Boatlift was produced for the 9/11 Tenth Anniversary Summit in Washington.