The Story Behind The Iconic 'Falling Man'

At 8:46 AM on September 11, 2001, American Flight 11 hit the North Tower of New York's World Trade Center. 16 minutes later, another plane, United Flight 175, struck the South Tower.

And just like that, American history changed forever. Images and videos from that tragic day are as horrific as they are iconic.

While many photos portray the trauma and heartbreak felt that day, some tell more personal stories.


And one of the most gut-wrenching is the photo of 'The Falling Man.'

the story behind the iconic 'falling man'

Richard Drew of the Associated Press took this horrifying photo shortly after the second plane hit the South Tower.

Although this scene was captured in a moment, it left a lasting impact on everyone who saw it.

Of all the jumpers who fell to their deaths that day, none has remained as haunting as 'The Falling Man.'

And while some believe he was a man named Jonathan Briley, his real identity remains a mystery.


'A Quiet Photograph'

In a later interview, Drew recalled the photo, saying:

"It's a very quiet photograph. It's not like a lot of other violent photographs from other disasters."

Indeed, it is not.

Many 9/11 images feature flames, debris, and falling buildings. But this one shows the desperation of someone with no option but to leap to his death.

It also represents the fate of all 9/11 jumpers who chose to leap rather than to get trapped in the towers.


Drew saw many jumpers that morning, a horrific sight for someone who had no idea what he was getting into.

He recalled a fellow photographer informing him of the incident while working on the first day of Fashion Week.

And immediately, he caught a train across town.

Drew also remembered arriving at the scene and seeing people helplessly falling from top floors.

Soon, his journalistic instincts kicked in, and he started taking photos of the chaos.


He said of 'The Falling Man"

"I didn't know I had that photograph of that man in that position until I actually saw it on my computer."

"I called one of our photo editors, and I showed him the picture, and I said: 'This is it, this has got to be the picture.'"

And the photo appeared on dozens of publications the following day.

Dawn said:

"It was a very brave thing for them to use that picture."


"It was the only picture that was like that. The only picture that showed any kind of human interaction [with the building] like that."

The Haunting Legacy of 'The Falling Man'

'The Falling Man' represents much more than just one man's fate.

It also represents all 9/11 jumpers who chose to leap to their deaths due to the circumstances. Jumping was their only option.


Dawn said:

"I've never regretted taking that photograph. It's one of the only photographs that shows someone dying that day."

He added:

"I like to think of him as sort of the Unknown Soldier. Let him represent everyone that had a similar fate that day."