The Marine Corps Association & Foundation website includes this photo of “Sergeant Jason Thomas at the ruins of the World Trade Center.”
He told his colleagues: “We’re at war.” Then he did something about it, advising his supervisor he might be gone for awhile.
Stopping for a “good Marine Corps squared-off haircut,” he once again looked like an active duty Staff Sgt. He changed clothes, donning Marine fatigues, and drove his new Porsche 911 to the storage facility where he stored his gear.
Before he left town, he went to his church. There he prayed that God would help him find survivors.
Driving to Manhattan with the top down - so authorities could quickly tell he was a Marine - Karnes pushed the Porsche at speeds of 120 miles an hour. He arrived at the disaster scene around 5:30 in the afternoon.
The entire complex was damaged and still totally unstable with buildings - like 7 World Trade Center - collapsing. At the time, although it was not well-publicized, officials feared that the Hudson River could flood the entire area if the WTC foundations caved in.
As his eyes surveyed the scene, Karnes spotted another Marine - Sgt. Thomas. (Karnes did not learn the sergeant’s first name - Jason - until years later.) Smoke was obscuring their view of the former trade center. Then, as the sun was setting, “the smoke just opened up.”
The Marines were able, for the first time, to see the extent of the massive destruction. They entered the pile of rubble and ran, disappearing into the smoke.
No one else appeared to be searching since rescue workers had been ordered off the unstable debris. Karnes and Thomas began to shout, over and over, for about an hour:
United States Marines. If you can hear us, yell or tap!
Karnes told Rebecca Liss, an associate producer for 60 Minutes II, that he believed the whole pile was sacred ground:
I just had a sense, an overwhelming sense come over me that we were walking on hallowed ground, that tens of thousands of people could be trapped and dead beneath us.
Then the Marines stopped. Karnes thought he’d heard a response from somewhere below.
It was McLoughlin and Jimeno.
Following the sounds - faint at first, then louder - Karnes and Thomas reached the trapped officers. Unable to reach people locally, to help dig them out, Karnes called his wife, Rosemary, in Connecticut, and his sister Joy, in Pennsylvania. The women were able to make contact with rescuers in New York.
Karnes stayed with McLoughlin and Jimeno until Will was freed from the rubble. (Helping in that rescue was another man who’d pulled out an old uniform - Chuck Sereika, a former paramedic whose license had expired.)
Sgt. Thomas accompanied the P.A.P.D officer to the hospital. Rescuers, meanwhile, continued to dig out Sgt. McLoughlin. It took many more hours before that happened. He’d spent nearly an entire day in a helpless condition.
Regrettably, 1796 people (or, about 69% of the World Trade Center victims) were never recovered.
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