A team of daredevil parachutists and a lone teenager have triggered fears about lax security at New York’s rebuilt World Trade Center, an emblem of the city’s resilience and renewal after the horrors of Sept 11, 2001.
Within the space of a fortnight, revelations of repeated security breaches at what should be one of the most tightly guarded buildings in the US have been met with incredulity by locals.
The first breach took place at night on Sept. 30 last year, when three base-jumpers — one of whom worked on the site — accessed the tower before leaping off and descending to the streets of Manhattan.
The second case, on March 16, saw a 16-year-old enthusiast slip through a fence and take an elevator to the 84th floor of the highly symbolic building.
He then made his way up to the 104th floor, sneaking past a sleeping guard, before using a ladder to reach the spire at the top of the 541m construction.
The guard caught napping was subsequently fired. The teenager was arrested and charged with misdemeanor criminal trespass.
In the base-jumping case, four men — the three parachutists and a lookout — were arrested and charged this week following a five-and-a-half-month investigation.
A video of the base-jumpers’ daring nighttime descent appeared online this week, quickly racking up more than 1 million views.
One of the men arrested, 33-year-old Andrew Rossig, said breaching security at the site had required “no effort whatsoever.”
“We just kind of walked in. It’s supposed to be the most secure building in the world,” he said. “God forbid it was somebody else getting in there with a real intention to harm New Yorkers.”
However, New York Police Commissioner William Bratton decried the stunt.
“These men violated the law and placed themselves, as well as others, in danger,” he said as he announced the arrests. “Being a thrill-seeker does not give immunity from the law.”
Security for One World Trade Center, which will become the tallest building in the US when it opens in 2015, is now shared between the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and the Durst Organization real estate company, which manages and leases the site, Durst communications head Jordan Barowitz told reporters.
When the base-jumpers pulled off their stunt, the Port Authority was solely in charge of security, he emphasized.
“We are in charge of the security inside the site since January. Outside, it’s Port Authority,” Durst’s spokesman said.
“We are very concerned and we are working with the Port Authority to improve the security of the site,” he added.
He did not reveal the number of personnel deployed to guard the tower, which has already leased 55 percent of its office space ahead of the opening.
Port Authority spokesman Joseph Dunne said officials were continuing to “reassess” security practices at the site and were looking at ways of ensuring it was “as secure as possible.”
“We take security and these type of infractions extremely seriously and will prosecute violators,” he added.
In the aftermath of this week’s revelation about the base-jumpers, two journalists from CNN tried unsuccessfully to penetrate the site on Tuesday last week, before being arrested.
The old Twin Towers site was destroyed by al-Qaeda suicide attackers on Sept. 11, 2001, killing nearly 2,800 people.