9/11 firefighter who stood next to Bush in iconic photos dead at 91

9/11 firefighter who stood next to Bush in iconic photos dead at 91

New York (AFP): A New York firefighter who was working in the World Trade Center wreckage when George W. Bush first visited after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, and who stood next to the then-president during his historic remarks, has died at 91, authorities said Monday.

The photos of Bush speaking into a megaphone with his arm draped over Robert “Bob” Beckwith, then-69 and wearing a fireman’s helmet and T-shirt, is one of the most well-known scenes from the response at so-called Ground Zero.

Taken three days after Al-Qaeda hijackers rammed passenger planes into the Twin Towers, killing thousands of trapped workers and first responders, Beckwith’s “iconic picture with President Bush captured a moment that was both inspiring and heartbreaking,” said Laura Kavanaugh, the current New York City Fire Department (FDNY) commissioner.

Bush, during his initial visit to the smouldering ruins in lower Manhattan, said in remarks to the responders scouring for survivors: “I can hear you, the rest of the world hears you, and the people who knocked down these buildings will hear all of us soon.”

Beckwith, born in 1932, was a New York City firefighter from 1965 until his retirement in 1994.

He “was one of many retired FDNY members who responded to the World Trade Center site in the days and months following September 11, to aid in rescue and recovery, as a testament to their devotion to their FDNY family,” Kavanaugh said in a statement.

Bush said Monday he was “proud to have Bob by my side at Ground Zero” and “privileged to stay in touch with this patriot over the years.”

“His courage represented the defiant, resilient spirit of New Yorkers and Americans after 9/11,” Bush said in a statement on X, formerly Twitter.

Along with the New York attacks, hijacked planes on 9/11 also crashed into the Pentagon outside Washington and in rural Pennsylvania, killing 2,977 people in total and injuring almost 6,300.

By 2021, a compensation fund for 9/11 victims estimated that more people had died of related illnesses — especially cancer among rescuers working at the smoke and dust-filled Ground Zero — than were killed on the day of the attacks.