National Geographic News

The interactive panorama (above) requires Apple QuickTime. Click and drag to pan your view, and press Control or Shift to adjust the zoom.

Panoramic photograph courtesy Curt Westergard and Ryan Shuler, Digital Design + Imaging Service

Chris Combs

National Geographic News

Published September 9, 2011

When the 1,776-foot-tall (541-meter-tall) One World Trade Center tower is completed in 2013, this will be the view from its observation floor.

Created by combining two wide-angle photographs taken from a balloon, this June 2005 panorama shows a 360-degree view that hasn't been seen by the general public since the 9/11 attacks destroyed the original World Trade Center towers. The new tower will include a 15-story concrete base, reinforced walls, and wider stairways to make it more resistant to attacks.

(Also see "9/11: Six Tech Advances to Prevent Future Attacks.")

The wire-tethered, unmanned balloon was released from a trailer at ground zero and raised to a height of 1,376 feet (419 meters) above ground—the elevation of the planned observation level in One World Trade Center. After verifying its height with a laser rangefinder, the balloon's cameras were triggered remotely.

"We rehearsed [the balloon's release] for about six months," said Curt Westergard, president of the balloon-imaging company Digital Design + Imaging Service, which created the panorama for architecture firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

Architects use aerial photographs such as this one to see how landmarks or neighboring structures will appear from a future building's windows.

Taking pictures with a balloon at ground zero "was the most challenging thing I've ever done in my life," Westergard told National Geographic News. The depth and angular edges of the pit from the twin towers made for unpredictable winds, and the psychological aspect of working at ground zero was "very daunting."

"The last people to see [this view] were the people that were suffering so badly" inside the Twin Towers, Westergard added. The altitude is too low for helicopters and too high for cranes, and restricted airspace after 9/11 has kept commercial airliners away from lower Manhattan. (See a time line of the events of 9/11.)

By creating this image for architects, Westergard hopes "to help [1 WTC] become one of the best buildings possible."

Also see pictures of 9/11 artifacts, and get the personal stories behind them >>

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