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Dangling workers rescued from World Trade Center

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A partially collapsed scaffolding hangs from the 1 World Trade Center in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014. A partially collapsed scaffolding hangs from the 1 World Trade Center in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014.
This photo, from the Fire Dept. of New York Twitter page, shows a window washer's gondola as it hangs from 1 World Trade Center, in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014. This photo, from the Fire Dept. of New York Twitter page, shows a window washer's gondola as it hangs from 1 World Trade Center, in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014.
A partially collapsed scaffolding hangs from the 1 World Trade Center in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014. A partially collapsed scaffolding hangs from the 1 World Trade Center in New York, Wednesday, Nov. 12, 2014.

NEW YORK (AP) — Two window washers were trapped on a dangling scaffold nearly 70 stories up the new 1 World Trade Center tower for nearly two hours on Wednesday before firefighters sawed through a thick double-paned window to reach them.

The dramatic rescue, coming a little more than a week after the nation's tallest building officially opened, was followed by throngs of New Yorkers on the ground and many more around the world watching on live TV.

It was unclear whether the scaffold had been used on the 1,776-foot, 104-story skyscraper before or whether anything about the building's design complicates working a scaffold there. Officials stressed that firefighters had trained for various emergencies at the tower, the centerpiece of the rebuilt World Trade Center.

The window washers, Juan Lizama and Juan Lopez, were working on the lower Manhattan building's south side at around 12:40 p.m. when one of the platform's four cables abruptly developed slack, Fire Commissioner Daniel Nigro said. The open-topped platform tilted sharply and swayed slightly in the wind between the 68th and 69th floors, he said.

"It suddenly went from horizontal to nearly vertical," he said.

Indeed, a fire department photo shot from inside the building shows the scaffold platform hanging precipitously, with the Statue of Liberty appearing tiny in the distance.

Officials haven't determined what caused the cable problem. The cables are controlled from the scaffold vehicle, the fire commissioner said.

About 100 firefighters rushed to the skyscraper, some of them lowering ropes from the roof so the workers could secure themselves and a two-way radio for them to communicate, Nigro said. The workers also were harnessed to the platform.

Firefighters first used diamond cutters to saw through part of a two-layered, inch-thick glass window on the 68th floor, which is still under construction. They shattered the thick glass in place, then carefully pulled the broken pieces into the building.

Firefighters also began inching another scaffold down the building as a backup rescue plan, but they were able to bring the workers to safety through the roughly 4-by-8-foot window hole by 2:30 p.m.

"It was a fairly straightforward operation," said Battalion Chief Joseph Jardin, who oversees the fire department's special operations.

Mayor Bill de Blasio praised rescuers for "great coordination."

Firefighters generally seek to cut out windows to make such rescues, but Nigro noted the trade center's thick glass: a double-paned inner layer and an outer pane.

"And, of course, they were 68 stories up," he said. "That presented a little bit more of a challenge."

Lizama and Lopez were checked out at a hospital and were released.

Their union, Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, said it makes sure workers follow rigorous safety protocols.

"Workers are offered the training they need to be safe every day and in the event of an accident," President Hector Figueroa said in a statement.

During the rescue, people on the ground were moved back in case glass began flying. Office workers and construction workers streamed onto a nearby street, their necks craning to watch the scaffold as it waved in the wind.

"It's horrific," insurance worker Lisa Cogliano said.

Window washer Ramon Castro, who stood with the onlookers before the rescue, said he hoped the workers were able to stay calm.

"When you start panicking, it makes things worse," he said, adding that he had encountered dangerous situations on the 22nd and 25th floors of other buildings. "You have to say your prayers. You have to use your experience."

The silvery skyscraper, which rose from the ashes of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attack, reopened last week to 175 employees of magazine publisher Conde Nast. About 3,000 more Conde Nast employees are expected to move in by early next year, eventually occupying 25 floors of the $3.9 billion tower.

Steps away from the new tower are two memorial fountains built on the footprints of the decimated twin towers, a reminder of the more than 2,700 people who died in the Sept. 11 attack.

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Associated Press writers Kiley Armstrong, Deepti Hajela and Jennifer Peltz contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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