A 29-year-old athlete and educator was killed in the World Trade Center Oculus on Saturday morning when she fell 30 feet from an escalator and landed on the main concourse floor. At approximately 5:30 am on Saturday, Jennifer Santos, of Kearny, New Jersey, entered to Oculus from street level, on the east side of the structure (near Church Street), accompanied by her twin sister, Jessica.
The sisters were headed toward the PATH train station, located on the west side of the facility, several floors below street level. As they descended the escalator toward the bottom level of the station, Jessica’s hat slipped from her grasp and began to fall. Her sister, Jennifer, leaned over the guard rail and tried to catch it. At this point, Jennifer lost her footing and tumbled over the balustrade, falling several stories and landing head first on the white marble floor below.
Ms. Santos’s injuries were almost immediately fatal. She was unconscious when Port Authority police officers (stationed within the Oculus) responded to the scene, less than 60 seconds after she had fallen. Attempts to revive her were unsuccessful. Her gravely serious condition indicated to the crew of the ambulance, which arrived a few minutes after the police, that she be taken to Bellevue Hospital’s Trauma and Shock Unit. That facility is designated a Level One regional emergency center, which means that it is specializes in the kind of massive blunt-force injuries that Ms. Santos sustained.
Although Ms. Santos still had traces of a pulse and respiration when the ambulance, which raced up the FDR Drive, arrived at Bellevue, doctors there were not able to save her. Her sister, who accompanied Ms. Santos on the ambulance ride to Bellevue, was treated for psychological trauma and released later on Saturday.
Ms. Santos appears to have been a vibrant young woman, who loved the outdoors and embraced hobbies like skydiving. In her professional life, she was a rowing coach and a substitute teacher in New Jersey public schools.
The design of the Oculus (which opened last March), has attracted worldwide attention for its beauty and for the grace with which it seems to defy gravity. Architect Santiago Calatrava’s layout is punctuated by platforms suspended in mid-air, connected to the surrounding structure only by stairs and escalators, which also seem to float above the floor far below. While this plan creates stunning views, none of these elements interposes an impassable safety barrier between visitors and the vertical emptiness in front of them. Whether such conceptual purity will now have to yield to more utilitarian priorities, and sightlines will give way to safety, appear to be open questions.