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Charles S Hirsch

BMJ 2016; 353 doi: (Published 02 June 2016) Cite this as: BMJ 2016;353:i3081
  1. Ned Stafford
  1. Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Coroner who led forensic identification of those who died at the World Trade Center in the 9/11 attacks

A small transparent glass bowl holding ashes, burnt pulverised concrete, and a few coins sat for nearly 11 years on the desk of Charles S Hirsch. Hirsch, chief medical examiner of New York City, kept the bowl in plain view on his desk as a daily reminder of the horror of 11 September 2001, the day when two hijacked aeroplanes crashed into the towers of the World Trade Center in New York.

When news of the attacks reached Hirsch that morning, he and six aides rushed to the site to set up the temporary morgue that he already knew would be necessary. They stayed at the scene as conditions grew increasingly dangerous. When the north tower collapsed—creating a virtual explosion at ground level that emitted plumes of smoke, ash, dust, and burnt concrete—Hirsch and his aides were slammed to the ground. Hirsch suffered cuts and broken ribs.

Pulverised concrete

Hirsch, caked with grey soot and looking ghostly, received emergency medical attention before returning to his office. It was there that he noticed the ashes and concrete in the pockets of his suit jacket. He scooped out the ash and burnt concrete, as well as his own coins, and deposited them into a glass bowl that he had used to hold his beloved pipe. As he looked down at the contents of the bowl, he realised the awful meaning for …

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