It was in 1973, around the campfire at Shawanaga, that Quinn first began to talk about a pair of buildings that he was working on in Lower Manhattan: the twin-towered World Trade Center, which would rise 1,350 feet above the ground. Quinn had not yet parachuted from a building, but he had jumped from airplanes at altitudes lower than the height of the towers. Ray Maynard, a friend of Quinn's from Shawanaga, remembers the gleam in his eyes as he described how the jump could be done. Quinn estimated that he would have to fall about 50 stories to gather enough speed for the chute to open. Sergio got Quinn to promise to phone him when he was ready to jump.
It was on a Thursday afternoon—July 21. 1975—that Sergio got the call. The North Tower was not yet completed, said Quinn, but the construction equipment was out of the plaza at the foot of the nearly completed towers.
"We met at the World Trade Center the next afternoon at three o'clock," Sergio says. He came directly from his waterproofing job, wearing his hard hat and carrying a roll of roofing tar paper and an old paint can with his camera inside. Quinn had brought the parachute and his crash helmet to work in a duffel bag. Says Sergio, "We wanted to see if we could make it to the roof, so we left the parachute with Owen's cousin at the base and went into the building. The construction elevators were not working, and security was allowing construction workers through the main elevator to the 80th floor. From there we walked to the 110th carrying the roll of tar paper. A security guard blocked the access to the roof, but we convinced him to give us a tour. As the guard pointed out the sights below, we scouted the jump, and then headed back down to collect the parachute and the camera."'
By the time they returned to the top it was after five and a new security guard was on duty. They told him they were from RCA to fix the roof aerial and were allowed on the roof by themselves. "Owen put on his chute and helmet and walked to the edge of the northwest corner." says Sergio. "He kept repeating:
'I'm going to do it. I'm going to do it.' "
"Then reality started to sink in," says Sergio. He took his helmet back off, sat down and said. 'Should I really do it?" "
The building, they had discovered, does not go straight down. A cornice covers the top floors, so you cannot see the marble steps below. To get clear of the cornice, Quinn would need a running start and would have to dive blindly, head first—"No kidding, PF-10!"
Sergio had Quinn framed in his camera as he stood by the edge of the tower gathering his nerve. They waited what seemed like a long time. "Finally," says Sergio, "a cloud started coming over, and I yelled, 'Come on! I'm losing the light!' Quinn leaped over the side."
"It was like jumping into a glass full of pencils," says Quinn. "All those other buildings coming up at me. And you know what I did? I laughed. Once I was over the side I was back in my element." Fifty floors down, level with the top of the old New York Telephone Co. Building, he pulled the rip cord. The chute popped open, spun him 180 degrees and...Wham! He smashed into the side of the tower, face-to-face with a very surprised secretary inside the building. A modern square parachute might have collapsed at that moment, but Quinn had decided to use an old Navy "conical" chute, and it bounced off in good shape. A fashion photographer and a couple of models were at work in the plaza. When Quinn spotted them, he yelled, "Take my picture." but they just scattered. Security people closed in on Quinn as he began stuffing his parachute back into the pack. He was handcuffed and taken to the First Precinct, where three cops brought him into an interrogation room and slammed the door shut. One of them handed him a pad of paper and a pen. He said, "I want you to sign this first one to my granddaughter...."
After Quinn jumped, Sergio didn't know if he was alive or dead. After taking shots of Quinn's running jump, Sergio stuffed his camera back in the paint can, grabbed his bag and started to run down the stairs. The guard said, ''Wait. Where's your friend? Sign out." Sergio was so pumped that it took both hands to sign the book.
"I started running down endless winding flights of stairs." says Sergio. "I heard a door slam above me and people running down, so I ducked into a bathroom and changed into a suit and tie. On the 65th floor, I got into the elevator. As I walked out the revolving doors, the police were coming in. I still didn't know what had happened to Owen."