Daredevil climbs World Trade Center in New York

On May 26, 1977, George Willig scaled the outside of the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York.

The following text is from an AP story released on Friday, May 27, 1977.

By Malcolm N. Carter

A daredevil toy maker conquered the quarter-mile-high World Trade Center like a human fly Thursday, using an invention he fashioned from $100 in material to scale the aluminum-faced monolith.

“The only sense of fear I had was at the beginning,” said George Willig, 27, after police freed him on charges of criminal trespassing, disorderly conduct and reckless endangerment following his 3 1/2 hour ascent. “I thought I would get stopped.”

Thousands of spectators thronged the plaza at the base of the twin 110-story towers to cheer on the amateur mountaineer in a climb that began at about 6:30 a.m. and ended 1,350 vertical feet later.

“Don’t arrest him. Don’t arrest him,” the crowd chanted when two police officers rode a window-washer’s scaffold parallel to Willig mid-way up the building - the world’s second tallest.

People watch George Willig, aerial daredevil, ascend the base of the World Trade Center in New York, May 26, 1977. (AP Photo/Carlos Rene Perez)

“What are you crazy or something?” were their first words to him, Willig said. Then they tried to get him to halt. One of them, Officer DeWitt Allen said that Willig agreed to join them only if he got tired.

But the St. John’s University graduate, who said he had climbed El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, kept climbing up a six-foot-wide strip on the northeast corner of the building’s south tower.

Munching candy bars, sipping from a plastic water-bottle and resting periodically, he could make one story in 55 seconds. His only complaint was that the weight of the gear he carried was a strain on his shoulders.

He said he had planned the ascent for a year and designed the devices that hooked into grooves used to guide scaffolds from which workers clean the building’s aluminum sides. The device was built to expand in the grooves under his weight, and he simply pulled himself up like a man climbing a utility pole. 

A spokesman for Ideal Toy Corp. said the bearded climber was, and remains, “well-regarded” by his employer as a model maker of toys planned for future production. He had asked for the day off in advance, the spokesman said and had given a pint of blood on Wednesday to the company blood bank.

Asked why he did it, Willig replied: “I did not expect anything. I just wanted the prize of the first ascent…I climbed it because I thought it was an exciting thing to do.”

His achievement recalled the tightrope walk between the roofs of the twin towers by aerialist Phillippe Petit three years ago and the parachute jump from atop the north tower by skydiving instructor Own J. Quinn nearly two years go.

George Willig, left, and Philippe Petit prepare to catch a bite at the base of New York's twin World Trade Center Towers Wednesday, April 12. The two adventurers are more familiar with the skyscrapers from a different perspective; Petit for his tight rope walk between the two buildings, and Willig for his facade-climbing journey up the 110-story building last year. (AP Photo/Dave Pickoff)

Like them Willig was hailed by the crowd that gathered in the police stations to which he was taken in handcuffs. But, unlike them, he was handed a notice by the city’s corporation counsel of a $250,000 civil damages suit.

“It’s about time something was done to make people pay for these amusements.” Corporation Counsel W. Bernard Richland said.

Willis was asked whether Mt. Everest was his next goal.

“Mt. Everest is not as exciting as this to me,” he responded. “Too many logistics and too expensive.”

Arrested before Willig had vanquished the building, on the same charges, were four companions, including his brother, Stephen, 22, and his girlfriend, Randy Zeidberg, 24, of Queens. 

Willis additionally was charged with a violation of the city’s administrative code for climbing a building without a permit. 

This view from the top of the north tower of the World Trade Center Thursday, May 26, 1977, shows climber George Willig, and accompanying police on the window washing apparatus, inching up the south tower, right. This view looks toward the East River with Brooklyn in background. (AP Photo/Dave Pickoff)

People watch George Willig aerial daredevil ascending the base of the World Trade Center in New York, May 26, 1977. (AP Photo/Carlos Rene Perez)

Ground views of human fly George Willig climbing the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York City, May 26, 1977. (AP Photo/Dave Pickoff)

A man identified by friends as George Willig, 28, of New York, climbs the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York on Thursday, May 26, 1977. The building is 110 stories high. (AP Photo/Dave Pickoff)

Using an invention he fashioned himself, George Willig heads for the quarter mile-high top of New York’s World Trade Center, May 26, 1977. Thousands of spectators thronged the streets below to watch the 27-year-old amateur mountaineer in the 1,350-foot climb. (AP Photo/Dave Pickoff)

George Willig scales the World Trade Center tower as police follow him on a window washer's platform in New York, May 26, 1977. (AP Photo/Bob Eberle)

George Willig displays blistered hands after climbing to the top of the south tower of the World Trade Center in New York, May 26, 1977. Willig used a modified climbing rig to pull himself up the sheer side of the building hand over hand. (AP Photo/Dan Grossi)

Officer Glenn Kildare with an autograph he received from George Willig in New York, May 26, 1977. (AP Photo/Carlos Rene Perez)

Daredevil George Willig is shown after he left the police station inside the World Trade Center, with newsmen around him in New York, May 26, 1977. Willig scaled one of the Twin Towers and was arrested upon finishing his ascent. (AP Photo/Carlos Rene Perez)

George Willig, left, and Philippe Petit trade toasts during, dinner at Windows On The World restaurant on the 107th floor of New York's World Trade Center on Friday, May 27, 1977. Willing scaled the center's south tower the day before an exploit that earned him the nickname of the "human fly" in news accounts. Petit also became a sensation in 1974 when he walked a tightrope stretched between the building's twin towers. (AP Photo/Ron Frehm)

George Willig, the human fly who scaled the World Trade Center towers in Manhattan, poses with a model of the Twin Towers with a GI Joe clinging to the side, at the toy factory in Queens where he works, June 1, 1977. (AP Photo/Ron Frehm)