Today we look back on a classic hoax, the so-called 9/11 Tourist Guy, which is an altered photo of a man standing at the top of the twin towers as a hijacked plane approaches.
9/11 Tourist Guy
Shortly after the terrorist attacks of September 11th of 2001, a photograph began to circulate on the internet which allegedly showed a man standing atop the World Trade Center (WTC) moments before one of the hijacked flights hit the building. The picture shows a seemingly unaware man facing the camera dressed in winter attire as a plane looms in the background. Originally, the image was distributed along with some text that was either identical or very similar to the following: “We’ve seen thousands of pictures concerning the attack. However, this one will make you cringe. A simple tourist getting himself photographed on the top of the WTC just seconds before the tragedy … the camera was found in the rubble!!”
It didn’t take long for the snapshot to go viral as forum threads and a website appeared in order to establish the photo’s authenticity (or lack thereof). A few people also began to Photoshop the man’s likeness into fictional and historical depictions of other historic tragedies. Some of these outrageous imitations went viral as well, and eventually the meme came to be known as “Tourist Guy”.
In examining the 9/11 Tourist Guy picture, discerning skeptics quickly generated a list of probable inconsistencies. Listed below are a few of the more astute and relevant observations:
- The typeface of the time stamp on the photograph appears to be mismatched.
- It was pleasantly warm on the morning of September 11, 2001, yet the man is dressed in a hat and coat as if the weather was much cooler.
- The plane seems too in-focus for an object which is moving several hundred miles per hour.
- Cleanup of the WTC site took months and the collapse of the towers was unimaginably devastating, yet the camera supposedly survived the destruction unscathed, and the photograph was online by the end of September.
- The planes which hit the twin towers were both Boeing 767’s, but the plane in the Tourist Guy photo seems to be a Boeing 757.
- From landmarks on the Manhattan skyline, the direction the photographer is facing, and the route of the incoming plane, it was deduced that the picture should depict the North Tower. However, there was no observation deck on the North Tower, and the observation deck on the South Tower was closed at the time when the North Tower was struck.
A Hoaxer Debunked
In November 2001, a Brazilian man in his early 40s claimed that he was “Tourist Guy.” José Roberto Penteado experienced 15 minutes of fame on the Brazilian talk-show circuit and in local newspapers after declaring that friends had created the photo using an image of his face. Penteado insisted that he had photographic proof of his “Tourist Guy” identity, yet the alleged evidence was disproved when it was discovered that he only slightly resembled the person in the “Tourist Guy” photograph.
Tourist Guy’s True Identity Revealed
Not long after Penteado was exposed as an imposter, a 25-year-old man from Budapest, Hungary named Peter Guzli disclosed that he was “Tourist Guy.” Unlike Penteado, he was able to supply the unadapted photo which had been taken on the observation deck of the WTC South Tower during a trip to New York City in November 1997.
In a November 2001 interview with the Guardian, Guzli described how he had created the “Tourist Guy” image with Photoshop as a joke for his friends. Attempting to clarify a motive while describing his relationship with the individual who unleashed the photo on the internet, he explained, “I intended this joke for my friends only, not for people who did not know me. I know who the person is. I’ve had a discussion with them, and there’s no hard feelings.”
On September 8th, 2011, Peter Guzli issued a public apology for the photograph in an interview with the Croatian Times (which has since gone offline and is not archived by the Internet Archive). As part of the apology, he was quoted as saying, “I would like it to end now, I want people to know I am sorry and I hope that will be the end [of] tourist guy.”
The chart below shows search popularity for the phrase “9/11 tourist guy” which does not command the same search volume it did years ago, although it does maintain a constant stream of attention.
In the weeks following the terrorist attacks of September 11th, an image of a man standing on an observation deck of the World Trade Center (WTC) while one of the hijacked planes converged on the tower was widely circulated on the internet. The unknown man in the anomalous picture came to be known as “Tourist Guy.” By late November 2001, “Tourist Guy ” was revealed to be a 25-year-old Hungarian man named Peter Guzli. As a joke for his friends, he had admitted to Photoshopping the plane into a picture he had taken from the atop the WTC in 1997. He delivered a public apology for the photo meme to the Croatian Times in 2011.
Updated March 19, 2016
Originally published October 2014