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9/11 Hero Who Saved Hundreds Dies of Cancer at Age 45

Thomas Phelan (CNN)

NEW YORK  —  After terrorists struck the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, a New York ferry captain who later became a city firefighter helped evacuate hundreds of people from Lower Manhattan.

He was Thomas Phelan, 45, one of the many heroes who came to the city’s rescue after the attack. Phelan died on Friday, authorities said, one of the thousands of victims of cancer linked to the 9/11 attack.

Phelan worked for Circle Line Statue of Liberty ferry cruises when the twin towers were hit and helped ferry people from Lower Manhattan, FDNY spokesman Jim Long confirmed. In 2003, Phelan joined the fire department as a firefighter and eventually was promoted to marine pilot, Long said.

Mayor Bill de Blasio praised Phelan’s heroism and mourned his death in a tweet.

“In our city’s darkest hour, @FDNY firefighter Thomas Phelan’s heroism saved hundreds of lives,” de Blasio said. “We will never forget his service and his sacrifice,” he said.

Thousands of people have been diagnosed with cancers linked to the 9/11 attacks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s World Trade Center Health Program. Many of the cancer diagnoses are believed to have resulted from exposure to known and suspected carcinogens and pollutants after the attacks.

Among the victims are first responders, emergency responders, recovery and cleanup workers, and volunteers who helped in the aftermath of the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and the crash site near Shanksville, Pennsylvania.

Others lived, worked or went to school near the World Trade Center on September 11 or in the subsequent months. Several people in the program have been afflicted with more than one type of cancer linked to 9/11.

Long could not say what kind of cancer Phelan had.

Phelan’s funeral is scheduled for Tuesday in Brooklyn and he will be interred there.

On September 11, 2001, 19 men hijacked four fuel-loaded US commercial airplanes bound for West Coast destinations. A total of 2,977 people were killed in New York, Washington and outside Shanksville, Pennsylvania. The attack was orchestrated by al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.