Peter Guzli . . . his moment of fame was almost a trip to immortality. A traveller's picture of the World Trade Centre with an airliner about to crash into it became a global Internet craze after September 11. But who is he? Leo Hickman tracks down Tourist Guy.
It didn't take them long. Just hours after the collapse of theWorldTrade Centre on September 11, the Internet's legion of pranksters got to work.
First it was the stream of topical email ''jokes'' that follow every major news event. Then came the conspiracy Web sites blaming the attacks on
everyone from the US Federal Government to Elvis. But two weeks in, an email started doing the rounds that seemed to grab the collective attention of bored office workers the world over.
It contained the extraordinary image of a tourist posing on top of the twin towers, unaware of the plane looming behind him.
"This is just an astonishing picture," said the accompanying breathless message. ''This was from a camera found in the wreckage of the WTC, developed by the FBI for evidence and released on the Net today . . . The guy still has no name and is missing. "After days of having their senses numbed by a flood of emotionally charged photographs, many people were momentarily tempted to believe that thiswas just another image of an innocent seconds away from death. However, even the most computer
illiterate could work out that the picture was a fake, the plane having been added to an older image.
The evidence was overwhelming: Why was he wearing a thick coat and hat on what was a glorious early September New York morning?
How could he have been on the twin towers' observatory deck at the time of the first attack (8.45 am) when its opening hours were 9.30 am to 9.30 pm?
Why was the plane coming in from the wrong direction over Manhattan?
Soon it was the turn of the obsessives: Howcome the plane in the picture was a Boeing 757, not a 767, aswasAmerican Airlines flight 11? Why were
the angles of the shadowswrong for that time of day? Whywas the date at the bottom of the photograph in a different font to the one normally used on datestamping cameras? People even began to give the man nicknames, such as Tourist Guy, Tourist of Death and Waldo.
Then began the digital manipulation of the digitally manipulated original: Dozens of pictures appeared in which the tourist was placed at other historic events. Hey, there's Tourist Guy behind Churchill at the Yalta conference. Is that really himin front of the burning Hindenburg zeppelin?
Another Net phenomenon had been born. But one fact remained stubbornly elusive: Who was this man?
Rumours abounded as the search turned global. Chatroom talk was of students in California. Or was it perhaps a gloating Osama bin Laden sympathiser? Then, in November, as the "official" Tourist Guy Web site reported that it was now receiving 60,000 visitors a week, came the first firm lead. Aman in Brazil was saying he was Tourist Guy. Jose´ Roberto
Penteado, a 41-year-old businessman from the city of Campinas in the state of Sao Paulo, claimed responsibility and, crucially, said he had the
photographs to prove it.
He appeared on Brazilian chatshows, gave interviews to local newspapers, handed out autographs to fans and was even, allegedly, contacted by Volkswagen, who wanted him to feature in a TV commercial. (''The first
thing I'm going to dowhen I get themoney from Volkswagen is to make a big donation for children in need here,'' he was reported as saying.) But when
he finally posted the photographs of himself on the Internet, most agreed that the required true likeness to Tourist Guy just wasn't apparent. His jawline was all wrong and he lacked Tourist Guy's prominent Adam's apple.
The misinformation superhighway had claimed yet more gullible victims.
All then went quiet. However, at the same time in Hungary, a set of friends had begun arguing over whether to expose the real Tourist Guy
after hearing of the Brazilian impostor who now stood to profit from his false claims. For two months they had known the identity of the infamous tourist on top of the twin towers, but had feared the repercussions for
himif they went public.
Finally, the group decided that he deserved his 15 megabytes of fame and passed on comprehensive proof - the accompanying set of photos from the
same tourist trip to New York - to the Hungarian news Web site Index.hu last week. Even though Tourist Guy only tentatively agreed to speak to the
Web site via an email interview, his photographs are a compelling match to the original. The ''truth''was finally out.
It can now be revealed that Tourist Guy is, according to Index.hu, Peter Guzli, a 25-year-old from Budapest. He claims that after watching the collapse of the twin towers his mind was inevitably drawn, like so many of
us, to his own trip up to the observation deck of the north tower during a trip to New York in November 1997. Upon flicking through his snapshots, he
found the now notorious photograph of himself posing for the camera with the long, thin island of Manhattan stretching back behind him. It is an image that must have been captured by millions of tourists before and
since; when he used his computer to add an image of a plane coming towards him and emailed it to some friends as a ''joke'', he evidently didn't count on it becoming the catalyst for a truly global phenomenon.
So does he now regret what was an admittedly misguided, but initially private, prank between friends? ''I intended this joke for my friends
only, not for people who did not know me. I know who the person is [who betrayed him and sent the image on to a wider audience]. I've had a discussion with them, and there's no hard feelings.''
Admirably forgiving, perhaps, but what did he think when he watched from Budapest as, albeit briefly, his face became one of themost famous in the world? ''I did not have sleepless nights . . . but I certainly didn't want people to point their fingers at me on the street.'' Hence Guzli laid low, despite a clamour for his identity to be revealed, in the hope that the unwanted attention would melt away, but even today he doesn't feel any guilt forwhat he helped to create: ''I don't think this thing has to do with empathy or the lack of it. The people I intended it for all said they
had a great laugh. That's all.''
When asked whether he is now tempted to cash in on his notoriety, he offers a tentative, ''Maybe'', before adding, ''VW, by the way, has cancelled its offer for an advertisement.''He is doubtful that his life will ever be the same now that his identity has been exposed.
''I'm not sure if there's away back.''