Contributor's location on 9/11:
WTC 3 (Marriott) and WFC 2 (Across the street)
February 7, 2002
September 10, 2001
The 100-mile drive down to Manhattan is uneventful except for unexpected traffic on the West Side Highway at almost 10 PM. I stop in front of 3 World Trade Center, the Marriott hotel, get out of my car and hand the key to the valet to park it. I?ve stayed here a few times over the last year and there is comforting familiarity with this almost routine. I check in and go up to my room, 1410. For some reason, I consciously check to see where the exit signs are in the hallway, not a routine I always do. (Later on, my sister would say that was my deceased father sending a message that he was watching over me.) I go down to the Tall Ships bar in the hotel lobby, have a drink, a bite to eat and smoke a cigar. By 11:30 I?m asleep, wake-up call set for 7:00 AM.
September 11, 2001
The morning starts as all mornings when I travel on business: Up, shower, iron the day?s clothes, pack the briefcase and go. For some reason, as I?m leaving the room I linger longer, looking around to see if I am forgetting anything. I look at my keys sitting on the coffee table. I say, ?You don?t need those,? then, for some reason, I grab them and put them in my briefcase. I leave many other things that I use daily, such as my laptop AC adapter, and for some reason, take more note of the fact that I am leaving these things than usual. I?m running a little later than I?d like: it?s about 8:10 and I usually try to be on site an hour before the 9:00 AM start of the session I?m conducting.
I come out of the front of the Marriott and begin to cross West Street for the 75-or-so-yard-walk to 2 World Financial Center, which is directly across the street from the World Trade Center complex. The day is one of those in late summer that is an exquisite harbinger of a crisp clean fall and a holdover of the warmth of summer. The air is crisp, dry and clean, holding a hint that by noon it will be comfortably warm. There is not a cloud in the sky and it is bright blue.
I go through a pretty typical routine to set up the room in which I will conduct the meeting. The meeting room has lots of windows that look out on West Street, the Marriott and the Trade Center. My main contact at the meeting site, Christine, who works for my client, Deloitte & Touche, has already done a lot to set up the room. This is great because I?m feeling a bit behind schedule. I chat with Christine for a few minutes and learn about some of the challenges she faces in doing her job since Deloitte had downsized her department a few months before. I thank her several times for setting up much of the room. She leaves and I set to make final preparations before the participants for the meeting will arrive around 8:50 ? 9:00.
As I finish setting up for the meeting I dial Nancy, my fianc?e, on the cell phone. We always try to speak just before I start teaching a seminar because we know it will be hard to connect during the day. I look at my watch and note that it is about 8:45. As the phone is ringing, I hear what sounds like a low flying airplane outside. I remark to myself, out loud, ?that?s strange for a plane to fly low enough to hear inside a building down here.? Nancy answers the phone and I hear what sounds like a loud backfire of a truck outside the window. I look out the window. I think the first thing Nancy hears me say, almost at a scream is ?Oh my God! The World Trade Center just blew up!? I am looking at the flash of fire and smoke from the south part of the building and see the west side blow out. ?Oh my God! Oh my God!? Nancy hears me say again and again. She says, ?It?s coming on TV now. They say a plane flew into the tower.?
?A plane? A plane? What kind of plane??
?They?re saying a twin engine plane.? We talk for a moment about how a twin-engine plane could possibly fly into the World Trade Center. I say, ?That?s a huge hole for a twin engine plane to make.?
I?m looking around out of the window and describing the scene to Nancy.
A man is running in circles in front of the Marriott where I had walked a few minutes before. He is on fire and flames cover his entire body. Another man is chasing him, hitting at him with his bare hands trying to put out the flames. I think, ?I should run out there with something and help.? But as more debris falls from the burning building I?m not sure I can do much good by the time I get out there. Somehow, it seems safer and more sensible to stay in the building. The man on fire falls to the ground. Someone else comes out of the Marriott with a blanket, or something, and the two men put out the flames. The burned man lays motionless, smoldering, his facial skin, burned black, clearly visible from across the street.
Almost two blocks away, south of the burning tower, there is a parking lot and I can see cars on fire there. Burning debris has been shooting from the building literally over the south tower and down onto the street hitting cars and other buildings. It is strangely quite. I look at my watch and note that it is getting close to 9:00 and the appointed time for my meeting. I think, ?I wonder how long I should delay the start of the meeting?? Nothing is happening on the street. There is no sign of fire or rescue vehicles yet. The man lying on the ground still smolders. No one is emerging from the West Street exits of the tower. Then, I see people running around from behind the Marriott. It is a stream of people who have clearly been evacuated from the towers. They run around the Marriott, cross West Street and start gathering on the corner near 2 World Financial.
I continue to describe the scene to Nancy. ?Rescue vehicles are starting to arrive. Where the hell is an ambulance for that poor man?? Fire fighters and police pour out of the vehicles and charge into the burning tower. I?m looking up at the burning hole and it seems like a lot of debris is still falling. As I look closer at the debris I notice some of it seems to be moving as it falls. I realize that some of the ?debris? is people falling, or maybe jumping, out of the building. I?m aware that I?m saying over and over, ?Oh my God, these poor people, these poor people in that building.? I feel myself start to cry. I?m still describing what I?m seeing to Nancy. I?m aware that my voice is very high-pitched, almost a scream.
I?m looking all around the scene and up at the burning hole. I scream into the phone, ?Holy shit, oh my God, it?s another plane, a big one a 757 or something! Oh my God, Oh my God, it just hit the other tower! It just flew right into the other tower!? Now, and for the first time, a slight feeling of panic comes over me. I?m trying to make sense of what I?m seeing. ?How can this happen, how can two planes fly into both towers, one right after another?? I?m aware that I keep repeating these questions to myself and to Nancy. I feel desperate for an answer. I watch the huge explosion of the second plane. The fireball it makes as it explodes goes up to the top of the tower. It takes out a huge section of the building about 2/3rds up on the south side and the west side of the building blows out. A tremendous amount of debris is raining out of the building setting fire to many things around.
Nancy tells me that they are saying on the news that a second plane has hit. They start to evacuate the building I?m in. The cell phone cuts out. I lose Nancy. I can?t get a signal and I?m trying to redial her. I feel confused about where it?s safer, in the building or out on the street. I start to leave the building, purposely leaving my briefcase behind remembering that you are supposed to leave things behind when you evacuate a building. I?m thinking, ?I?ll come back for it later.? I?m almost to the exit stairway and I realize, ?Nobody?s coming back here.? All my money, identification and my computer are in the briefcase. I run back to the room, all the time feeling that this is not a very smart thing to do. I grab the briefcase. By now most of the floor is evacuated. I go down to the second level of the building into the atrium. People are running everywhere. No one is sure where to go. Someone asks me where he should go. I say, ?I don?t think the front exit is a good idea, that opens to West Street where debris is falling.? I ask someone if there are any other exits. Several people seem unsure about which exits to use. I decide that the side exit seems a better choice. I feel a slight sense of panic because no one seems to know the right thing to do and it seems that everyone is on his or her own. I?m thinking, ?What if I don?t make the right decisions, will I put myself in danger Will I put others in danger??
I?m trying to redial Nancy but, though I have a signal, nothing is happening. As I come out onto the street, hundreds, maybe thousands of people are standing on the corners looking up at the burning buildings. I note that many people are trying to make cell phone calls in frustration and no one is able to get out. As I look up at the towers, I start thinking that it is probably not safe to stay so close to the towers. Debris is still falling. I am suddenly overcome with nausea. I keep thinking about the people who were in these buildings where the planes hit. I start to cry and gag. As I walk I?m trying not to vomit. Then, I begin to realize what?s happening. Those planes didn?t just fly into the towers. They must have been hijacked. ?This is a terrorist attack! This is a terrorist attack!? I?m repeating to myself.
I manage to calm my stomach and force myself to try to think clearly. I decide that there are two things I need to do: call Nancy to let her know I?m OK and get off the island. I keep trying my cell phone as I make my way slowly south. I can?t get through and I see that everyone on the streets who have now come out of all the buildings around are also not able to make calls. I decide that I have to make it to the Brooklyn Bridge where I know I can walk across to Brooklyn and find some of my family and I have to find a pay phone. I think, ?Who knows how long it will be before I can come back here and get my car.? As I?m walking south, people are standing everywhere looking up at the towers. I?m looking at the hole in the south tower thinking that it?s not safe to be standing around; I need to put distance between me and that building in case it falls.
Some people are sitting on park benches trying their phones repeatedly. Others are buying big soft pretzels and sodas from street vendors. People are looking up, some are talking, most are not. Some people are crying. I keep crying, thinking about those people in the buildings where the planes hit, feeling what must have been the horror of their last moments. I realize that, amidst all of these people witnessing the same thing, I am totally alone. I?m making my way south, winding in and out of groups of people on the streets. I?m moving slowly, but purposefully, looking for a pay phone. The few I see have lines of 20 ? 100 people at them. I keep moving, thinking about getting over the bridge. As I?m walking I am turning back and looking at the two buildings burning.
I pass a man who is holding onto a fence, his legs weak, unable to hold him up. I look at his face. It is so contorted it seems to have been painted by Picasso. I say, ? Are you OK?? He starts to cry. ?My friends are up there, my friends are up there,? he repeats. He is sobbing. I?m crying uncontrollably and I grab him and hold onto him very tightly. Two other people come over to us and we are all holding on to each other crying. I?m not sure how long we stand there.
I keep moving south, looking for a pay phone, looking back at the buildings as I walk. I realize that if I am going to walk across to Brooklyn it might be a while. I stop and buy two bottles of water at a stand in Battery Park. I notice the Statue of Liberty across the harbor and I get a strange, surreal feeling about the contradiction in what I have been witnessing and that serene symbol of freedom. I?m looking for a pay phone and having no luck. I stand on a line of about 50 people for a phone, then realize it will be hours before I get to it. I keep moving. I look back and as I do, I see the top of the south tower start sinking. The building is sinking into itself! It?s collapsing. I can hear a sound like a freight train coming and I can see this mounting mushroom cloud growing and growing and exploding down the narrow streets towards me. People around me are screaming. They start running everywhere. We are in a narrow area with many benches and fences and people are running and screaming. They are running to the edge of the island where there is no place to go but in the water.
This is the first moment in which I feel total panic. I start yelling to people not to run, that people will get trampled. My mind clicks off and my body seems to take over. I have always thought that I would face my last moments on this planet bravely and with dignity. But that?s not what?s happening to my body. My heart is racing. I can?t breathe. My legs are heavy as in a dream when you run from danger. The only message my mind is playing is: ?This is it for you. This is where it all ends. No it can?t be. This is it. I have seen my kids for the last time. My God, no, no.?
As the smoke and ash cover the area, there?s no way to tell exactly what?s coming at us. Will we be hit by parts of the building? Will we suffocate in the smoke? Will we be trampled by panic-stricken others? I?m moving south fast in the smoke and ash. It is almost totally black. I?m covered with smoke and ash. I?m coughing, trying to hold part of my shirt up to my mouth to filter the air. It is very ineffective. Some people are going up stairs into the ferry building. There seems like no other place to go to flee the smoke. I go in too, thinking that this might not be a good idea. I get up inside the glass-enclosed waiting room. It is totally black outside and people keep pouring into the terminal. While the smoke is not yet filling the terminal it is getting smoky. I am coughing, as are other people. I?m feeling tremendous fear that this place will fill with smoke and the crowds in here will panic and the same body feeling starts to take over. I try to get hold of myself. I talk to someone next to me. She is scared too. They announce that a ferry is leaving for Staten Island. I think that I should take it to get off Manhattan, but I?m not sure what I would do once I get over there. I think I would be stranded. Then, I look at the ferry and the people pouring onto it. I immediately feel that the ferry will not be safe. It looks overloaded and I say to the woman standing next me ?That looks like another chapter of this disaster waiting to happen.? She agrees and says that even though she lives in Staten Island, her better judgment tells her not to get on it.
The smoke seems to clear and I notice that there are many pay phones in the terminal. I wait a few moments for a phone and call Nancy. When I get through to her, she is crying, hysterical. It?s only then that I realize that it?s been over an hour since she heard from me. She?s telling me about the collapse of the building and crying that she didn?t know what happened to me. She is frantic. I?m telling her what I see and what?s happening around me. I tell her that I saw the building collapse and what my plan is. ?As soon as the smoke clears enough, I?m going to get over the Brooklyn Bridge.?
The smoke seems to clear enough and I tell her I?m going to leave. Just then she screams, ?Oh my God, the other building just collapsed!? Within minutes the air is filled with smoke again and it?s totally black outside. I start to cry. I say to Nancy, ?My God, My God, all those rescue workers who went into those buildings! They are probably gone! They are probably crushed! They were all right at the base of those buildings!? I?m sobbing uncontrollably. I can?t stop thinking of those people who I saw go into those buildings.
They announce that another ferry is leaving and I talk to Nancy about whether I should get on it. I decide that since the smoke cleared from the first building with out danger and harm here, I should stay until the smoke clears and resume my plan to get to Brooklyn. I stay on the phone with her while the smoke lingers and starts to clear.
They are setting up the ferry terminal as a triage center. Some firefighters start moving heavy wooden benches across the granite floor. I don?t see them do this at first and the loud, thunderous, sudden sound sends me to my knees looking for cover. When I realize where the noise is coming from I feel relief. They start to bring in wounded people. I see them bring in a couple of stretchers with bodies covered totally in white cloth.
Anticipating that it will be hard for me to find another pay phone once I leave, I give Nancy all the phone numbers for my kids and family and ask her to try to call them. I know that my daughter Andrea knows exactly where I was because we had talked about meeting for drinks at the Tall Ships bar, as we have done a few times before, that night. The smoke clears enough and I say good-bye to Nancy. I head for the Bridge, maybe a mile or so walk.
I walk up the ramp to the Brooklyn Bridge. There are others around me, heading the same way. Police, rescue vehicles and fire trucks are flying by me in all directions. There is no other traffic. As I make my way up the ramp, I pass many burned papers. I stop to look at them and realize that here, blocks from the explosions, are burned office papers that a few hours before had sat on someone?s desk. I keep starting to cry. I stop often and hold my face in my hands.
I get to the point at which I should be able to walk over the bridge. By now, I am shoulder to shoulder with many other people headed in the same direction. The police have closed the bridge to all traffic, even pedestrian. People are still walking in a long stream, 5 to 7 abreast, all filing down a street. I am very confused. I don?t know where everyone is going although I following the flow. Now, I?m not sure where to go or what to do.
I?m not sure if the Manhattan Bridge, north of the Brooklyn Bridge, allows pedestrian traffic or if it will also be closed. I stop and ask one of the police officers that is funneling traffic around the bridge. She shouts, ?Just keep moving sir!? I ask someone next to me if he knows about the Manhattan Bridge. He shrugs. I ask him where he thinks everyone in the stream of people is going. He says, ?I?m not sure. I?m just following.? I ask another cop where I should walk if I wanted to walk over the Manhattan Bridge. He gives me directions and they coincide where with where I see some people walking, though at one corner, the large stream of people splits in several directions. I ask him if he knows if it is open for pedestrians. He says he does not know. I notice most people are not stopping to ask similar questions.
I make my way towards the Manhattan Bridge and find that it is open. A 7-people wide stream is flowing over the walkway. I notice that my feet are sore and hurting. My briefcase has become an uncomfortable burden and I keep shifting it to different positions. Then, I start to cry because I feel so lucky to be alive, to be able to feel uncomfortable. As I walk over the bridge, I am looking back at the smoke coming from the trade center area and feel overcome by not seeing the towers there. I see the Statue of Liberty again in the harbor and the same contradictory feeling comes over me.
A loud roar overhead causes everyone around me to stop walking and look around urgently, some ducking. It takes a moment but I see an F18 fighter circling the tip of Manhattan. I think I should feel safer but I suddenly grasp a new way of life where Manhattan needs to be patrolled by fighter jets. Even though it is about 80 degrees, I feel myself shiver uncontrollably. As the huge stream of people slowly walks over the bridge, I hear a woman behind me yelling ?get out of my way, get out of my way.? She pushes past me and other people around start yelling at her. ?Hey, where do you think you?re gonna get, bitch.? But I know as soon as she passes me, by the look on her face, what?s going on. She affirms my belief when she screams back at them, ?I have to get off this bridge before something else happens.? I know she is scared. I think, ?All of us on this bridge are.? I feel uncomfortable about the reaction of those who taunted her and even more so at my own lack of response to them. ?We are all just scared,? I say to myself.
I make my way over to Brooklyn and there is this huge throng of people pouring into the streets around the bridge. Still, there is no clarity about where to go and this is a part of Brooklyn I don?t know well. I start thinking that I?ve got a lot of walking to do and I need to buy some running shoes or something. But, all the stores around are closed. I walk looking for familiar names of streets. As I keep walking, I see one sporting goods store that is open. I go in and buy some running shoes. There are several other people in the store, who have been walking, doing the same thing.
I resume my walk and finally, I see a sign for 5th avenue. I know that about 5 miles along that street I will make it to one of my relative?s houses. I keep trying my cell phone and find out that I can make some calls. I get in touch with Nancy and update her on my progress. She tells me who she has contacted and that my brother will come to pick me up where ever I am. I tell her that there is no way he can get to where I am because all the streets have been closed off. I?ll have to make it up 5th further. I get to about 15th street and I call Nancy. She tells me to call my sister who tells me my brother is working just a few blocks away. She calls him and in ten minutes he is there. He gets out of his car to greet me and I sink into his arms sobbing, crying. He cries too.
September 12 ? Today
Like all of us, I am trying to find some way to move through what has happened. It has been very difficult.
Story #48, The September 11 Digital Archive
, 7 February 2002, <http://911digitalarchive.org/stories/details/48>.
How do I know that this item is factual?