The World Trade Center
made it to the parking lot on time. Just about 7:50AM. I parked
in the open Edison parking lot just across the street from the WTC2.
This is my second time in the lot having visited our Quantum|ATL
Solution Center about 2 months ago to meet with Mike Hingson our
ATL VAR territory manager.
picking up my parking stub, I began to lug my computer bag up the
street, past the Marriott on to WTC1. Upon entering the building,
I realize that my roadrunner portfolio was back in the car. So,
back I went. Got to the lot, found the car (the lot was virtually
empty-curious) and scooped up the portfolio.
looking up at WT2. Just looking up. It was an absolutely perfect
day. Cloudless. High 60's low 70's. The air windswept and free.
back to WT1. I remember thinking how heavy the bag was and how excited
I was about the Solution Center event with my Ingram associates.
Joe Santoro, my manager and friend would arrive around 9AM.
to the Security Center and was able to have an attendant help right
away. The attendant just couldn't get a hold of Mike Hingson. So,
I reached for my cell and was able to get a hold of Mike. Then the
attendant succeeded as well.
as I was being processed, our friends from Ingram showed up. Todd
Riley, Mark McClure, Patrick Dempsey, Sheri Leach, Amy Phillips,
Lisa Amatura and Jason Hernandez. As I write this, I have no idea
if these people are alive.
all get processed. Sheri and I were having fun poking at the shear
size of her luggage. We then caught a ride. Pat was in good humor
and I remarked about the speed of the elevator.
lead the way to the solutions center but let me go in first. Mike
was already working the breakfast hot plates, pastries, croissants,
bagels, and coffee. Lots of food was in the works for the early
arrivals. It was 8:25.
Quantum|ATL suite is located on the 78th floor of WTC #1. When you
enter the suite, a series of 4 rooms runs along the south side of
the tower. WTC windows are tall and very narrow, perhaps only a
foot wide. Looking out requires a deliberate move toward the window.
The viewer was rewarded with a spectacular look at New York harbor
and the Statue of Liberty. Pure Americana!
that it would not be preferable to have our reseller guests go through
a security check during the actual training sessions, so I went
back downstairs and met with the head of security for the day. He
showed me a way to fax down an attendee list so that when guests
arrived at security, they (security) wouldn't have to call up each
time. I got the instructions, went back upstairs.
before going downstairs to see the security manager, the thought
that the WT Center was "a target" ran through my mind.
back into the suite and began to compose the fax. Todd helped out
with the list (Mr. Organized!). I needed to put it all on company
letterhead per security's instruction.
composing the fax, I realized that Mike's letterhead to was "1
Liberty". So, I asked Mike if he had any WTC letterhead.
and I went back to his office leaving the Ingram folks split between
the conference room and the extra room with food. He approached
the bookcase and rummaged around a bit and then moved away towards
his desk. I looked again but found nothing and turned around to
Mike. He was about 10 feet from one of the windows.
lives changed forever at 8:45.
explosion rocked the entire structure. Instantly, the windows just
above us blew out and debris on fire tumbled past along with tens
of thousands of 8 ½" x 11" paper. I thought, "confetti".
The "explosion" noise was bright, metallic and deafening.
the building groaned and leaned south dramatically in slow motion.
Would the structure hold? I braced myself with my feet to keep from
sliding. Then back we went in reverse. This time I braced with my
hands. At this point, I don't remember if we went back and forth
again, but I do remember that the swaying stopped, and to my dismay,
the structure sunk downward.
it a terrorist attack? No. Probably an explosion in an office above
connected to a gas leak. But, it's too intense for that. But why
would they attack the top of the tower?
building shuttered to a stop. I think it was Amy Phillips from Ingram,
ran into Mike's office, looked out the window and ran out. Mike
moved to his desk and immediately got on the phone (to his wife).
I ran to find the Ingram people. A smell of what I thought then
was gasoline filled the air.
the suite door to the hallway to see all the Ingram people huddled
together, lights overhead were out; building and ceiling materials
on the floor; light on at the end of the corridor. Mark McClure
looked at me with terror filled eyes. I pointed down the corridor
and yelled, "GO!"
into the suite and to Mike's office. I went to the window, not without
and looked up. Just above was a roar of orange
light, black smoke, multicolored paper flying, burnt cinders accenting
the sky and that smell of gas. Then my gaze fell on WTC #2. I observed
a large black hole rimmed with fire and smoke! Only later Wednesday
night did I understand this to be collateral damage from our explosion!
spite of my emotional reaction to the event up that point, my mind
focused like a laser beam and I knew what I had to do. I turned
to Mike and yelled, "We have to get out---NOW!"
did we leave immediately. No! We gathered our things. I grabbed
my computer bag by the handle and portfolio with the other hand.
Mike strapped on his computer bag and reached for his beautiful
yellow Lab guide dog, Roselle.
got to the door and I said, "Mike, you know they will not let
you up here whether it's a terrorist attack or some kind of accident
for a very long time. Shouldn't we turn off the equipment?"
back in we go looking for the "off switch". I went to
the back of the P3000, saw the cables but in the confusion, could
not for the life of me find the outlet to pull the plug! Mike had
no luck with the front of the machines. So, we abandoned the idea.
We used up about 30 seconds.
Quantum|ATL stuff. It never stops!
the hallway corridor headed for the elevator, central corridor.
I was immediately concerned. The smoke was heavy and filled with
gas (jet fuel).
it to the central elevator corridor. Not for a moment did we think
the elevators were working. Lots of confusion. Lots of smoke. Lots
of sunlight from the east window wall illuminating both. A white
shirted WTC employee and a man in utility uniform where running
around with rags over their mouths. I noticed that the inch thick
dark green marble lining the elevator bank's walls, had buckled
and snapped. Major structural damage. They won't let anyone in here
for a very long time.
mentioned, I believe, that the stairwell was not passable. How would
we get down? The man in the dark utility suit went to the stairwell,
opened the door. And away we went on a 78 floor journey down a well
lit and clear of debris, stairway. Escaping from the terrible fire
above. It was about 8:55.
had me get in front of him, Roselle to his left. The first 20 or
so floors went smoothly. No one in front of us! Just a few people
in back. They were patient but we obviously slowed them down, so
we let them pass.
I remember correctly, around the high 40's low 50's, we hit a traffic
jam of people in the stairwell. I looked down. Hundreds of heads
and feet below us. This was not good. And yet, we were very calm
and all the people in the well were well behaved. But, what could
go wrong in this space? Should we go onto another floor? The fire
was above and could work itself lower. But what if the stairwell
filled with smoke and gas? Where else could we go? Only down!
people in line were clearly panicked, sobbing but staying in place.
Others saw Mike and Roselle, asked if I was with them and began
to call for others below to "move right" to make room
for us to come down. What generosity of spirit! No one complained!
had his radio on and others mentioned that a plane had hit our building.
That there were 2 planes(?). I thought "midair" which
could explain what I saw. So, it was jet fuel after all. We certainly
had inhaled a lot of it!
the mid 40's, I think, we heard voices from above yelling, "Move
right. Burn victims coming down!"
my first glimpse of her on the staircase above me. She was in her
late 20's early 30's. She turned the corner towards us. Two or three
people behind her. She walked like a zombie. Eyes straight ahead.
Expressionless. Clothes burned off of half her body. Third degree
burns. Skin falling off her arms, neck and face. Her blond hair
caked in gray slime. Fully ambulatory. Totally in shock. What appreciation
I have for shock now!
15 minutes later, a second woman came down. It was bizarre. She
looked almost the same age, height, weight, hair color, burns, emotionless
we got into the low 40's the jet fuel got much more intense to the
point where I thought we might pass out. People were clearly suffering
the intense fumes and others were clearly beginning to panic. Roselle
was not doing well panting heavily and we all needed water. Some
people began passing small Poland Spring water bottles up to us
from the floor below. This was a real relief. Roselle loved it.
It cut some of the fuel taste burning our throats. It eased our
sense of dehydration and smoke inhalation. Besides, it was wet.
the door to the 40's floor and we momentarily stood in the doorway.
I looked and saw no one on the floor. Smoke, and the smell of more
jet fuel. We kept to the stairway.
I believe that when the aircraft hit the north face of the tower,
it's momentum, driven by the aircraft structure and fuel, vivisected
the floor, slicing through the elevator shaft and effectively dumping
fuel from the low 90's all the way down to the bottom. That's why
we kept smelling fuel almost all the way down.
around the 40's or maybe it was the high 30's, we ran into our first
real hero. A NYC fireman. He was coming up. Walking from the lobby
on his way to the low 90's and right into hell. Clothed in heavy
fireman's hat, fire retardant thigh length jacket and similar pants
(called "bunker gear") yellow glow strips around the biceps,
thighs, and hat. Heavy gloves.
were carrying an unbelievable array of equipment. Axes, picks, shovels,
fire hoses, and oxygen tanks. It must have been in excess of 75lbs
per man including clothing. Unbelievable!
were perspiring profusely, exhausted. And they had to go all the
way to the 90's---straight into hell! This was not lost on the crowd.
We all broke out in applause at one point. It was a wonderful moment.
Mike and I patted many on the back with a "God bless you".
extremely polite. Constantly inquiring about our welfare.
"Are you alright" (to Mike)
Mike: "I'm fine. Thank you."
Fireman: "Are you with this guy" (pointing to Mike).
Me: "Yes, I'm with Mike and we are OK, thank you".
had this conversation with virtually everyone of the 35 or 40 fireman
that passed us.
are all gone now.
cannot praise this spirit enough.
finally got to the 2nd floor. I estimate the time to be about 9:35
or 9:40. Water was on the landing. I cautioned Mike. Roselle loved
it---drank right from the floor and it perked her up. She was going
to need the energy.
we got down to the very last landing, water had accumulated in the
stairwell. We exited the stairwell into the World Trade Center #1
was a war zone. I know this is an overused phrase. However, it really
fit. There were pieces of debris: wall material, ceiling tiles,
paper, and garbage all in a lake of water an ankle deep. Forward
of us, I saw a torrential rainfall occurring over the exit turnstiles.
I alerted Mike that he was about to get very wet but that there
was no other danger.
went through the turnstiles. Police, WTC personnel in white shirts,
black pants and security badges kept yelling, gesturing, "keep
moving!" We are in the "rain" moving now through
the eastern exit doors of the #1 into the in-door mall that attaches
the two towers. More water and lots of noise!
now and heading north. "Keep moving". Lights were on.
Up some stairs. Down a dark narrow corridor. Light at the end. The
had exited the northeast corner of the entire complex. There were
many medical personnel coming at us. "We're fine. No injuries
here. Thank you!"
people moved forward to ask questions, but we were moving and did
not want to stop. They didn't press it (no pun intended).
said, "David. You did well today" It was nice to hear.
We thought we were clear.
about 30 yards outside the exit, I turned and looked up over my
right shoulder and witnessed what I thought, was the most monstrous
sight of my life. Both towers, ringed by fire around their perimeters!
"My God!" Flames sharp and lapping at steel. A huge plume
from #1 joining up with #2 creating a river of gray/black smoke
against a perfectly blue sky. This was no accident.
we had to keep moving. Up to Broadway and the corner of the Presbyterian
crossed the street and began to amble south on Broadway. I was thinking,
transportation and that maybe there was a way to get back south
near WTC#2 to get the rental car and my stuff and provide transportation
for Mike and myself. This immediately showed itself to be a very
bad idea so we just stopped on Broadway.
were a dozens of people on Broadway going both ways. The police
didn't have the street blocked to foot traffic. I decided to pull
out my DV camera and take a quick shot of our WTC#1. I pointed the
camera and ran it for about 5 seconds. I couldn't get both towers
due to a building blocking my view of WTC#2. I got ours. Then said
to Mike that we had to get out of there. The police officer standing
near by was much less polite.
the camera in my bag and stood up. Then we heard a very distinctive,
recognizable and unforgettable sound. World Trade Center #2 was
sound was like a freight/subway train, combined with metal poles
snapping in two. Adding in a chorus of screams and you get the picture.
Not to mention the 300' tall debris cloud coming at us at high speed.
Not to mention that the building was tall enough to easily fall
on us if it fell our way. (We learned later that this was partially
ran for our lives.
as quickly as I had galloped around the corner heading east, I realized
that I had left Mike behind. Four leaps back and grabbed him and
into a subway type entrance just as the cloud engulfed us. The street
went completely black. I do mean black. There was absolutely no
light at all.
there was light in this little entrance. It turned out to be a mini-mall
underneath the street, connected Mike later heard, to the subway
system. However, even thought my reaction to go towards the light
was natural, I thought that I had made a fatal error.
The cloud had filled the stairwell going down, instantly. What if
the cloud kept filling the mall but we had no ventilation? If we
stayed above on the street, would the air clear faster and give
us a chance to breathe in time?
see Mike in front of me. I know he was a foot away, but couldn't
see him. Couldn't see Roselle. Couldn't see my feet. Nostrils filling
up fast with concrete ash. "Breath shallow"
unique feeling entered my mind. I was going to die today with Mike
Hingson. Everyone dies and this was our time. I told Mike, "I
don't think we're going to make it, Mike". It was now, I know,
an apology. I felt that I had made the wrong choice.
kept going down. People asking for help. Couldn't see them even
with the lights on. We shuffled on.
I saw another staircase ahead about 10' away. I went for it. It
was blocked by a security gate. No way to go further. But a little
fresh air was coming up! I kneeled to get closer and told Mike to
do the same. He kept standing. Roselle was caked and panting heavily.
an angel appeared. His name was Lou. No dust on Lou! Just a mask.
"Go down this hallway and into the room at the end. You'll
be alright in there." Sure enough. Turns out that Lou was some
kind of janitor (angel) and had been in this little 6' x 20' locker
room with a water fountain and a fan!
of the victims was vomiting badly over the fountain. Another woman
came in, caked in ash, terrified. I shook her a little and got her
name. "Cheryl" She calmed down. The man at the fountain
seem to recover a bit. Mike and I both got to the fountain.
police showed up about 7 minutes later, demanding that we leave
and go back upstairs. The density of the cloud, even below ground
had diminished enough so we could see about 15' ahead, so we were
able to get back to the top. We had gone down 3 levels! We never
saw Lou again.
on the street, we were still in the cloud but could see light to
the east. What an eerie view. Darkness behind us, light at the end
of the tunnel cloud. We were caked and filled with gunk but kept
walking. Finally the cloud eased up and we could see city hall to
found a pay phone. It worked! Somewhat. I think this is where I
called my sister Claire in Stony brook, wife Jennifer, friend on
the upper west side Hugh, and Nina my friend near 5th Ave. and 10th
St. Mike was having some luck with his phone too.
kept walking to the northeast down an empty street. I decided to
steer us away from city hall and go further east. More sights: ambulance
emerging from the cloud down by the WTC and spilling ash along the
way; an abandoned food cart---the fruit, soda can, bottled water
all dusted with ash; an inch of ash covered the street.
wanted to get to a restaurant to sit down and rest. We were headed
for Chinatown. We approached the Brooklyn Bridge. Throngs of people
on foot walking to Brooklyn. Some walking into the chaos (Manhattan).
Looking for loved ones, colleagues? Orderly, quiet. Overwhelming
the way to the Manhattan bridge area, we heard our Tower #1 begin
to fall. The sound, unmistakable. To my horror, another large debris
cloud was racing our way! But this time, I grabbed Mike by the arm
and ran, as best we could to safety. The edge of the cloud missed
us by 50 yards. No way were we going to go through that again!
the Manhattan Bridge. Same as the Brooklyn. The approaches (Canal
Street) were really the border of the emergency zone. Anything south
of Canal was off limits. Throngs of people again, on foot. Massive
traffic jam but no horns.
crossed Canal, found a wonderful little square with a bench to rest.
There was a statue of a Chinese community hero who died in the late
19th century. He was a hero in the war on drugs. Even then! I shared
with Mike. Then on to a Vietnamese restaurant where we hung out
for 2 hours.
got more phone calls done including one to my friend Nina Resnick
in the NYU area. Not far. I wanted to insure that Mike had a bed
for the night given that we didn't think that the bridges and tunnels
would be open. Mike wanted to get home to NJ but was fine with staying
at Nina's if need be. Nina offered help. We had to wait until she
got back to her apartment, so we kept using the restaurant's house
phone. Wonderful and patient people, the Vietnamese. We tipped them
heavily even though they wanted nothing. All those eating looked
at us in awe and disbelief.
throughout our walk after escaping the first debris cloud, we were
approached by all kinds of people. "You are blessed".
"God gave you a gift". "You've been re-born."
"You've been extraordinarily lucky." Mike and I agreed,
of course. Mike kept emphasizing the blessings of the day.
to my dear friend, Nina's. I walked up to some Chinese men in a
brand new mini-van and asked them for a ride pointing to Roselle
and Mike. They couldn't speak a word of English but got the message!
Into the back of the van and 10 minutes later we were at Nina's.
a beautiful Tudor style building with a totally carved wood lobby,
2 old chairs and a big carved table. We waited there for Nina to
arrive. Mike jumped on the phone and I went upstairs with a fellow
named Pete who offers a phone upstairs.
phone didn't work at all. But Pete said the most profound thing
of the day. "David, you've been given another life. Don't waste
arrives and we spent the next 2 hours talking excitedly, eating,
drinking lots of water, feeding Roselle, speculating about world
wide and domestic politics and reaction to the event, getting philosophical
and generally behaving like people in shock. Not without humor.
Like Mike said, he didn't even get to have one of those croissants!
I joined Mike in mock anger by stating that I was really steamed
not to get my morning bagel. Some people!
downstairs to get info from the police about whether or not we could
get Mike out to New Jersey that night. It looked good so back upstairs
to Mike and Nina and we decided to get to Penn Station at 32nd street
on the west side. But not before Nina getting some pictures of me,
Mike and Roselle on my camera. Happy people! Happy Dog!
walked a while and then caught a bus. All transportation was free.
Got to 32nd and Fashion Ave. (6th) and walked the one block into
Penn Station. The streets were full and so quiet. Looking downtown,
I saw the plume. No towers. Just a huge cloud.
moved onward to NJ Transit. Throngs of orderly, quiet people. The
trains were running free and without schedule. They pulled a train
into the station, loaded it up and sent it on its way. Got Mike
and Roselle to the head of the line and away he went, apparently
with minimal discomfort-off to his family.
to the subway and caught the 1 to 116th street and my dear friend's
on the upper west side. For the first time, I saw the pictures
through the night
(and yes, Roselle) and I are blessed with the opportunity to live
another day and gain strength from extraordinary adversity. We will
recover but never be the same.
and I helped each other and we were helped by many complete strangers
and dear friends. We survived with a sense of dignity, even humor
but we are not untouched.
know. It's short. Don't waste it.
I found out that our friends from Ingram are alive and well-early
Wednesday morning. What a relief!
Santoro ended up where I believed (and prayed that I was right)
he would. About 10 blocks north of the towers on at 14th street.
Joe has already lost one fireman friend to the tragedy. Let's hope
that's the end of it.