Inside the North Tower: Witness Accounts Floors 91-60

“A jet fuel fireball erupted upon impact and shot down at least one bank of elevators.The fireball exploded onto numerous lower floors, including the 77th and 22nd; the West Street lobby level; and the B4 level, four stories below ground.”– 9/11 Commission Report, P. 285

“The line between life and death that morning was as straight as a steel beam. Everyone on the 92nd floor died. Everyone on the 91st floor lived.” Source

Below: NIST computer model of building layout in north tower impact zone.

Below: Typical tower office floor. Building core with elevators is at top right.

Below: Typical tower trading floor

91st floor
Gerry Wertz: "She was stepping off the elevator when the plane hit," Wertz recalls. "There was an explosion on top of the elevator as if someone had thrown a hand grenade. I jumped out, fell to the floor and looked behind me. I saw the elevator disintegrate in a ball of flames and fall down (the shaft). There was a big hole in the ceiling above the elevator. I saw the cables fold up as if they'd become detached. It took no more than two seconds."

That empty elevator probably plummeted 14 floors into a pit on the 77th floor. Wertz and Lawrence evacuated safely down the stairs, as did 18 other people from the 91st floor.

91st floor:
Mike McQuaid: I was talking to someone from American Bureau of Shipping [also on 91st floor]. I hear this explosion, like a transformer below. What the hell was that? The whole place shook. The hallway started filling up with smoke. I started screaming for the rest of my crew to come out. One of them emerged with a cut on his head. He says he got knocked out, and the smoke woke him up. This guy later died in the hospital, some two months later, but he seemed fine at the time. We went to the stairwell. It was the one across from the men's room on 91. The northwest stairwell. One of my crew went back for his phone. I yelled into the offices of American Bureau of Shipping. Is anybody else in there? A woman with a red hat came out and said, ``I'm the last one out.'' We went out and into the stairwell. The first thing I noticed was that no one was coming down the stairs. I also noticed the Sheetrock on the interior of the stairwell on his floor had been knocked off the walls so thoroughly that the steel behind it was showing. The walls are made of four or five sheets of 5/8 inch Sheetrock, which I think is quite strong. The stairwell was dark black and it looked like it was blocked above me, although I can't see much because of the dark. "Accounts From the North Tower" The New York Times, May 26, 2002

Mike McQuaid, the electrician installing fire alarms, was sure he knew what he was feeling: an exploding transformer, from a machine room somewhere below the 91st floor. Nothing else could rock the place with such power.
Jim Dwyer aznd Kevin Flynn. 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive inside the Twin Towers. Henry Holt and Company: New York. 2005.

90th floor
Male Caller, suite 9051: I’ve got five people here. We can’t get out. PA Transcript WTC Ch. 10, Police Desk, suite 3541 Right (P. 9)

89th floor
The public corridor was filling with smoke and flames. "The floor was actually melting," Mr. Sibarium said.
Rick Bryan, a lawyer who works at MetLife, actually found an extinguisher and tried to douse a fire in the elevator shaft, then realized the futility. "We were doomed," he said. "We had only minutes."
“Fresh Glimpse in 9/11 Files of the Struggle for Survival” New York Times, August 29, 2003 By Jim Dwyer

88th floor or below
Mr. De Martini was next heard from about a half-hour after the plane hit, perhaps 10 minutes after the people on the 89th floor were freed. He does not identify himself by name, but by his job title, construction manager. "Construction manager to base, be advised that the express elevators are in danger of collapse. Do you read?" Only his end of the conversation is recorded. A few minutes later, he returns with another message: "Relay, that, Chris, to the firemen that the elevators — " 

There is an interruption in the transmission. 
"Express elevators are going to collapse."
“Fresh Glimpse in 9/11 Files of the Struggle for Survival” New York Times, August 29, 2003 By Jim Dwyer

88th floor
At 8:46, when the first plane struck the north tower between the 94th and 99th floors, few on the 88th or 89th floor realized what had happened, but the building swayed so far that they knew something serious had taken place. Anita Serpe, a principal administrator who worked for Mr. De Martini, said she ran back to her office and changed into socks and sneakers. Smoke and fire broke out at one end of the floor. A woman who worked on the floor was badly burned near the elevator bank. Gerry Gaeta, a member of Mr. De Martini's staff, said, "To say the least, it was chaos."
“Fresh Glimpse in 9/11 Files of the Struggle for Survival” New York Times, August 29, 2003 By Jim Dwyer

88th floor
“Now, a few seconds after the plane’s impact, Elaine Duch, a member of the Port Authority staff, wandered the 88th floor, dazed, charred, her clothes nearly burnt off her. She had been getting off the elevator when the fireball of fuel blew through the shaft, the flames shooting out of any opening to gulp oxygen. The ceilings had collapsed in the hallways. Out of their offices and cubicles, men and women were swarming. Where the elevators had been were now two gaping holes…”
Jim Dwyer aznd Kevin Flynn. 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive inside the Twin Towers. Henry Holt and Company: New York. 2005.

88th floor
“Roz”: explosion of great magnitude blew off the entrance door through which I had just previously walked. It knocked us both down in her cubicle.

88th floor
In the Management Office on the 88th floor, the scope of the catastrophe was more evident. John Griffin Jr. and Charlie Magee also thought at first that an electrical substation had blown up. The force of the explosion lifted furnishing into the air. One desk had flown up and landed five feet away. The falling debris and furnishings blocked access to the stairwells. The room began to fill with smoke. John, Charlie and others began to break out windows to get air into the room.

88th floor
By the time Reiss had run up one flight on the escalator, he guessed that a truck bomb must have blown up somewhere around the trade center.

Reiss no longer worked in the basement, as he had in 1993, and he wondered, fleetingly, who in his old department had arrived for work on the 88th floor of the north tower. Up there, no one had illusions about a truck bomb. The moment arrived as a powerful fist rocking the building. As soon as Gerry Gaeta, a member of the team that oversaw construction projects at the trade center, could find his words, he hollered, "It's a bomb, let's get out of here." And he was sure he knew how it had gotten up there. Moments earlier, a messenger had arrived with a trolley of documents for Jim Connors in the real estate department. Surely that was how the bomb had been wheeled in, Gaeta thought; the boxes of "documents" had been a Trojan horse.
Jim Dwyer aznd Kevin Flynn. 102 Minutes: The Untold Story of the Fight to Survive inside the Twin Towers. Henry Holt and Company: New York. 2005.

88th floor
The walls around the elevators had vanished. The men's bathroom had disappeared. “Fresh Glimpse in 9/11 Files of the Struggle for Survival” New York Times, August 29, 2003

88th floor
Daria Coard was at work in Building 1 of the World Trade Center when the first plane hit. She was in an elevator with 30 other people on the 88th floor. Only nine passengers managed to exit the elevator before it fell down the shaft. Daria does not know if the elevator stopped on a lower floor or what might have happened to the others.

87th floor: Jet fuel on floor
It was pandemonium and total confusion for the occupants and visitors on the 87th floor. Bright white smoke was filling the hallways and liquid sparks were snaking along the floor – the jet fuel that had not exploded.

87th floor
Not everyone who left the 88th floor got out alive. Two other Port Authority employees, Carlos Da Costa and Peter Negron, are heard on the radio, talking about a stuck elevator on the 87th floor.
Accounts from the North Tower. The New York Times, May 26, 2002. Interview by Jim Dwyer

87th- 85th floors: heavy white smoke
Adam Mayblum: 87: We checked the halls. The smoke was thick and white and did not smell like I imagined smoke should smell. ...On the 85th floor a brave associate of mine and I headed back up to our office to drag out my partner who stayed behind. There was no air, just white smoke.

86th floor
“The explosion on the 86th floor seemed to come from the inside out, rather than the outside in,” said Mr. Gartenberg, 35, of Manhattan. “That's why the core of the building is as damaged as it is. The fire door is blocked. It either closed from the force of the explosion or as a fire precaution. The elevators are completely blown out.”

86th floor:
``It looked like the explosion came up through the elevator,'' said Ms. Puma, 33, of Staten Island. ``It looks like the firewall came down and I believe the stairs are on the other side of it.'' Accounts from the North Tower. The New York Times, May 26, 2002. Interview by Jim Dwyer

85th floor
Elliot Nadel: The elevators looked like the doors had almost blown open, and there was a lot of construction from the ceiling and the walls that had just kind of collapsed in.

85th floor
"Marvin W. Pickrum,...85th floor inside Tower One....It felt like the building leaned, like standing with your back to the waves in the ocean."

"...SMW Trading Company. He still didn't know what was going on outside when his knees suddenly buckled. He only saw the clear blue skies out the window.

""But when I turned around all I saw was the fire and smoke," he recalled. "I saw a silhouette of my own body and my arms were singed. I got a full breath of air, then..."

85th floor
"...Jareau Almeyda, was in his office on the 85th floor of Tower One...sudden swoosh, like that of a rocket and then a large explosion. The building shook like it was going to collapse. We ran to the center of the office away from the windows. At the same time, we glimpsed out the window. There was fire, debris, and smoke coming from the floors above us. We looked at each other in amazement. I’ll never forget the look on my friend Tim’s face. We ran back to grab our stuff and leave the building....

"Before even seeing the conditions in the hallway, we knew we were going to take the stairs. As we grabbed our stuff and a man came running into our office screaming for the exit. Standing at our entrance, he was hysterical. Later I found out he was in the bathroom when the plane hit. I told him to calm down, that I knew where the exit was and to follow us. Our office had double doors. The left one tightly secured, and the right one locked by a security magnet. Both doors were blown open by the impact. Interestingly, the left door was the one I noticed was open. I never saw that door open; it was always securely shut.

"The nearest exit was to the left, right before our office. As I rushed towards the door, I noticed the hallway was dark and there was a very strong smell of smoke and burnt fuel.

85th floor
Timothy Snyder and two other employees of Thermo Electron were in their 85th floor office in the North Tower of the World Trade Center when the plane hit three floors above them. They didn’t know it was a plane; Mr. Snyder believed it was a bomb.

“We were just working,” he says. “All of a sudden, we heard this slamming sound that was so loud. The debris started falling outside the windows, and the door to the office blew open. The building started swaying, and it was hard to say if the building would remain standing. I was in my chair, and I just grabbed onto my desk.

“After five or 10 seconds, the building stopped moving, and we knew we had to leave. We all grabbed our bags and headed out.” They walked down to the 78th floor where they were guided to another stairwell, crossing a lobby with a bank of elevators. The marble walls of the lobby were buckled.

85th floor
Corky Adams: I begin preparing reports for another day of trading at the NYMEX,... horrific explosion. An immediate change in the air pressure. A ghostly column of air shoots like a canon into the office. The front door slams shut. Papers are whipped into the air. I’m thrown off my chair and to the ground. My boss jumps out of his office a second prior to the explosion. He had watched, in horrific disbelief, the entire event as the plane narrowly missed the empire state building and set a direct course for our building. The explosion sends the tower shaking furiously, lurching back and forth with sickening vengeance for maybe five or ten seconds. I think we may die. The building may topple over, or crumble. Finally it stops. The building is still standing. Everybody stares at each other, no idea of what happened or what to say. Speculations about an explosion, a bomb. No, it was a plane, our boss says. A commercial jet.

"{Losing track of time}: I immediately walk to the door. Someone screams not to open the door; the hallway is on fire. Curious, R--- and I touch the door and the handle. It s cool. I open the door, slowly, cautiously, to see what s out there. It s pitch black out there, except for the office light, still on, shining off of the billowing smoke in the hall. The smell is horrible. This is no ordinary smoke. It smells of metal, jet fuel, of rancid concrete, of things unspeakable. I close the door. People are still numb, shocked, confused. O--- was the first to say it; he was getting the hell outta there. I'm with you man. I open the door again. The smoke is thinner. I see an orange glow outside the door, a fire smoldering around the corner. I hear guys in another office yelling for help or something, too scared to open their door. Nobody knows where the stairs are, not even them.

"Back into the office, to grab some stuff. The black [---] jacket I wear to the trading floor. It s full of pick cards, order tickets, my empty water bottle, Ice gum, a calculator, a pen, a halls cough drop, and trading analyzers. I put on my jacket. I decide to fill up my water bottle. O--- waits for me, ready to bolt. Almost everybody wants to leave now.

"M---!. Where is he? When did he leave? Where did he go? Is he in the bathroom? The bathroom! Someone check the bathroom. I walk into the hallway, inhaling the noxious stench, and I walk down the hall. To the left, another hallway, three small fires burning, debris everywhere, lights out. In front of me, another office, another man peering out, more terrified people. To the right, another hallway, the bathroom, and the stairwell. I open the bathroom door, everything in pristine condition. Like nothing happened. I call out for M----, no answer. He's not in the bathroom. We head down the stairs.

"We move fast. Not a lot of people in the stairs yet. At 81, O--- stops to help some guy break out some fire extinguishers. We each grab an extinguisher. We get to 72. People are coming back up the stairs. What's the problem? The door several platforms down is pinned shut.

People come back upstairs from below. We walk out into the hall to find another stairwell. This floor had damage. Wires and debris everywhere. A wall blown down into the hallway. Some fires smoldering in the rubble. I cover my face and try not to look. Afraid of another explosion. We find another stairwell at the other end of the hall.

83rd floor
Allen ran computer operations at Lava Trading, on the 83rd floor of the North Tower. Allen was also a licensed pilot and a ham radio operator. When he saw a plane flying low south along the Hudson
River about 8:45 AM, he was surprised, but supposed that it was approaching Newark Airport. A moment later, however, he noticed the familiar sound of a pilot gunning the aircraft’s engine, then heard a
roar as the plane hit the building thirteen floors above him. The building started shuddering, debris began falling, and fires fed by cascading airplane fuel broke out.

83rd Floor
Female caller, suite 8327: The window has blown...broken,’s in pieces now. PA Transcript, WTC Ch. 10, Police Desk, 3541 Right (P. 6)

83rd floor: saw plane from 3-4 miles out, describes approach until impact, firefighters made it up to the 83rd floor?
My name is Jeff Benjamin and I was visiting a client, Axcelera Specialty Risk, on the 83rd floor of the North Tower when we observed an approaching aircraft (American Airlines Flt.11)from a distance of aprox. 3-4 miles. At the time we initially spotted the plane, it appeared to be level with us. We could distinctly identify the American airlines insignia and my client commented that perhaps the plane had taken off from Kennedy and was experiencing mechanical problems. As the plane approached us it seemed to climb. I stood up from the conference table and walked over to the window assuming as everyone did that there was no imminent danger. As the plane came closer we could see that it was traveling at a high rate of speed and the sound of the engines intensified. Immediately before impact we could see images in the cockpit and the plane banked sharply. A split second later we heard an echoing shot, fell to the floor and observed a fireball followed by debris which struck the side of the building. At the same time you could feel the building sway every so slightly for a brief moment. We immediately retreated towards the main part of the office where we noticed a huge fireball shooting out of the elevator shaft which quickly disappeared. Fortunately, the glass door between our office and the elevator lobby remained intact as the drywall and ceiling tiles caught fire. The fire burned off leaving thick acrid black smoke some of which entered the office through the ceiling where some tiles had collapsed above the reception desk. We immediately went to the kitchenette in the office to locate hand towels and paper towels which we wet down in the sink to stuff under the door and to cover our mouths to prevent as much smoke as possible from entering our lungs. No one seemed to know for sure where the stairways were, and since the smoke was heavy in the elevator lobby, we decided to stay in the office for the time being. Almost as if on cue the phones began to ring. Relatives and co-workers called to provide assurance and to let us know they had contacted 911 operators and advised them there were people located on the 83rd floor that need to be rescued. I personally contacted a 911 operator and let them know our location. The operator stated we should remain in the office as they would provide our whereabouts to the firemen which were already in the building and on their way up. Shortly thereafter the phones stopped ringing. Minutes passed which seemed like hours. We closed the office doors located by the exterior windows as we were afraid some of the debris crashing against the side of the building could break some windows and physically located near the walls bordering the elevator lobby. It became eerily quiet as everyone seemed to pause in reflection. I specifically recall a woman, who entered our office from the elevator lobby immediately after impact, stating "If you think we are in bad shape you should see the South Tower". We had heard a large explosion but were not aware that it came from the South Tower. I proceeded to go to the far end of the office where I could see the South Tower. When I looked down I observed fire which totally engulfed one of the lower floors. It was the most frightening sight I had ever seen. Aprox. 30 minutes had passed when we decided to attempt to escape. We exited the office holding paper towels over our face to shield us from the smoke and began to walk slowly down the hall carefully avoiding smoldering drywall and ceiling panels that had fallen. We had walked only about 20 steps when we heard an explosion in the building and the lights went out. Immediately, everyone turned around and stumbled back into the office. We waited in panicked silence starring towards the lobby. No one spoke as we stood there clutching our possessions. Five minutes passed, and then miraculously, we saw the beam of a flashlight in the lobby. We all shouted as we watched the ray of light approach the glass office door. The door opened and a fireman appeared along with a building worker. They were very calm and advised

Jeff Benjamin of Manchester, N.H., was visiting clients on the 83rd floor of the World Trade Center when he saw the plane heading straight into the building.

"It slammed into the window," Benjamin said. "Debris spilled. I don't know how we got out of the there alive. All the lights went out. We walked down the flight of stairs."

83rd floor
(Manu) Dhingra was engulfed in a fireball from the crash of one of the hijacked planes Tuesday and suffered burns over most of his body.

Like others who were severely burned by a fire sparked by the jet fuel as the crashed planes turned the buildings into infernos, he was just beginning his work day Tuesday on the 83rd floor of the north tower, the one that was struck first.

"All of a sudden, as I was walking down the hallway and I heard a door explode and this large ball of fire just engulfed me," he said from his hospital bed at the Cornell Burn Center where all those burned in the attack are being treated. "I just froze. I didn't do anything. I just stood there."

82nd floor
"...they heard the boom. The building swayed so severely that it nearly knocked them off their feet. Pieces of the facade started raining outside the window. Patrice Yepez, a co-worker, ran in screaming that a fireball had blown out the elevators. Borst ran into the main corridor and found it destroyed....”

81st floor, didn't hear impact.
Michael Wright: "All of a sudden there was this shift of an earthquake. People ask, "Did you hear a boom?" No, the way I can best describe it is that every joint in the building jolted...we all got knocked off balance...the flex caused the marble walls in the bathroom to crack...I opened the bathroom door, looked outside, and saw fire...The doorjamb had folded in on itself and sealed the door shut...There was a huge crack in the floor of the hallway that was about half a football field long, and the elevator bank by my office was completely blown out. If I'd walked over, I could have looked all the way down. Chunks of material that had been part of the wall were in flames all over the floor. Smoke was everywhere."
us to leave everything behind as we would need both hands free to hold the railings in the stairwell as water was flowing down the stairs from the sprinklers on the upper floors. I led our group of eight as we began our escape. They directed us to the stairwell where another fireman held the door open. He advised me to proceed down to the 78 floor, exit the stairway and cross the floor to another stairway which we were to follow all the way down. Initially the smoke was heavy and there was a stream of water going down the stairs. The firemen advised the smoke would lessen as we went further down which it did. As we made our way down I don't recall meeting any other people for about 30 floors. Then we began to meet firemen going up as we were going down. I would estimate that we passed about 50 firemen. Though you could see the concern on their faces, there was an air of calm about them. They continually reassured us and advised us to take a brief rest if we need one. We encountered office workers carrying their injured colleagues down the stairs. One of my colleagues gave his nitroglycerin to someone who was suffering an apparent heart attack. As we proceeded further down we encountered firemen on each of the lower floors. They had broken into soda machines and were handing out drinks to ease our parched throats. As we approached the 10th floor, we heard a loud noise. I asked a fireman what it was. As I recall, he said the 65th floor collapsed. Shortly thereafter, a rush of dust came up the stairwell and stopped everyone in their tracks. The firemen on the floor motioned us out of the stairwell and into a hallway on the floor. They advised us they were opening up another stairway from which we could exit the building. Another five minutes passed as we waited in the cramped hallway. Finaaly, I heard a fireman behind me say the stairway we had been in was clear. I grabbed ahold of my client and we ran down the remaining floors to the main lobby. As we exited the stairwell and proceeded to pass the security area we heard what appeared to be an interior wall or elevator shaft collapse behind us. The main lobby was almost unrecognizable. Debris covered the walls and floor and all the windows were shattered. We exited through a window onto the street where we only saw a single policeman. He directed us to go under the covered walkway over Water Street where we ran into a group of firemen. they directed us to another policeman who told us to go towards the waterfront. We ran to the waterfront and tried in vain to call our families on cellphones that were offered to us. Within five minutes I looked up at the North Tower and noticed the antenna begin to lean. Soon the whole building began to implode. We ran up along the river but soon realized we were well away from the debris cloud. We boarded a ferry boat that had pulled up along the seawall and rode the boat back to the safety of Union Station in Hoboken where we were finally able to contact our families.. CBS News. What We Saw: The Events of September 11, 2001, in Words, Pictures, and Video. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2002.

81st floor
A fellow who had been on the 81st floor told me his floor was set on fire immediately after the first
plane struck.

81st floor
Sujo John: We all gathered together and made our way to the stairwell. The World Trade Center was designed with the elevators of the building in the center, with offices surrounding them. As we stepped out of our office, we could see flames, stoked by the jet fuel that was pouring down the shafts, shooting out of the elevators; the doors had buckled and given way. Keeping ourselves as near to the edge of the wall as we could, we passed the elevators and reached the stairwell.

(Sujo) John said as he and his coworkers made their way to the stairwell, the elevator shaft at the center of the building sent “balls of fire” past their floor, where jet fuel from the main impact of the 88th floor (sic) had drained.

79th floor
Female caller: Suite 7967 1 WTC. We’re still up on the 79th floor. PAPD Ray Murray: All right, we’re...we’re getting people up there. PA Transcript, WTC Ch. 10, Police Desk, 3541 Right

80th floor, 14 floors below the impact zone:
John ``Jack'' Andreacchio, victim: He just said that there was a lot of smoke. And there was heat, intense heat. Accounts from the North Tower. The New York Times, May 26, 2002. Interview by Eric Lipton

“The entire corridor became an inferno outside our front door. Smoke began to enter our office. There was also debris falling. ... The fire on the corridor was at least 10 ft high, and it ran the … good length of the corridor. Then I saw a fireball come down the elevator shaft and blew the elevator doors. The fireball came right at me; it was a really bright color.”
Interview 1000055 (NIST 2004)

78th floor or above
Harry Waizer, severely burned in WTC attack, interviewed by TV host Larry King: I was on my way to work. I worked at Cantor Fitzgerald as well. I was in the elevator. I don't know exactly what floor. Somewhere between the 78th and I imagine the point of impact for the airplane. And the elevator just suddenly rocked. There was an explosion. There was flame. I was trying to beat out the flame. The elevator was plummeting and then righted itself. And then a second fireball, the second one is one that hit me in the face, but the elevator did settle down at the 78th floor. The doors opened.

…Larry King: Was your face burning?

Waizer: It wasn't burning. I got hit by a fireball that just -- if you can imagine a barbecue grill with too much gas, that just suddenly explodes, that's what I had. It just hit me in the face, then it was gone.

Waizer, to the 9/11 Commission: The elevator was ascending when, suddenly, I felt it rocked by an explosion, and then felt it plummeting. Orange, streaming sparks were apparent through the gaps in the doors at the sides of the elevator as the elevator scraped the walls of the shaft. The elevator burst into flame. I began to beat at the flames, burning my hands, arms and legs in the process. The flames went out, but I was hit in the face and neck by a separate fireball that came through the gap in the side of the elevator doors. The elevator came to a stop on the 78th floor, the doors opened, and I jumped out.

I began the long walk down 78 flights in the fire stairwell. I walked focused on my single mission; to get to the street and find an ambulance. I knew I was seriously hurt. The stairwell was filled with people calmly walking down, with no apparent sense of the magnitude of what had just occurred. I was shouting out to people in the stairwell, telling them I was burned, asking them to step aside so that I could get down more quickly. Faces turned toward me, sometimes with apparent annoyance at this intrusion on the orderly evacuation process. I saw the look on many of those faces turn to sympathy or horror as they saw me. At one point I noticed a large flap of skin hanging off my arm. I did not look any further.

Somewhere on the way down, I believe around the 50th floor, I met a man who appeared to be either a firefighter or Emergency Medical Technician walking up. He stopped, turned around, and walked in front of me, leading me down. We made it to the lobby and walked 2 blocks to find an empty ambulance, which took me to the Burn Center at New York Presbyterian Hospital. I stayed conscious only long enough to give them my name and my wife's phone number.

I have no memories after that until some 6 or 7 weeks later; I spent that period in a state of induced coma, but I can offer a second hand account of some of the more important personal events.

The doctors explained to Karen the nature and severity of my injuries. I was particularly at risk because the fireball in my face had seared my windpipe and lungs and I had inhaled a large amount of jet fuel, leaving me particularly prone to life threatening infections. I have since been told that my chances of survival at that moment were roughly five percent.

Harry and Karen Waizer

78th floor, 16 floors below the impact zone.
Carmen Griffith: Then the first plane hit. “The elevator doors closed, and I heard ‘Bang! Bang!’” says Carmen. “We were trying to get the door open.” With the door just half-open, Carmen squeezed out into a smoke-filled corridor. As she looked back to tell her passengers that it was safe to exit, a plume of fire seared her face, hands and legs.

…All that morning, Carmen had been carrying hundreds of passengers from the 78th-floor sky lobby to the bond-trading offices of Cantor Fitzgerald on the 101st to 105th floors and the Windows on the World restaurant above that.

"They were so packed (in the elevators) — like sardines," she says.

A full elevator had just left the 78th floor, and Carmen was about to carry up six or seven stragglers. The plane struck as the doors of her elevator closed. They could hear debris smash into the top of the car; then the elevator cracked open, and flames poured in. Carmen jammed her fingers between the closed doors, pulled them partly open and held them as passengers clambered over and under her 5-foot-6 frame to escape.

Before finally throwing herself out onto the lobby floor, she glanced back to be sure the elevator was empty. That was when fire scorched her face with second- and third-degree burns, and literally welded her hooped right earring to her neck. Her hands were badly burned.

Carmen was helped down the 78 floors to an ambulance just as her husband was carried out of the basement on a piece of plywood and a hand truck, each certain — after seeing the burning buildings from the street outside — that the other was dead.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: We've been hearing some amazing stories of survival this week in our series "Faces of Ground Zero." And Arlene Charles and Carmen Griffith worked as elevator engineers in the north tower of the Trade Center. When American Airlines flight 11 struck tower one, they were both on the 78th floor just below the impact. Carmen was badly burned, and it was Arlene who actually helped her friend to safety.

… Arlene Charles: And at the time I was standing there, I hear this explosion, the whole place was in darkness, people screaming, and oh, everything was just falling down. I don't know. Something hit me. I fell down. At the time when I look up, I see the whole place in darkness and smoke. Everything was all over the place. …Yes, so what we did, we just keep on throwing water, her leg was on fire. Everywhere she get burned. We were throwing water on her.

Carmen and Arturo Griffith

78 floor
The moment Roy Bell hit the elevator button on the 78th floor of One World Trade Center to go to the 102nd floor, the first plane hit. Little did he know he was about to cheat death several times in the next 90 hair-raising minutes.

Sheets of fire shooting out of the elevator shaft enveloped him and a woman waiting for the elevator doors to open. Suddenly, the elevator dropped two feet and jammed.

Had he punched the elevator button just seconds earlier, the elevator would have carried him and the woman up to an almost certain death.

"I would have been incinerated. No one got out above the 82nd floor where the plane hit (sic). I've never seen fire like that"

... "I'm running through this fire shooting through the elevator to an office where there was no more fire. A woman was freaking out and crying because I looked like a ghost with my hair and clothes burning. People came over to me and patted me down and whacked me to put out the flames. The skin was falling off my hands," he said. "My right hand got it good."

A fire marshal in the office promised to get Bell out as he called his wife, leaving a message that he was OK and that he loved her.

After 3 or 4 minutes, the woman he had been waiting for the elevator with came into the office severely burned. A man whom he only knew as "Avi" promised to carry the injured woman out of the building. The perilous trek down 78 flights of stairs began about 10 minutes after he left the fiery elevator.,1895,1248852,00.asp

78th floor
Jareau Almeyda: The elevator banks looked like they had exploded. The marble walls were shattered and the elevator doors were bulging out.

78th floor
Bill Bumgarner: A smell of what I thought then was gasoline filled the air. ...Into the hallway corridor headed for the elevator, central corridor. I was immediately concerned. The smoke was heavy and filled with gas (jet fuel).
Made 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.

78th floor
Schofield: My father had no idea what had happened. He and his co-workers were not terribly alarmed before I called. They knew something had happened, for they felt the building shake a bit.

78th floor
A self-described workaholic, Virginia DiChiara was normally out of her house and on her way to work by 7 a.m. But the morning of September 11 was so brilliantly beautiful that DiChiara decided to dawdle. She let her two golden retrievers play in the yard, cooked herself some eggs, poured herself a cup of coffee. “I was just moseying along,” she says. “I didn’t feel like rushing.” She left her Bloomfield, N.J., home at 7:40, a 40-minute delay that would end up saving her life.
It was a little after 8:40 when she entered the lobby of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Together with a Cantor Fitzgerald co-worker, she rode the elevator up to the 78th floor, where she crossed a lobby to take a second elevator the rest of the way to her office on the 101st floor. The elevator door opened and she pressed the button for 101. It was 8:46 a.m.

An Escape at 1,200 Degrees

As the elevator doors closed, Flight 11 plowed into the northern face of Tower 1 some 20 floors above. The elevator went black and “bounced around like a ball,” DiChiara recalls. “I remember seeing two lines shooting around the top of the elevator”—electrical cables that had come loose and were spitting current—and “everybody started screaming.” In front of her was a man named Roy Bell, who later said that the sound of impact was “deafening,” like someone banging a 2-by-2-foot sheet of aluminum with a hammer “six inches from your head.” The right wall of the elevator car crashed into Bell, breaking several of his fingers and flinging him to the left side. Miraculously, the elevator doors remained open about a foot. Within seconds, Bell “just sprinted” out of the elevator, he recalls. “Inside was not where you wanted to be.”

DiChiara had crouched down behind Bell. She saw Bell go through, and thought, “I don’t hear any screaming, so I know he’s not on fire... I’m outta here.”

She decided to go for it. But as she gathered herself, huge blue flames—translucent teardrops of fire, a foot in diameter—began falling in a steady curtain. DiChiara dropped her bag, covered her face with her palms and squeezed through the door, her elbows pushing the black rubber guards on the elevator doors. Left behind was her Cantor co-worker. DiChiara never saw her again; at times she feels guilty that she made it out and her co-worker did not.

DiChiara was aflame when she emerged from the elevator. “I remember hearing my hair on fire,” she says. (She later joked, “I must have put on some extra hair spray.”) With her hands she tapped out the fire. “I got it out, I got it,” she said to herself. Then, feeling something else, she looked back and saw flames rising from her shoulder. In that instant, she remembered the old lesson from grade school: stop, drop and roll. She threw herself to the carpeted floor and rolled over and over, frantically patting out the flames. “I remember getting up and just looking at myself,” she says. ” ‘OK, everything’s out.’ And then sort of laughing, almost like a hysteria, like a little giggle, like, ‘Oh my God, let me do it again just in case I missed it.’ I was so scared, like there was an ember on my body that was still going to go up.”

DiChiara crawled some 20 feet down the hallway and sat with her back propped against a wall. She was wearing a sleeveless cotton shirt that day, and her arms and hands were seared with third-degree burns.

... The hallways were smoky, suffused with the nauseating smell of burned jet fuel, littered with debris and completely dark save for some outdoor light filtering in from windows at the end of the hall.

78th floor and below
Interviewer Larry King: Did you smell any jet fuel?

Blind Survivor Michael Hingson: Lots, yes. There were fumes all the way down. …We figured that a plane had hit the building because I could smell -- we all could smell jet fuel fumes. So we knew there was something going on.

“Blind Man And His Guide Dog Among Those Who Escaped”
The California native knew there was trouble when his 78th-floor office began rocking and he smelled jet fuel. The first thing greeting Michael Hingson and his guide dog, Roselle, was the choking stench of jet fuel wafting down the north tower of the WTC. Hingson hadn't seen what happened: The 51-year-old has been blind since birth. But it wasn't hard to figure some sort of aircraft had struck the building with tremendous force at 8:45 a.m. EDT Tuesday.

…By the time they got to about the 50th floor, United Airlines Flight 175 had slammed into the south tower of the World Trade Center, something he wouldn't know about until later. Instead, the smell of kerosene was getting stronger and soon he felt people bumping into him as Roselle, Frank and he continued downstairs.

Michael Hingson and Roselle in the World Trade Center

78th floor Sky Lobby Elevator
Operations, this is Tony Savas. I'm trapped in the elevator, and debris, water's coming in, and smoke, on the 78th floor, One World Trade Center, Car number 81-A. Can you have somebody open it up please? (Repeats it a few transmissions later).
Port Authority WTC Radio Channel Y – Operations (PA 049)

77th floor
Mike Shahalan, Inspector General’s Office: The elevator shafts are on fire. They’re burning up, up there. …fire in the shafts…seventy-seventh floor. We just had one little hand extinguisher, and that don’t do shit.
Port Authority Transcript, WTC channel 09 Police desk 3541 Center, pg. 10

77th floor
"Through the storage closet, Borst directed the people to Stairwell A. They passed two men in business suits spraying water at flames shooting out of a shaft near the ladies' room. The men remained after Finegold led the last of his group away.

76th floor
Myron Finegold and Vinnie Borst searched desperately with dozens of others for a way down to the street.

""The bottom of the door would open, but the top was pinned shut," Borst said "They had descended six flights when they reached a door meant to block smoke from spreading. When they pushed on it, the door moved no more than 2 inches. Part of it had wedged into the frame, blocking their escape.

Below 77th floor
Sue Frederick: No one from the building security or city rescue had been able to get to us at this point as the only way up or down was stairwells. All the elevators had been immediately knocked out by the flames and smoke shooting down the shafts from the explosion of the plane's fuel on impact.

72nd floor
Frank Lombardi, Port Authority Chief Engineer
Lombardi was at his desk. He heard nothing, but felt the tower sway, and saw people in the hallway go airborne before they fell. His first thought was that New York was experiencing an earthquake.
William Langewiesche. American Ground. New York: North Point Press, 2002. p.47

72nd floor
Deciding to look for Marvin in the restroom, Forney entered a dark hallway (85th floor) where he saw three smoldering fire and debris. Marvin was nowhere in sight, which led Forney to believe that he had left the building before the attack.

"Forney returned to his office and joined his co-workers as they walked down the stairwell. Several stories below, Forney and Rob each picked up a fire extinguisher and lugged them along as they kept up a slow, steady pace. On the 72nd floor, the stairwell came to a halt, and they had to go into a hall to get to another exit. The hallway had fires in the wall, wires hanging from the ceiling and debris on the floor. Forney covered his face and tried not to look. “I thought all it would take is one little spark and it would blow up in my face,” Forney said.

71st floor: “Heard a rumble”
Vincent Fiori was on the 71st floor of the first tower that was hit. “I’m sitting at my computer and I heard a rumble and my chair spun around,” he said. Most people weren’t sure what had happened. On the street, people gazed up at the gaping, smoking hole in the building, some holding handkerchiefs over their mouths, more curious than frightened.

70th floor
Kim King: When the plane entered the World Trade Tower One, the impact was enormously overwhelming. For a couple of seconds I didn’t breathe, my body was frozen, my eyes were open wide but yet I couldn’t see what was happening, and my mind went totally blank. Mentally I couldn’t even begin to register what was happening. The sound of the impact was so massive; my body just trembled with fear, sadness, horror, and panic. The sound of impact was so loud I was truly disorientated. Tower One instantaneously rocked from side to side. It must have rocked at least 15 to 20 degrees in each direction, to the point that it made you loose your balance, however, it felt like my feet were glued to the floor. The floor shook so much your knees buckled, you could see the ceiling trembling above you, the windows were actually shaking and you could hear the sounds of Tower cracking apart. The cracking sounds of the Tower were dreadfully unnatural. My heart was about to beat out of my chest and my body was shaking from fear. The horrifying thing now, was that this was only the beginning of the nightmare.

After the plane collided with Tower One, it then exploded. The explosion seemed to have come about 10 seconds after impact. However, things were in slow motion and my mind was now in overdrive. I’m sure the explosion happened right after impact. The explosion was massive it only magnified the rumbling, swaying and shaking of the Tower, things began falling off my desk. It honestly felt like the floor fell at least a foot. I thought the building was collapsing right then and there. Parts of the ceiling were truly falling to the floor. I was still standing at this point and I looked out the window and I saw gigantic white chunks of debris falling to the ground from up above. I didn’t know what it was and my mind couldn’t even register what I was seeing.

68th floor
Greg Trevor: I was nearly knocked to the floor by the impact of the first plane, which slammed into the north side of Tower One more than 20 floors above me. I heard a loud thud, followed by an explosion. The building felt like it swayed about 10 feet to the south. It shuddered back to the north, then shimmied back and forth.

...Within a few minutes, we gathered the staff, threw files and notepads into our bags, and prepared to evacuate the floor. It began to fill with grainy smoke.

64th floor Civil engineer Patrick Hoey
Finally, nearly an hour and a half after the north tower had been hit, Mr. Hoey called in again. "The smoke is getting kind of bad," he told the police desk. "We are contemplating going down the stairwell. Does that make sense?"
“Fresh Glimpse in 9/11 Files of the Struggle for Survival” by Kevin Flynn New York Times, August 29, 2003

63rd floor
Paul Neal: Almost immediately after the impact, somewhat bizarrely, I smelled an overwhelming stench of aviation fuel, Jet A1 gas, which I recognized because I'm a private pilot and I'm used to airfield environments. I recall smelling it and almost instantly dismissed it as being illogical and didn't have any place in the World Trade Center.

63rd floor
Kaleb Northrup: I knew immediately what it was though, because I’ve smelled enough different fuels burning in my life to recognize that these had to be the fumes from the burning airplane fuel, which meant if nothing else, we were perhaps at risk of carbon monoxide poisoning.

62nd floor
Daniel T. Duffy: I heard no sound - no crash, no explosion, no screams, but I felt that fortress of steel and glass wobble back and forth like it was a cheap card table, nearly knocking me off my feet. It felt for a moment as if the entire building would go toppling over onto Church Street.

Once I was in the stairwell I smelled that awful smell - burning jet fuel and God knows what else. It was that same horrible smell that lingered over Manhattan in the weeks and months to come.

Later, in concourse: My boss grabbed me and we descended the escalators to the ground floor and passed through the revolving doors to the shopping mall under the plaza. The mall was flooded from the sprinklers and some of the marble was coming off the walls.

60th floor: Didn't hear Impact
"Perez is still counting his blessings since he got out of the World Trade Center just minutes before it came tumbling down. An employee of Ahasi Bank, Perez was working on the 60th floor of Tower 1, when the first of two hijacked planes hit his building. "We didn't hear the impact," he said. "What we felt was it trembling. The trembling continued and the building actually started swaying."

Probably 60’s or 50’s
Dharam Pal: On the 74th floor, Pal automatically took the closest stairwell, also C. Within seven or eight minutes, he smelled burning fuel.