Inside the South Tower: Eyewitness Accounts

Still others remained alive in the impact zone above the 78th floor. Damage was extensive, and conditions were highly precarious. The only survivor known to have escaped from the heart of the impact zone [Stanley Praimnath] described the 81st floor-where the wing of the plane had sliced through his office-as a "demolition" site in which everything was "broken up" and the smell of jet fuel was so strong that it was almost impossible to breathe. This person escaped by means of an unlikely rescue, aided by a civilian fire warden descending from a higher floor [Brian Clark], who, critically, had been provided with a flashlight. 9/11 Commission Report, Chapter 9

The loss of life was almost complete inside the south tower's 10 giant express elevators, which were shuttling evacuees from the 78th floor to the ground floor after the north tower was hit. Only four people survived.

The four survivors — two each from adjacent elevators — were in elevators that plunged and were stopped by the emergency brakes 6 to 10 feet above the lobby floor. About 40 people died in those two elevators. Doomed passengers called loved ones from two other south tower express elevators stuck near the 12th floor in one case and the 19th floor in another. Source

Floor unknown
Even as people streamed down the stairs, the cracks were appearing in the walls as the building shuddered and cringed. Steam pipes burst, and at one point an elevator door burst open and a man fell out, half burned alive, his skin hanging off. People dragged him out of the elevator and helped get him out of the building to the doctors below. "If I had listened to the announcement," says survivor Joan Feldman, "I'd be dead right now.",8599,174655-1,00.html

84th floor
I was totally surprised. I was in a conversation two to three feet away from a gentleman named Bobby Coll. He had told me that after the first plane hit, he had gone down but with the announcement he had come back up with Kevin York. There was sort of like a double noise, like a bang, thump. With the second thump everything just fell apart in our room. The first noise was the impact; the second noise was the explosion and the shock wave of the fuel igniting. "Accounts From the South Tower" The New York Times, May 26, 2002

84th floor, as 175 hits. Brian Clark:
"It wasn't a huge explosion. It was something muffled, no flames, no smoke, but the room fell apart as the plane kind of torqued the building. Ceiling tiles fell from the ceiling, air conditioning ducts fell, door frames fell out of the wall. (Richard Bernstein: Out of the Blue. New York: Times Books, 2002. p. 222)

78th floor
Kelly Reyher, AON Corporation: The elevator split at the seams, the floor blew up. You could just sort of look right through the corner of the elevator into the elevator shaft and it was just all fire.

So I was able to crawl out. And then when I crawled out you just saw an absolute scene of destruction. Across from me, because when you crawl out you're facing the other elevator bank, they were completely destroyed. There was fire just shooting out those. "Accounts From the South Tower" The New York Times, May 26, 2002

78th floor
Ling Young said she believes she was the last person to escape the tower before it collapsed. She was trying to save her boss, who had suffered a broken leg in the attack.

Young said she was waiting to take an elevator down. When the doors opened, a fireball incinerated several people waiting to get on. She finally made her way to the stairs and out of the building.

77th floor
Brian Clark: Somewhere around the 77th floor, the stairway walls were cracked, and you could look through the cracks and see flames. They were just quietly licking up, not a roaring inferno. And there was some smoke there, but again I think the stairs were pressurized, pushing the air out so we had less smoke in the stairway than you might imagine.

77th floor or near
Keat Crown: ...reached a point in the stairwell that had been demolished by an elevator, he jumped down an unknown distance and was able to land with only minor injuries where the stairwell was still useable. At that point, he made his way to the bottom of the building and emerged only minutes before the structure...."

Brian Clark and Stanley Praimnath
The two men made a slippery descent down the wet stairs. Occasional cracks in the walls exposed flames within.

74th floor
"...I sat down with this guy who became my "buddy." Tim's story was that he was on the 86th floor of the second tower, when the plane hit the first tower. They started to evacuate, but after going down a dozen flights they were instructed that it was only the first tower that had been hit and that they could go back. So he was opening the door on the 74th floor at the exact moment that the second plane crashed into the 74th floor. He actually saw the wing before the explosion. He was splashed with jet fuel, but the explosion blew him back into the stairwell, saving his life. With other people helping him, because he was blinded by the jet fuel, he ran down 74 flights of stairs. A medic was lavaging his eyes when the first building fell.

75-70th floor
Joseph Dittmar: Dittmar continued down the stairwell. When he got between the 75th and 70th floors, he said he felt the building sway.

"I've never felt anything like that in all my life. The building literally swayed and shook from side to side," Dittmar said.

Dittmar later would learn that a plane also had crashed into the south tower.
"We immediately smelled the jet fuel," Dittmar said. "And we felt one ball of heat, one ball of heat that just went blowing by us faster than I could say it."
Near 70th floor, Arthur Delbianco
On Tuesday morning I was assigned to work on the roof of building 2, and was sidetracked for a couple of minutes. That's probably what saved my life. I was heading up to the 106th or 7th floor in an elevator, and around the 70th floor, I heard, well, lights flickered in the elevator, and a rumble, and then I heard people screaming on the radio, 'I'm trapped, get me out, get us out, fire, fire, fire!' Told the elevator operator, 'Open the door. Get the people wherever we were, on. And we took 'em down to the ground level. And then the fire department took the elevator car over.

70th floor, Clyde Ebanks: "I think now, these popping sounds were coming out of the elevator shafts because of the fireball that was coming down. The popping sounds, I think, were the elevator doors opening up because of the fireball." (Richard Bernstein: Out of the Blue. New York: Times Books, 2002. p. 222)

68th floor
Charles Caraher: I started to leave a message and as I did so, the building jolted. The force of it tossed me around my cubicle. I remember thinking, “Finish the message or Catherine will worry.” I finished it as quickly as I could. Later that day, I would learn what I said. I said: “Catherine, this is Chaaa-arrr-rll-lie. I want to come see you. I want to hold you. And then I want to go home.” But at that moment in time, I didn’t know what I was saying. I was trying to process what was happening around me. Once again I heard a “whoosh” surging through the ventilation ducts. This one was much, much more pronounced than the first one. It also sounded like large pieces of furniture were being moved across the floor above me.

The building lurched to one side. I thought it wasn’t going to stop going in the direction it was going. Then the building started wobbling. This I knew was bad. The thought that I was about to die ran through my head. I was going to die. The building was going to fall over. I was convinced WTC I had fallen into WTC II, my building. I was going to die with no one around me. No one was going to witness my death. It all seemed so meaningless. During all this, I was still on the phone. Throughout the entire message I was leaving for Catherine, the building was moving. It was like my desk was on a platform of Jell-O. Not good when you are 68 floors up.

Then the building stopped wobbling. I stood up, grabbed my briefcase, and headed for the emergency exit. The floors were not right. They looked normal, but I felt I was walking on slanted boards. I saw a colleague come from what I thought was one of the offices, although later I found out he was coming from the coffee room. “Get out, now!” he yelled.

I reached a door leading to a hallway. Through the door’s glass window, I saw a mess of what looked like a metal beam or beams, concrete, maybe ceiling debris, a chaos of junk, and it was all on the other side of the fire door. I knew I would not be able to reach the fire escape.

I started thinking, “I’m alive. I want to get out of this building alive.” Reevaluating what I might need and worried the briefcase might inhibit my escape, I took out the cigarettes and put them in my pocket. Running back to my desk, I tossed the briefcase on my chair, thinking I could retrieve it in a few weeks. At the time, it wasn’t an unreasonable idea. After the bombing in 1993, people were allowed to retrieve their belongings after a few weeks.

Then I headed for the other emergency exit. I reached another door and, as I started to touch the handle to check for heat, I realized I could just barely see through the window on the door. What I saw was a lot of debris and a thick white mist. But I could see the emergency exit and thought I could make a dash through the debris and get to safely to the exit. I succeeded. I reached the fire escape stairs. But as soon as I got in the door, I noticed a huge deep crack in the wall opposite the door. “My God, the building is splitting apart” is what went through my head. The floors and stairs still felt slanted. I went down the stairs as fast as I could. I didn’t want to twist an ankle or break a leg, so I was not exactly running. Just moving as fast as I could. No one else came through the emergency door behind me. I passed floor after floor but no one came through the emergency doors on those floors either. I was alone. There was no one behind me. And for awhile, there was no one in front of me. Finally, after several flights, I started to run into people. I think I was somewhere between the 50th and 55th floor when I stopped seeing those giant cracks in the wall. The stairs and landing finally seemed level. But I was still thinking there was a good chance I wouldn’t get out alive.

Traffic down the fire escape stairway started getting slower. It was very frustrating. I just wanted to get out of the building. All my senses were telling me we were living on borrowed time.

We reached the 44th floor. The 44th floor was the Sky Lobby and elevator exchange. You had to get off one elevator and get on another if you wanted to go further up – or further down. At this floor, we had to exit our staircase to get to another one. The staircase door was closed. As they came up to it, people stopped, which forced everyone behind them for several flights up to stop as well. The people close to the door didn’t know what to do next. They were afraid to open it. No one up front wanted to make a decision. They kept hesitating, and others behind them started getting impatient. Finally, a collective command from a good portion of the crowd forced the issue. We weren’t going back up. People started going through the door.

All along the way, women took off their high heels in order to walk down the stairs more easily. Little piles of cast off high heels tossed to the side grew into larger and larger piles the further down we went.

The temperature rose the closer we got to the ground floor. I began to sweat. So did several people around me. I think we were all thinking the same thing – that we were descending into a fire. People carrying briefcases and the growing piles of shoes started making me feel angry. Then my anger dissolved as I realized that no one had expected this, and that I myself had almost carried my briefcase down with me. But adrenaline was still coursing through my body. We couldn’t move fast enough. An announcement came over the PA system, informing us that our building was safe and there was no need to panic, but if we wanted to exit the building to go ahead and do so. That got a lot of laughs. People started cracking jokes about it.

Later that evening, there was a wind blowing from the direction of Manhattan. Looking out the living room window, I saw a sheet of 81⁄2 by 11 sheet of paper blowing around in the parking lot. Remembering the paper flying through the air right after the North Tower was hit, I couldn’t resist the urge to find out if one of those sheets of paper was in our parking lot. I went outside. I picked it up. Sure enough, it was a sheet of letterhead from a company that had been in the World Trade Center. I held it in my fingers. I smelled smoke and kerosene in its fiber. I read the address. This had been on someone’s desk or in some photocopy room. In another life, this piece of paper represented business as usual.

67th floor: blast from below
Tom Elliott: Then, as they reached the 70th floor, they heard an announcement: The building was secure. No one needed to evacuate.

One woman in the small group said to Elliott, "Do you want to believe them? Let's go!"

They had descended three more floors when United Airlines Flight 175 slammed into their own south tower like an arrow from a giant crossbow. It was 9:03 a.m.

Flight 175 had left Logan 15 minutes after American Flight 11. It was also bound for Los Angeles, carrying 56 passengers and nine crew.

Although its spectacularly televised impact was above Elliott, at first he and those around him thought an explosion had come from below. An incredible noise - he calls it an "exploding sound" - shook the building, and a tornado of hot air and smoke and ceiling tiles and bits of drywall came flying up the stairwell.

"In front of me, the wall split from the bottom up," he says.

In a flash of panic, people began fleeing higher into the building. Then a few men began working on the crowd, calming people down, saying that downstairs was the only way out.

As they descended, a few other survivors stumbled into the corridor. A construction painter, his white T-shirt covered in blood, was helped downstairs by others. But the stairwell was still far from jammed with evacuees.

Elliott assumed his was one of the final groups descending. They saw only two firemen going up. They told them there had been an explosion near the 60th floor. [It is unclear who says this]

High 60s, doesn’t mention blast from below:
Cara LaTorre : We are in the high 60's when we hear an explosion. The building shakes, the walls begin to crumble and a piece of metal comes flying between us. Oh my god, they bombed our building now! We don't know what to do. The only thing in my mind is that I have to call my husband, Frank, who works nearby to tell him that I am okay. The heat, we could feel the heat. We haven't started to cry yet because we are in shock.

61st floor when 175 hits
Linda Raisch-Lopez
I reached the 61st floor when there was a tremendous explosion. The building swayed back and forth. I can?t even describe the terror I felt as I was thrown into the wall. I screamed and screamed and screamed. A man grabbed me and held me until I calmed down. The lights flickered, there was white smoke everywhere and I saw that a large piece of concrete had fallen on the stairway landing. ...I knew it would collapse. It was inevitable. The building was vibrating and I ran faster and faster.

61st floor
"...Jerry Winhoven ...South sessions at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter...recess...stayed behind on the 61st floor to check e-mail on a terminal next to the classroom. ...

"Winhoven described the chaos. "There was nothing but papers and documents," flying through the air, he said. "You could literally stick your head through the window. It looked like a bird's-eye view of a ticker tape parade. It was just amazing."

"Winhoven didn't stay long. Smelling what seemed like natural gas, he grabbed his bag and headed for the stairwell. One of the first ones to hit the stairs, Winhoven made it to the 40th floor before the stairwell became crowded with people going down.

54th floor
"Mattox”: "They came over a loudspeaker there and were giving us some general instructions," he said. "They said there was some sort of problem in Building 1. I can't remember exactly. No more than five or 10 seconds after they made that announcement, the second plane hit our building.
It shook the building and metal beams actually started flying out of the wall. The ceiling started collapsing, and you could see the walls just crinkling. At that point, it was pandemonium. We were just breathless."
Ceiling and floor construction

53rd floor
Jack Alvo: I felt the impact of the explosion that I believed was at my feet. I heard the crashing glass around me as the building rocked. My hands began to shake and my knees buckled. I knew I could not stay where I was and I had to go lower. I made my way to the stairs, passing people along the way. I saw the horror and the fear in several faces as I went by them. I still believed the impact was at my feet and as I descended past floor 50 and floor 40 I was sure I was going to see disaster.

"She Was On The 92nd floor of the World Trade Center” by Josh Gilbert
"... my neighbor Jennifer's story.... Jennifer was on the 92nd floor of 2 World Trade Center on Tuesday morning. She looked out her window and saw a plane flying low and directly toward the building.

""That plane is flying too low," she said.

"No one seemed to notice. "That plane is flying too low," she repeated, adding, "And it's flying right at us."

"people started paying attention and watched in mounting horror as the American eagle plane flew close enough to their building for them to read the letters on the side of the plane. Suddenly, at the last moment, it veered and smashed into the tower next to them.

""They heard a loud, thundering explosion and heard the whoosh of air sucked in by the vacuum. Smoke and flames shot out all around them outside their windows. Chaos ensued. People started screaming and running toward the stairwell.

"Jennifer joined the rush to safety, making it down to the 52nd floor when, as she put it, "Some jackass started yelling up at us through a bullhorn saying: 'This tower has been secured. You are in America. Return to your offices!'"

"People stopped briefly to process the message. It made no sense, but then what did? They'd just seen a commercial jet fly into the world trade center after almost crashing straight into their office. Jennifer and her colleague wondered briefly if they should heed the advice of the bullhorn wielding moron when the second plane struck their building. A gigantic blast of hot air shot up the stairwell with the vacuum created by the blast and the chaos returned in a hellish instant. They turned around and ran up the steps to the 55th floor, which allowed floor access, and ran across a hallway on that floor to a stairwell on the other side of the building where they managed to climb down to safety...."

Middle floors
Art: I was not sure if there was another plane or a bomb and furthermore did not know if the fire and explosion was above or below me. All I did know was that It was getting very hot and I could smell the fire and see smoke coming up the stairwell.

44th floor Sky Lobby
James Kazalis: As I took a few steps towards someone I recognized, some great force struck my building. It felt like the floor was being violently pushed under my feet. While falling to the floor, the steady repeating rhythm of time suddenly stopped. I instantly developed tunnel vision and my depth perception did not extend beyond twenty feet. My eyes focused on a nearby out-of-service elevator. The impact had created a shock wave through the entire building that forced dust at a high velocity from all four sides of the elevator doors to the inside of the lobby. I was now prone on the floor. Pandemonium erupted and filled the sky lobby.

...The mezzanine was one floor above the lobby level but was at the same level as the outside Plaza. I was being directed by a security guard to descend to the lobby level via the escalator. The escalator power was turned off. There was a delay here because of the amount of people at this level were from multiple stairwells. While I was waiting for my turn, I looked outside in the Plaza. This was the same area I had walked through moments earlier on my way to work. I could not recognize anything. Everything was charred, smoldering or on fire. Debris was everywhere. At that exact moment I saw an outside support beam about 20 to 30 feet long, hit the ground. Each end of the polished steel beam alternately hit the ground until it stopped. Both ends of that steel support were on fire.

44th floor Sky Lobby elevators

Below 44th floor on 175 impact
Joy Shepard: “When it hit, it just jolted the whole stairway. You could smell the jet fuel. A crack appeared in the wall. Smoke filled the stairwell. The skylight above us blew out of the building.”

25th floor
Eric S. Levine: Somewhere around the 25th floor, we began to smell jet fuel and a lot of it. I have asthma and it began to become a little difficult to breathe but by the 15th floor it became unbearable due to the amount of smoke that was now entering the stairwell.

25th floor on 175 impact
Am now holding onto our room's door... clinging to it as if my life depended on it... as the building was still swaying violently... I hear and see more "smaller" explosions....electricity was cut off...more debris... broken glasses... air gushing in... ceiling was slowly caving in...

ST floor Unknown
"...John Howard, who works at Morgan Stanley, on the 60th floor of 2 World Trade Center, said the plane's crash into Building 1 shook his offices. During the evacuation, he said, there was a guy with a bullhorn telling them to stop.

"He was telling us, 'Don't panic!' saying that we we're safer in the building than leaving it," Howard said. "As he was saying that, there was a huge explosion right there. It was surreal. People were in a full-fledged panic. We all ran over the guy with the bullhorn to get out."..."

South Tower lobby
The doors parted, but the elevator had become stuck just as the bottom of the cab was reaching the lobby of the south tower. Only the feet of the trapped passengers were visible as the burning jet fuel that had cascaded down the shaft ahead of them threatened to broil them alive.

South Tower lobby
Firefighter Timothy Brown: "We finally set up -- prior to this I believe it was the west side of the core of the building there were elevators. Someone had come to me and said that there were people trapped in one of those elevators. So I ran around the corner, and the hoist way doors were open, but the elevator car was only showing about two feet at the top of the door. You could see all the legs of the people that were in the elevator. I would guess there were about eight people in the elevator. The elevator pit was on fire with the jet fuel. People were screaming in the elevator. They were getting smoked and cooked. There weren't a lot of firemen there at the time. I grabbed some of the Port Authority employees and asked them where the fire extinguishers were and told them to get as many fire extinguishers as they could so we could try and fight this fire. As they were doing that, firemen started showing up, and I started asking them to get big cans, let's try to put this fire out." --

South Tower lobby
At this moment, Sun got a phone call from her husband, Zhang Kening, who works in Jamaica, caught the CNN headline news, which covered the air strike almost at the same time. ``He told me to calm down, and evacuate from the building immediately,'' she said. ... When she reached the lobby, she discovered that all the eight elevators had crashed. ``I don't know how many people were trapped in there,'' she said.

"In the lobby, quite a few pieces of granite fell off from the wall, from the ceiling. Everyone of them were covered with mud and water. ..."

South tower lobby. Security turnstiles for elevator access at left.

South Tower Lobby
The huge body blow of the second impact shook loose the elevator car in which Lauren Smith was travelling, causing it to free-fall for several terrifying seconds before the emergency braking system cut in and brought it to a halt. Word travelled quickly on the stairs that a second plane had hit.

... The occupants of the lift used by Lauren Smith were also jemmying open the doors, to discover they were just 7 feet above the polished marble of the lobby. Smith jumped, stumbled and fell into the open lift shaft. She was pulled out by firemen with five broken ribs and a punctured lung but made it out before the building collapsed.

South Tower Lobby
Sal Iraci: On the day of the crashes, I was working in the lobby. When the first plane hit, I was out in the truck dock. I went into the lobby to see what happened. We didn't know if it was a bomb or what,' Sal said.

'After the second explosion, the chandeliers shook. There was smoke and flames coming out of the elevator shafts. It was awful. I evacuated as fast as I could. I was on Broadway when the first tower came down. My eyes couldn't believe it. Such a waste of life,' Sal said.

South Tower lobby
Following the Port Authority's emergency plan, after the first jet hit the north tower, elevator mechanics from both towers reported to the fire safety desk in the south tower lobby for instructions from police or firefighters. About 60 mechanics had arrived in the south tower lobby and others were in radio contact when the second jet struck that building.

"We were standing there trying to count heads when the second plane hit (the south tower)," said Peter Niederau, ACE Elevator's supervisor of the modernization project. "Parts of the lobby and glass were coming down around us, so we all got out of the lobby as fast as we could."

South Tower Lobby: gust from second plane impact blows NYPD officer out door
Death also seemed imminent for 37-year-old Carol Paukner, as gusts created after a second plane rammed into the World Trade Center complex blew her out an exit of the South Tower. Latching on to a door, the New York City police officer hung half in and half out of the exit as bodies went flying past her. With one hand, she grabbed onto the leg of another man who was still alive. He reached out with his hand and she pulled herself in. They huddled in the corner of a building black with smoke and dust.
They thought they were going to die.

Beat partners Carol Paukner and Tracy Donahoo were assigned to the NYPD's Transit Division, District 2 in Lower Manhattan. Donahoo was a rookie officer at the time. After the first plane hit, they responded to a call "for an unknown condition" only to find the "streets covered with debris" (p. 4). They helped direct people and vehicles in the chaos that ensued. Paukner told Donahoo where to meet her if they became separated, which they did. Shortly afterward Paukner was blown "into the glass partition" (p. 5) of a store then "through the exit" (p. 6), but she managed to find someone else who she held onto in order to protect both of them. She finally made it to safety, with all of this occurring before the first tower fell. Paukner tore her rotator cuff as well as her knee; her neck, foot, and eyes were injured and she developed a lung infection; everyone she knew who worked in that area was killed.

South Tower Lobby
Mike Pecoraro and Arti made their way out of Tower One and went to Tower Two. They encountered a crowd of people standing outside the tower, not knowing what had happened. Apparently, they had witnessed a fireball come through the lobby after the second airplane had struck that tower, but they were entering directly from the subway underground and had as yet, no idea of what was happening. Mike and Arti told them all to leave and go home.

South Tower Concourse
PAPD officer Will Jimeno: damage done to lower levels by flight 175 impact.
[Jimeno working at the PA Bus Terminal on 42nd St. got to WTC just before the 2nd plane hit]

"And, just then, it is like an earthquake when the plane hits the south building. ...when huge parts of the tower and shock waves come down into the plaza area, cracking all the cement. The whole concourse above us collapses. There are a lot of civilians all around, and I don't know what happens to them, but I think it has to be bad. I can see Liberty Street before me as I feel a ball of debris hit us. Now I see a huge fireball coming at us, and I yell, "Run! Run towards the freight elevator!" [Smith: The fire has come from the fuel that has poured down the elevator shafts.] Dennis Smith. Report From Ground Zero. New York: Viking Penguin, 2002. p. 114

Jimeno: Suddenly I hear a loud noise and look over to the sarge and say, "Hey, Sarge, is there a second plane coming?" And, just then, it is like an earthquake when the plane hits the south building. We are just about in the middle of the concourse, between the two buildings, just below and a little south of the big golden globe, when huge parts of the tower and shock waves come down into the plaza area, cracking all the cement. The whole concourse above us collapses. There are a lot of civilians all around, and I don't know what happens to them, but I think it has to be bad. I can see Liberty Street before me as I feel a ball of debris hit us. Now, I see a huge fireball coming at us, and I yell, "Run! Run towards the freight elevator!" [The fire has come from the fuel that has poured down the elevator shafts.]"

South tower basement, level unknown. James Barrett: didn't hear explosions, was unaware that anything was wrong.
"ABM Industries janitor James Barrett, who was on the 6 a.m. shift and cleaning a basement room a quarter-mile below where the first plane hit the North Tower, was in the dark [figuratively]. “I was in the building when both planes hit but I didn’t hear a thing,” said Barrett, who has spent 22 of his 39 years keeping the World Trade Center clean and operating smoothly.

...At the time of the disaster, more than 250 ABM employees were at work. One of these was Barrett, not far from where he remembers a terrorist bomb went off in 1993. This time, the blast was more than 200 yards overhead and he discovered the danger only by chance.

Because he didn’t have his cell phone with him, Barrett missed a frantic warning from his wife. He learned of the unfolding catastrophe only after he walked upstairs to the plaza level to get a broom and dustpan. He immediately ran into a fellow janitor who told him the towers were ablaze and it was time to flee. But before running for their lives, the two heard shouts behind a freight elevator, pried open the doors and lowered a ladder to three men [sic: there were two men in the elevator] who were up to their knees in rising water. Barrett then joined the rush for the exits as firefighters continued to pour in. Later, as Tower Two imploded with a roar and blinding cloud of smoke, dust and debris, Barrett began running to eventual safety."

“Plunge just the start of nightmare” By Dennis Cauchon and Martha T. Moore, USA Today

Passenger elevator No. 13. South tower, 78th floor. 9:02 a.m. Alan Mann, 35, an executive vice president at Aon Corp., an insurance company, squeezed into an express elevator packed with 25 people evacuating the south tower. He was the last person in. The doors closed. The elevator descended normally for the first seconds of a ride to the ground floor that should have lasted 60 seconds. Then United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the south tower, tearing through the elevator machine room on the 81st floor. That cut most cables to the express elevators. Elevator No. 13 began a free fall from 900 feet above ground.

"Get on your knees!" somebody screamed. Everybody knelt. People prayed aloud. The elevator fell, banging against the sides of the shaft. As the plunging car neared the ground, the emergency brake grabbed onto the thinnest of nine elevator cables — the only one remaining — and the elevator jerked to a stop.

Mann found himself trapped in a corner of the elevator, lying on top of someone. Debris and dust filled his mouth. Other passengers screamed and moaned. He heard other elevators crashing nearby.

It was dark. A man unpacked his laptop computer and turned it on for light. Injured people begged others not to move because it caused them pain. He could see two Aon colleagues, Alan Friedlander and Donna Giordano.

"Alan, I'm hurt," Giordano sobbed.

"Donna, don't worry, we're going to get out of this thing," Mann said.

Then, somebody yelled, "Oh my God, fire!" Burning jet fuel shot flames into the car, burning Mann's neck. He gasped for breath.

I'm going to die the worst possible death, Mann thought. My wife is going to be a single mother.

Someone was praying, repeating, "In God's name, in God's name."

Mann told himself: Don't give up. He crawled over people — some dead, some alive — to the other side of the elevator. There, two men and a woman were trying to push aside a piece of metal outside the elevator where the doors once were; the metal was blocking the exit.

Mann helped rip off a piece of metal but cut his left hand badly. He stuck his head through a small hole near the elevator floor and tried to push himself through. He couldn't fit. He was 10 feet above the lobby floor but couldn't get out.

He pulled his head back inside the burning elevator and pushed a petite woman out the hole. The woman hit the floor hard but stood up. "Go get help! Go get help!" Mann yelled.

She stood there, dazed.

Mann put his feet into the hole and squeezed out feet first, crashing to the floor. He was barefoot and shirtless, his pants shredded.

The lobby was deserted. He walked through revolving doors and found four firefighters in the underground shopping mall. He brought them back to the elevator. "You need to help these people," he said. He fled the building and ended up in an ambulance.

Everybody else in the elevator died, including Friedlander and Giordano. Mann doesn't know what happened to the woman.

Mann had numerous injuries: burns, nerve damage to his arms and legs, a deep cut that limits use of his left hand. He's back at work now, but his 12-hour days are in the past. Mann spends more time with his wife and daughters.

"I got a second chance on life."

September 11, 2001: A World Trade Center Survivor's Account by Tilly (edited by Mike Austin)

Editor's note: This is a true, first-person account, one story of survival of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. It comes from one of our occasional RN posters, who uses the screen name of Tilly. She has understandably requested that her real name not be used. We decided to let Tilly tell the following story in her own words what occurred on that terrible Tuesday morning. We can better understand it has affected her, our nation, and the world, forever - we believe you'll be appreciative after reading it. We thank her for her generous permission to use her account, and think of those she mentions in it, as well as in our own lives, who were so affected that day.

This article first ran a year ago on the site (September 11, 2003). However, we believe that many new RN visitors and members since then might have never read Tilly's story, as well as longtime members who have. In the former case, we hope you'll gain a stark and clear understanding of what some went through; for the latter, we hope that you'll appreciate returning to this reminder brings remembrance and awareness. We know it's lengthy, but we can think of no better way to commemorate September 11, 2001 here. We hope you'll understand why after reading it.

September 11, 2001: I started my daily commute routine from my apartment at 76th and Lexington in Manhattan's Upper East Side to my World Trade Center (WTC) Tower 2 office. Getting to the 77th Street/Lexington Avenue subway station around my usual 7:40 a.m., I found that the downtown local was running late, but I was happy to see my three buddies on the train. They had the same commute as I did (they worked in WTC 1), and they were often feeling the morning effects of a previous night's socializing; I enjoyed teasing them on the way to work about what a long day it was going to be. We had gotten into a conversation about college football one morning, and we had made plans to meet up that weekend with various friends to watch the kickoff of a new season. I bid them "later," after we made plans to meet up after work that day at the Sphere fountain in the WTC plaza for the commute home.

I got my daily cup of coffee at the Church Street Starbucks. Whenever the weather was as pretty as that day, I always walked across the Plaza level entering WTC 2 (the "South Tower") on the north mezzanine level entrance, and headed down one flight of escalators to the main lobby level. I took one of the three elevator banks in the lobby (each serving floors 3-43, 44-77, and 78-110 respectively). I took the second set, and then transferred to internal elevators to get to my office; the morning's delays caused me to arrive in my 59th floor office (in the center of the South Tower's west side), at 8:43 a.m. instead of my usual 8:30 a.m (I glanced at my desk clock). I set my backpack down and with coffee in hand started towards my boss's office nearby. My co-worker and friend Karen, who was in early that morning (she usually got in at 9 a.m., but we commuted together that morning), had just turned on the morning radio news.

At that moment, a horrific boom resounded throughout the office, so loud that it reminded me of a supersonic jet screaming right next to the window, only 10 times louder. The building shook so severely that I had to grab the desk to keep my footing! Instantly, I spun around and ran into my boss’ office to look out the window facing west into New Jersey. Stepping up on the air conditioning vent that ran along the floor's perimeter, I pressed my face and body against the window (in hindsight this was not the smartest move, but it gave me a perspective on how severe the situation was). I saw monumental amounts of debris blowing by and raining down everywhere: chunks of burning metal, papers, desks - and bodies.

I could not believe what I was seeing.

It was too much for any one person to filter. The entire West Side Highway, the roof of the Marriott Hotel directly below, and everything flying through the air, was on fire. I stood there for what seemed an eternally long time, fixated in shock and amazement as the cars on the West Side Highway blew up, one after another. It took me about two seconds to deduce that I needed to get out - immediately. Although we had a good evacuation procedure in place, I was not going to wait for it to be dictated to me. I grabbed my backpack, then a frightened Karen, and stressed in a loud, forceful manor laced with foul language (using everything in the book and then some!) that everyone needed to move now! I didn't know at that moment what had occurred, but I knew that we were all in grave trouble, and that our best course of action was to be as close to the ground as we could go, in case something occurred that could trap us in a place where rescue was impossible. I've never at all liked being up high, which I know might sound silly coming from someone who worked in one of the tallest buildings in the world, but all I could think of was Towering Inferno at that moment, like I had thought everyday I worked there. Karen had been through the 1993 WTC bombing, and she had told me in detail what had happened, which always had frightened me; ironically, we had just been talking about it the day before. But these latent fears had served me well; I really did think often about the worst case scenario. Any time I went to another floor, or out to run an errand, I always took my belongings with me just in case something might happen. I was always looking at clocks, because for some reason the time was important to me. Now it was real.

Still, like most of the WTC occupants, I didn't yet know what exactly had happened. My first thought was that one of those traffic or commuter helicopters flying around us had lost control and hit the building, as happened during the 70's at the Pan Am Building. It still wasn't yet clear that anything happened to the tower next to us from my viewing angle; at that moment, I thought that it was above me in my tower. All I knew was that I sure wasn't going to hang around to find out! I went straight for the emergency stairwell about 12 feet from my desk with Karen in tow. Starting at our 59th floor, we zipped down the stairwell two and three stairs at a time, while in my head I could hear my father's voice saying, "Just get the hell out - focus - worry about what happened when you get home." I tied my jacket around my waist and ripped my dress shirt off (I had on a T-shirt because the office was always so cold), tearing it in half to wrap around our hands as they slid down the railings, or over our faces if we came upon smoke. We saw no one until we reached the 52nd floor. Everyone was descending orderly but rapidly, joking among ourselves to keep our own fears under control, but to also calm those around us that were more obviously scared. I remember passing the 44th floor thinking after what seemed like going down endless flights of stairs “Oh Lord I'm just at 44!" When I reach the 42nd floor, the P.A. announced that a plane has struck Tower 1 and to remain calm (which remarkably, everyone was at this point). When we reached the 38th floor, the now controversial P.A. announcement was issued that we should either return to our floor or exit onto the floor where we were, but to stay in the building because the falling debris made it unsafe to be outside, and our South Tower was not yet secure. No one going down in the stairwell stopped, although I know that others in the building took this advice, which for many of them was a fatal decision. We descended on.

It took me exactly 17 minutes to get down 59 flights of stairs because eventually it turned out to be the time difference between the two planes hitting each tower. I exited the emergency stairwell into the 1st floor lobby center elevator vestibule servicing floors 3 thought 43 about eight seconds before the second hijacked plane went through my Tower 2. I didn't think of it until later, but now as I recall, at this point I lost track of Karen.

What followed was unlike anything I have ever experienced, or could imagine experiencing; the only thing that comes close is the movie Die Hard. When that plane blew through upstairs the repercussions only took about 25 seconds, but it all seemed in slow motion to me, as if I was watching myself on a movie screen. All of the oxygen was sucked out of the building and my lungs (like being in a vacuum). I felt doomed because the turnstile exiting the elevator bank would not unlock for me to get out and run for the revolving doors leading out of the lobby and into the mall under the plaza level. I could not have known at that panic-filled moment, but that locked-up turnstile would save my life. Instead I'm thinking, "This is where I will die," because I can hear an explosion roaring downward inside the building. Yet somehow I looked over to see that the end turnstile wraps around a support beam forming about a two-square-foot space, but there is only about six inches to squeeze through between the end of the turnstile and wall beam. Something inside me told me to get in there. I'm about 100 pounds soaking wet, so I pressed myself through and balled up facing the support beam with the steel barrier wrapped around my back giving me a little protected cubby hole.

This is when the explosion came.

It progressed down the building, breaking the windows as it went; the entire building was groaning, an unnatural, unearthly sound, much like a can squeezing, or cracking uncooked spaghetti. By the time it reached the lobby, the marble veneer was cracking and falling off the walls; the chandeliers shattered on the floors along with the plaster ceiling, and the force imploded in at about 50 mph, pulling metal, balled safety glass, and other material with it. The pipes were bursting over my head and dense materials were flying around me as if they were being pureed in a blender. In the next instant came a horrible noise and a flash of extreme heat and light blown directly over my head. I concluded later in the day that this was from the huge airplane fireball sent down the 78-110 elevator shaft that exploded out into the lobby, and blew around the walls and curled into the center vestibule where I was taking cover. The third and last explosion occurred when a huge chunk of burning wreckage fell to Liberty Street, which runs parallel along the south side of the South Tower, and crashed through the building into the lobby behind me, bringing metal, glass, marble and revolving doors with it. There had been four security men and some fleeing WTC workers behind me near those revolving doors; I realized that they were all taken out by either a huge chunk of the building exploding outwards or the tail end of the plane falling to the street. I now know that there were nine of us in the lobby that day when the plane hit, two NYPD officers on the 44-77 elevator side, and two others coming out of emergency stairwells on the 78-110 elevator side. The two officers and I were the only ones who made it out alive.

As the debris and dust settled, water started to rain down, and black smoke began to roll through with the strong smell of jet fuel in what was left of a once beautiful lobby. I jumped up, wedging myself out of my cubbyhole, and tried to crawl under the turnstiles and out for the revolving doors leading to the mall. I was covered in dust, glass, water and a variety of other stuff, trying to get to one of the 10 revolving doors in front of me with every bit of calm I could muster. It was not easy. I looked back at two bodies, then forward to notice a ladder perched in front of one revolving door. Used to reach flowers in planters above the doors, it was a startling sight, completely undisturbed, along with the flowers and planters, in an otherwise chaotic, collapsing, rubble-filled lobby. After crawling to the revolving doors leading into the underground mall, I went about 14 feet further and came to a NYFD firefighter at the mall doors, who was pulling the door from the mall side. I couldn't move those doors because of all the debris in the footwell and their weight, nor did I think fast enough to crawl through the openings where the glass had been. He reached his hand in and pulled me through the door by my jacket shoulder, and asked if I was okay. I thought to myself, “Thank God the cavalry is here, everything is going to be okay, if anyone can fix this the Fire Department can." Of course I didn’t know the full scope of the situation at that moment and I don't think they did either.