Thursday, September 11, 2008

9/11: A Personal Story

From Ritholz' blog. He re-tells the story of a close personal friend and co-worker who had an office in the South Tower.

"I had just come up from the subway next to the World Trade Center. I had walked up the subway stairs, and went towards the Trade Center to work. Sirens were wailing, but you hear fire engines and ambulances all the time in Manhattan, so you more or less learn to ignore them.

"I went towards the plaza to light a cigarette. I neared the [New Jersey Commuter Rail] Path train entrances -- about a block from the Trade Center Plaza, and perhaps 2 blocks from the North Tower." [In my mind's eye, I pictured him -- suit & tie, briefcase over his shoulder, head bent down to his cupped hand to catch the flame]. "When I was lit, I noticed paper and dust swirling around. I looked up at the top of the building, only to see that it was on fire."

"I'm staring at this scene -- smoke coming out of the top floors of the tower. It is disturbing, but obviously nothing like what was to come later."

It was at that moment that "the Loudest explosion I ever heard in my life happened. I looked up again to see smoke billowing from both buildings, and an enormous fireball. I could see papers and ash raining down, debris falling. My first thoughts were to get the hell away from there, get to safety, go towards the water."

Ritholz mentions that Bill is an ex-Marine.

"In my mind, I figured the safest place to be was near the water -- worse comes to worse, I could always jump in. So I started running. I ran towards the South Street Seaport until I couldn't run anymore." [He's a pretty big guy -- 6'2", 245, and even carrying an extra 20 pounds, he's more fit than most].

"All I know is that I was the fastest big, fat, guy in a suit yesterday," is how he described himself this morning.

"I was just in Survival Mode."

"By the time I got to the South Street Seaport, I was out of breath, but glad to be alive. Cell phone connections were spotty, and the lines at the pay phones were 10 deep. I found a sign for a handicapped elevator, and walked around that corner to find a bank of 4 empty pay phones."

..."So I started up Broadway to get to the entrance of the bridge. I eventually made my way up near the Millennium Hotel -- 2 blocks from the WTC, and the equivalent of about 4 blocks from the 2 Towers. That's when the surreal scene went from bad to worse."

"Looking [West] down one of the streets [either Liberty or Cortlandt], I could see the Towers on fire. About 2/3rds of the way up, I see a man is standing in an open window. I'm looking right at him -- just staring at him in dumbfounded amazement -- and he leaps out. That's the scene I cannot erase from my mind -- him jumping. How much pain do you have to be in to 'voluntarily' jump out of a 50th story window?"

"I finally made my way over to the Brooklyn Bridge. Hundreds of people were calmly walking across. It was simply another surreal scene. F-18s fighter jets circling the skies, survivors walking across. I see a big jet -- a 747? -- in the sky. Oh, shit, I think, here we go again. I feel totally vulnerable up on the bridge. Then I notice that the 747 is escorted by a fighter jet -- and that was incredibly reassuring. I can only imagine what the conversation was like between those two pilots."

"I'm half way across the bridge, and -- even more unbelievable -- an Arab man is singing & celebrating, clapping and yelling "My Arab brothers, my Arab brothers." I was too concerned with my own survival to do anything to him -- though a few things came to mind. My own thoughts were: I just want to live through this, just see my wife and kids. Right then, four iron workers grab the guy. I figured they were going to kill him, there and then. The cops are on the group in a flash, and break it up. I tell the cops to let them throw 'em over the side. The bastard's lucky they didn't kill him on the spot."

2,998 names, 2,998 lives.

Never again.

1 comment:

J. Gravelle said...

I might have mentioned to you the other night that my last flight was a few weeks before the attacks and, coincidentally, my business trip had been to One World Trade, and I'd stayed at the Marriott across the street from the towers.

The morning of 9/11, when I saw all that shredded paper fluttering to the ground like so much confetti, I opened my wallet and pulled out the printed UPC passes they issued us to get through the security turnstiles in the tower lobby.

My kid was sitting on my knee. I might have bruised a few ribs if I'd hugged him as tightly as I wanted to right then.

Never again is right...