9/11 Survivor Stories Twenty Years Later
Twenty years ago, the lives of Americans changed when 19 hijackers crashed four planes into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Every year, everyone asks “Where were you when 9/11 happened?” Did you watch the events unfold on TV? Did you listen to it on the radio as you were on your way to school or work? Everyone has a story, but the stories I will cover in this article are unlike any you may have heard before.
They are stories of loved ones who lived in New York and were at Ground Zero that day. She witnessed United 175 crash into Tower Two. She witnessed the collapse and ran from the falling debris. It’s the story of a man who worked in Tower Two and was laid off on Sept. 10th, 2001. It’s the story of a commuter who was late to work and had he been on time, would not be here today. Finally, it’s the story of a remarkable woman and her harrowing tale of survival.
The first story comes from Danny. Danny lived in Hoboken, New Jersey. He worked for Morgan Stanley on the 74th floor of Tower Two. On September 10th, his boss informed him that he was being laid off. The next day he awoke after drinking his sorrows away to the worst sight he could have imagined: the building he formerly worked in was on fire. Danny tells his family every day that in an odd twist of fate, he was happy he was laid off. Basically, his office was in the impact zone of ill-fated United Flight 175. Surprisingly, he says it was the best thing that ever happened to him.
Eddie was running late on September 11th. It is an annoyance that happens to all of us, but his tardiness saved his life. As Eddie approached the George Washington Bridge, one of the busiest bridges in New York, he saw the traffic and knew he would not make it to work on time. Eddie phoned his boss to let him know he would be late, and his boss, unhappy about this, let Eddie know that if he was late, he would be fired. Eddie then watched American Airlines Flight 11 crash into the North Tower just three minutes after that call. At that point, he turned around on the bridge and headed back to his home in New Jersey.
9/11 is a day full of stories of survival where if this or that had happened one way or the other, perhaps those people would not be here. Danny and Eddie are examples of that. However, this next story of survival is unlike Danny’s or Eddie’s. In fact, this next story may be unlike any you have heard of before.
This story is so personal and emotional that I have been asked to use a pseudonym for this survivor.
Tammy worked on the 106th floor of Tower Two, well above the impact zone of United 175. As Tammy’s office continued to fill with smoke, knowing her asthma would make it impossible to breathe, she broke out of the windows. With growing desperation, she realized evacuation was impossible as she stood on the windowsill 106 stories up and was faced with an impossible decision: suffocate or jump. Tammy made the unthinkable choice, and jumped out the window, just as the tower collapsed. In free fall and believing that her fate was sealed, she was caught in an updraft from a collapsing building. Four days later, Tammy was pulled from the rubble, miraculously alive, but with both legs and arms shattered, as well as a broken back and neck. Today, she has five children and is doing as well as can be expected.
These stories of survival are a fitting tribute to a day remembered for its loss of life. Many of us have a story about that day, thousands of which are stories of loss and grief. Those stories also need to be told, those lives remembered. But these stories are ones that also need telling because it is truly the only way we can feel good about remembering a bad day. We can remind ourselves that bad things, like losing a job, can sometimes save our lives. Life is messy like that. And like a phoenix, we rise from the ashes to rebuild and recover. But always, always, we will remember.