|LMB resident John was working in one of the twin towers in New York City the morning of September 11, 2001. His story will be posted in the LMBoroLMPark Newsletter in three parts. To view photo illustrations taken by John, click on:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/beaneryonlineliterarymagazineOn September 11, 2001, John was in New York City working as a freelance sound recordist/video engineer. He had many clients in downtown New York, where he found most of his jobs. He also worked in Philadelphia and other places, but the New York work was most challenging.This Tuesday he was working at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter (Company), a very large financial consultant company similar to J. P. Morgan. He’s worked there a half dozen times. They had a television studio they’d just built, completed in December 2000.They had called me to do audio or video engineering, John said, as usual—at the last minute. This particular time I was paged at home in Allentown at 4:15 September 10. Andy said he’d forgotten to book someone to shade cameras for a 9 a.m. show the next day, and asked if I was available. They do live multi-camera shows they send to all their branches by satellite. I worked a lot of those places.
Before continuing, John added a couple of aside stories, noting that he’s had his share of terrorism experiences. “I’ve been close to it,” he said.
He’d done a lot more work at Merrill Lynch than at Morgan Stanley. In 1993, he had just left Merrill Lynch before it was blown up in 1993. As he left the company the perpetrators probably were trying to get their truck into the garage. The explosion at the World Trade Center occurred while John was in New Jersey, halfway home to his Allentown home. All the New York stations became just snow because they broadcast off the North Tower.
Another aside. John said his experience with Islam Faschist types goes back about 25 years to the Iranian hostage situation. He was a senior at Johnstown High School, cruising with his buddy. He and Ron drove down a street where Ron said “This is where Regis lived.” Master Sergeant Regis Ragan was one of the hostages, and he had just returned home the day before. They parade in his honor hadn’t even been held. Ron and I knocked on his door, wanting to say welcome home, and Ragan said “Come in.” We talked with him for an hour and a half. He was taken hostage at the same age I was when I experienced September 11—38 years old. “This Regis thing didn’t pop into my mind until about a year ago,” John said.
In another aside, John has been to all but one of the places in London that have been terrorized—where the bus blew up, the Picadilly Line, Shepherd’s Bush—they keep hitting where I’ve been. It’s just the way his path happens to have gone.
On September 11. John arrived to his job at 7:34 a.m., a little late. He was supposed to be at Morgan Stanley at 7:30 a.m. He parked his car and walked out to world financial center, and across the sky bridge to go to Liberty Street into south tower, where he had to undergo security that was put in place after the 1993 event. “You had to stand in a cube, like the counter at the airport,” he said. “You had to have your picture taken for a visitor identification tag, they actually called the contact person who hired you, and you received a magnetic strip that took you through turnstyle leading to the elevators.
John made it through the security. Looking back, John wonders about how many of the people nearby him undergoing the security check died soon in nasty ways. “It’s kind of weird.”
The studio was on the sky lobby. Buildings that tall need both express and local elevator systems. In the South Tower people took an express elevator most of the way up, then continued on a local elevator. The changeover point was where John was scheduled to work.
“I remember standing in an elevator full of people watching the numbers on the counter—in my mind I was thinking there were ten feet per floor, how high do I have to go. I exited the elevator to go to the studio. Cameras were in one room and the engineering room where I worked was one hundred feet away. The room had raised computer floors and fans running. You couldn’t hear a lot. Andy (his employer), the production manager, came in and said in his haste the previous day he’d forgotten to get the audio set up. He asked me if I could “switch hats” and cover it. At this moment we were just setting up for the filming. A normal routine.
Just then Andy looked at the screen saw a little glitch. Then he heard a little noise—in the hallway we could hear all this scuffling and yelling from office area. We went out and were told a plane flew into the North Tower building. We saw tan dust and papers floating down. I looked up briefly. I remember the face of the department head, who said “Get out get out!”
We were on the 44th floor. I thought I shouldn’t hit the elevator. We ran and hit the steps, which was about a third of the way up the stairwell that served our floor. As I entered the stairwell my first thought was “I hope it doesn’t get so crowded and people panic.” People filled the stairs but they were never extremely packed.
It felt like a fire drill. You knew a lot of people had just been killed but you tried to make small talk. In the back of my mind I wondered if we would get the show done, since the reality that we probably wouldn’t return hadn’t set in yet. I recall noticing the odor of jet fuel at some point while going down the stairs. Another thing going on was that women were ditching their high heels on the landings, so you saw lots of not real practical footwear there. One woman behind me that was pretty scared, crying. Perhaps she had been there in 1993. Otherwise things were calm.
When I reached about the 15th floor level someone from the Port Authority called over the loudspeakers “Attention! Attention! There was an accident in building one. Building two is secure. You can return to your offices. I saw one person going up, and I think he was from the Port Authority.” Nobody else turned back.
I think part of the reason I didn’t turn back was that a well-known person hired for security had told Stanley that if something happened in the building, he should get out first—that he could always come back. “Do not listen to the Port Authority,” Stanley was instructed.
John finally reached the mezzanine and moved with others toward an escalator leading to the concourse. “Before I got on the escalator, I stepped out of line for a second to call my girlfriend. If I was going underground, I wanted to call her to explain what was going on, to say I was on my way out,” John said. “But before I could tell her that I was already downstairs the phone cut out.”
Making this call delayed John for 20 seconds. It turned out to be a critical 20 seconds.
He reentered the line, took the escalator, and headed east in the concourse. He went towards the first right in order to walk a direction away from the North Tower, which would get him onto Liberty Street.
“I was just rounding the corridor to the turn to go south, headed to the door, when the second plane hit the South Towers,” he said. “It sounded like someone up stairs hitting an industrial size dumpster with a sledge hammer. I heard two big explosions. The first explosion was sound of the impact traveling through steel, and the second may have been the sound (of the explosion traveling) through the air or the fireball going up. I and a few others got up against a wall, wondering ‘What was that, did Building One start to fall over?’ I didn’t think it was a second plane, but it was a big enough sound you just wanted to get against something solid. I wanted to pause a moment to see what happened, probably a few seconds.”
Andy was ahead of John in the concourse. When they compared notes a couple of years later, Andy told John his hands were on the door, pushing it open, when he felt the “whoosh” of the plane and saw the fireball reflected in the building across the street. Andy backed into the building.
The people who were ten stories up when the South Tower was hit by the airplane felt the stairway shift and felt their bodies do a slow pitch forward and then a slow pitch back.
John recalls “my knees were buckling, and I remember it was first time I was scared. It is the one time of a blank spot.” From his position against the wall he remembers the Port Authority directing people back through the concourse, headed north.
He looked down hall at the glass doors that opened to Liberty Street. “I was headed out those doors,” John said. There is a split second vision he still recalls: “big chunks of building on fire landing on sidewalk. In the image of the door I saw no people.” He wonders if there were more out there than falling chunks of building.
“Had it not been for the phone call I would have been out there far enough not to get back in.” He would have been in a position that flaming debris falling from the building would easily hit him.
To continue reading John’s story go to LMB RESIDENT’S SEPT. 11, 2001 STORY: Part 2 of 2
November 3, 2007
LMB RESIDENT’S SEPT. 11, 2001 STORY: Part 1 of 2