By Teena Myers
Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Mark boarded an early train into New York City for a nine o’clock meeting. He walked into the conference room on the thirty-seventh floor and drank in the stunning view of the Hudson River spilling into the Upper New York Bay near the Statue of Liberty. He set his briefcase on the conference table and waited for his coworkers to arrive.
Having used the conference room in the past, he was accustomed to helicopters passing the window on their way to a helipad. When he heard a loud noise, he assumed a helicopter had passed too close, until an explosion rocked the building. He ran to a window facing the World Trade Center. A massive fire filled his field of vision. He looked down at the crowd gathering in the street.
“The crowd reminded me of Mardi Gras — masses of people staring up at passing floats. I wondered why they were standing there. Didn’t they know the building could fall on them?” said Mark.
He called corporate headquarters to report his location and see if they needed him to do anything. They were unaware of an emergency. He called his wife, Janice, nine months pregnant with their third child. Janice had put their eldest daughter on the school bus and was preparing their other daughter for Pre-K when the phone rang. At Mark’s request, she turned on the TV. There was no “breaking news,” and she was running late. She turned off the TV and grabbed her purse.
Transfixed by the horror unfolding before him, Mark looked out the window again. “That’s when I saw a black woman wearing a purple suit falling to her death and then a man in a gray suit. I looked down at lifeless bodies on the street.”
He returned to the conference room where he had left his briefcase. “As I collected my things, I glanced out the window. An airplane was headed toward me. Suddenly, the plane turned, and another explosion rocked the building.”
Meanwhile, Janice strapped her daughter into her car seat and then stuck her key into the ignition. As the engine hummed to life, a voice from the radio announced a plane had just hit the World Trade Center. Her cell phone rang. “I just saw a plane hit the World Trade Center,” said Mark. “I’m coming home.”
Mark grabbed his briefcase. Mary, a member of his team, joined him as he headed for the stairwell already clogged with people from fifty-five floors of the World Financial Center. The mass of human flesh inched down the stairs. “I kept thinking either more planes would hit the building or the building would collapse before I could get out,” said Mark. He reached for his cell phone and the comfort of his wife’s voice. No cell phone service.
Janice walked her daughter into her school like any normal day. “No one knew what was taking place in New York City, and I didn’t want to announce the sky is falling without understanding what had happened. It was surreal. I had a doctor’s appointment, so I continued my day as usual. It was noon before I returned home and turned on the television. That’s when I understood the magnitude of what had happened.”
“As I neared the ground floor, I thought about Sodom and Gomorrah, and Lot’s wife,” said Mark. “If I made it out of the building, I wasn’t going to look back. I was afraid the horrendous sight would hypnotize me into an immobile trance, sealing my doom.”
Forty-five minutes later, Mark and Mary flowed out of the first-floor exit with the river of people seeking safety. He set his face toward the Hudson River, carefully keeping his back to the inferno filling the sky with black smoke. When he reached the river, he turned north toward Grand Central Station. “I was just a few blocks up Westside Highway when the north tower collapsed. I looked back. It was horrific. I wanted to tell Janice ‘I’m Okay’ but the cell phone was useless.”
Mark spotted an attendant in a parking lot and asked to use the landline phone. Comforted by the sound of Janice’s voice, he exited the lot into mayhem. Emergency vehicles sped south toward the Twin Towers. More emergency vehicles with dented roofs and broken windows sped north. People gathered around car radios and shouted the radio announcer’s instructions to people fleeing from the terrorist attack. “Don’t go near the Empire State Building. They will hit it next,” someone shouted. Mark looked up at the Empire State Building.
He stopped at an ATM, hoping to withdraw enough cash to pay for a ride out of the hell surrounding him. His search for a car with a Connecticut license plate proved futile. Fifty blocks later, Mark and Mary reached Grand Central Station. The station had closed until threats of an attack on the station were investigated. With no way to leave, Mary’s room in a nearby hotel served as a refuge. “I caught a train home after the station reopened. When I arrived, Janice had dinner ready like any normal evening,” said Mark.