It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
Ed Nicholls couldn't find the stairway, the stairway that just minutes before he had climbed to get to the 78th floor.
The lobby was barely recognizable. Debris covered the floor; steel beams dangled from the ceiling. Sprinklers sprayed water, and the pall of smoke made it hard to see.
Struggling to breathe, Nicholls made his way to the broken north windows.
The dress code was casual at his firm, but as always, Nicholls wore a suit, tie, cufflinks. Now his gray suit jacket was the only thing holding his smashed right shoulder in place. His white dress shirt was red from a wound to his stomach; he put his white handkerchief to his face. It turned red, too.
Nicholls looked down nearly a thousand feet to the Trade Center plaza. He could hear more explosions from inside the building. To his right, an escalator going up to the offices of Fuji Bank was on fire. All around, the smoke and flames were getting worse.
When they reached the bottom floor, they stepped into ankle-deep water. She held up her new Banana Republic pants, hoping she wouldn't ruin them in the water. There were firefighters and policemen on the bottom floor instructing them to go in a direction that seemed to her to be the longer way of getting out of the building. She found out later they instructed them to go in that direction to keep them from seeing the crushed bodies of those who had jumped from the windows, and parts of bodies. She noticed a crack in the foundation of the wall when they were in the shopping area of the bottom floor and wondered then "what could have happened to cause this much damage."
"...south tower...Rooney...told his wife that he was trapped on the 105th floor of the burning building. He had made several attempts to escape first trying to run down the stairs, but he was beaten back around the 76th floor by the heat and smoke. Then he tried to access the observation deck just above his office, but he couldn't because the door was locked. "
"...Tower One...Leder and Forney...had faced their own ordeal. Heading downstairs, the two had hit a dead end at 72. The stairs just didn't go any farther, they said. Leder and Forney found a door to another stairwell, but it was locked.
"The situation was bad. "There were fires all over" the 72nd floor, Leder said. "No walls, wires everywhere." They found another staircase, but it was packed. Progress was slow. People would walk down five steps and then stop. "We were sweating like crazy," Forney said...." [locked?]
"...Things were tougher for Cary Sheih. When he reached the lower floors water started to pour into the stairwell. A pipe had burst, Sheih guessed. Water was up to his ankles. But he was close now, very close. Fifth floor, fourth.
""Then all of a sudden a loud boom, and the building began to shake unbearably again," he recalled. "People started falling as smoke started to rise. Emergency lights flickered and went out. I could hear the steel buckling. Rescuers below shouted for us to go back upstairs."
"Sheih returned to the sixth or seventh floor. A firefighter led him through the darkness to another stairwell...."
"...85th floor of One World Trade Center...As they descended into the breathable but intensely hot stairwells, Heineman's staff was stopped cold seven stories down, at a stairwell door that was locked. Forced out through the 78th floor's "sky lobby," where express elevators go to the main lobby, a building employee "didn't know" any other way down, said Heineman.
"Frantic, he discovered a second stairwell on the building's east side, and continued downward, only to be stopped by yet another locked door. This time, he said, someone had a key...."
"The last time Cindy Guan's family spoke to her, she was trapped in an elevator on the 12th floor of Tower 2. She had been on her way up to her office on the 86th floor, where she worked....Guan's brother had phoned her as soon as he saw TV footage of the first plane crashing into tower 1. He called her again after seeing the second plane hit her building, only to find that she was still trapped on the same floor...."
[John Labriola]: "WTC1....Around the 35th floor....A few floors lower water was flowing creating rapids down the stairs. This got worse as we got lower down...."
"Four floors below, Geoffrey Heineman, managing partner of a law firm on the 85th floor of the north tower,...
"They tried getting out through the main lobby of the firm, but smoke had already filled it, so Heineman led the group back inside the offices, down a stairway at the other end, through the file room. The door was blocked by files that had fallen to the floor. They cleared them and walked out to the emergency stairs.
"They made it down to the 78th floor, where there's a "sky lobby," the usual point where people get express elevators to the ground floor. "We had to exit to the lobby," Heineman said. "There was smoke, people milling around.
"...Heineman's group continued its descent...
"The lower stairwell was thick with smoke. People labored to breathe and slowed. Others pushed past.
""Eventually, as we got closer, to about the 16th floor, it started to move. The last six floors, there was water pouring down the stairwells. We got to the mezzanine and had to walk down the escalators from there to the main lobby, which had 6 to 8 inches of water....
By Christine Gillies-Dilouie...87th floor of the North Tower
"Our eyes started to burn and we were coughing. I asked Fred to get each of us a bottle of water stocked in the fridge. We placed wet napkins over our mouths to prevent smoke inhalation. The smoke was getting thicker as the fire started to creep further towards us.
"All four of us fled the office's side door. Fortunately, the office had an alternate exit as the collapsed ceiling and fire blocked the main entrance. In the hallway, a brave man was fighting the fire with an extinguisher....
"Just as I started to panic over being trapped, a building maintenance worker with a walkie-talkie shouted: "We've got to go back up to get down."
"Everyone followed behind him, walking up the stairs to the 83rd floor and exiting the stairwell into an office. Half of the corridor was blocked by a caved-in wall and electrical fire. Another brave man was trying to extinguish the flames. As we scurried over the soaked carpet, past the flames, we felt the heat of the fire and the spray from the extinguisher. I remember wishing I hadn't worn a polyester shirt that day.
"For over an hour, we slowly moved down the stairs. Around the 40th floor, the smoke cleared significantly.
"Around the 45th floor, the smoke started to clear. The stairwells were hot and clammy, but everyone had removed the handkerchiefs from their faces.
"As we neared the ground floor, the stairs were pooled with water as the sprinkler systems had been operating on the lower floors. The stairs were quite slippery and a couple of people lost their footing and fell down the stairs on their rear end.
"Finally, Yvette and I hoorayed over the sight of daylight at ground level. The stairwell exited at the main plaza where the copper globe fountain had been. I gasped with shock as I caught a glimpse of the unrecognizable area. It looked like a war zone covered in two feet of gray debris and dust.
""What the hell happened down here," I asked under my breath.
"The World Trade Center lobby was a mess. All of the windows were smashed and the signs hung crookedly from the ceiling. The lobby was floating in four inches of water. The ceiling sprinklers drenched us with cold water causing Yvette and I to scurry a little faster.
"But before I could reply, a huge thunder and cracking erupted from behind us. Then, a strong wind swept toward us. People started to scream and run. Within seconds, the roof collapsed and debris fell all around us. Then blackness.
"The first tower was collapsing, although we didn't know what was happening at the time.
"...Yvette...87th floor to my office...a noise, It sounded like I was on the platform of a subway station and the train was coming full speed ahead. I remember thinking "What the hell is that" It was then that I heard a crash, the ceiling came down, and fire consumed parts of the office and the entire hallway. I was terrified. My boss Christine said "Yvette, get under the desk" to avoid the ceiling coming down on me, so I did. The fire was unreal and the smoke was getting thick...I could hardly breathe. The firemen insisted that we keep walking and we all cheered as we got to the mall level. The sprinklers sprayed us from above...
Adam Mayblum...87th floor of 1 World Trade Center...when the first plane hit just a few stories above us...The building lurched violently and shook as if it were an earthquake. People screamed. I watched out my window as the building seemed to move 10 to 20 feet in each direction. It rumbled and shook long enough for me to get my wits about myself and grab a co-worker and seek shelter under a doorway. Light fixtures and parts of the ceiling collapsed. The kitchen was destroyed. Smoke started billowing in through the holes in the ceiling. I believe that there were 13 of us.
In the halls there were tiny fires and sparks. The ceiling had collapsed in the men's bathroom. It was gone along with anyone who may have been in there. On the 85th floor a brave associate of mine and I headed back up to our office to drag out my partner who stayed behind. There was no air, just white smoke. We made the rounds through the office calling his name. No response. He must have succumbed to the smoke. Wires and fires all over the place. Smoke too. A brave man was fighting a fire with the emergency hose.
I called my friend Angel in San Francisco. I knew he would be watching. He was amazed I was on the phone. He told me to get out that there was another plane on its way. I did not know what he was talking about. By now the second plane had struck Tower 2. We were so deep into the middle of our building that we did not hear or feel anything.
Hong Zhu [was on the 87th floor of WTC 1]...When Hong got to the 53rd floor...Hong found an elevator.
"No! No!" a Port Authority official screamed. "Don't take it!"
"Hong and Harry tried to send a magazine down in the elevator. In the confusion of the moment, they reasoned that if the elevator came back, and the magazine was still inside, it would be safe. That was what passed for logic at the time. They pressed the "down" button, but the doors didn't close. So Hong decided that he would be the guinea pig instead.
He stepped inside, and the doors closed behind him. "Hong took the elevator down to the 44th floor, the next transfer lobby. So far, so good. He pressed "52," went back up and collected Harry and the heavyset man.
"On 44--halfway down--Hong, Harry and the heavyset man got off the elevator and stumbled across the lobby toward the last bank of elevators that would take them all the way down.
"Hong pressed the "down" button again. Nothing. They would have to take the stairs.
"As time passed, the stairs became increasingly crowded. Heat began to build, dust poured into the stairwells and the water was around their ankles.
"All the while, the building was coming apart. Walls creaked and then cracked.
John Paul DeVito ...Harry Ramos...1 World Trade Center [87th floor], lurched violently, like a ship in high seas. DeVito was nearly knocked off his chair. Ramos braced himself in a doorway.
"Lighting fixtures pulled loose from the ceiling, crashing on the floor. Papers flew. Smoke poured in through holes that suddenly opened overhead.
"...their office at the May Davis Group, a small investment bank, was filling with smoke.
"...He decided to take the lead in going down. The others formed a human chain behind him, each putting a hand on the shoulder of the person in front, and descended into the gathering smoke.
"Nine floors down, the stairwell ended. Emerging into a hallway to look for the next flight of stairs, the group saw wires dangling from cracked ceilings. Sparks popped. Small fires burned everywhere. Office workers were milling in confusion. The smoke was thickening.
At the north tower, the evacuation began after an explosion and rain of debris as low as the 88th floor, just below where the first jet slammed into the tower.
"Dorene Smith, a Port Authority executive assistant, had been standing at her desk with a colleague when parts of the ceiling caved in.
""We're going to be fine," they told each other as they grabbed their pocketbooks and moved through the rubble to the stairway.
"Confusion reigned for a few moments, and Smith called home to say she was trapped. Then someone led the way to an open stairway, and she sped through the stairwell.
[John DeVito, 87th floor WTC 1]...
The room lurched right. I nearly fell off my chair, then clutched the desk as the room jolted left. An earthquake? A ceiling tile clattered onto my desk. Light fixtures dangled, wires spitting. "It's a bomb!" someone yelled.
For a stunned moment we stared at one another. "I'll go check!" I ran into the corridor. Smoke. People peering from office doorways. I groped my way through the haze, past the elevators, down the hall to . . . I stopped.
The rest of the corridor was gone. Where a row of doors had been, I found myself staring down into a hellhole of fire and twisted steel.
Burning debris cascaded around me. Without thinking, I snatched a broken piece of wallboard and beat at the flames. It was a moment before sanity returned. [The plane struck WTC 1 from about the 94th floor to the 98th floor.]
Dust and smoke seeped from the ceiling.
In the corridor the smoke had grown thicker. "Not the elevators!" I shouted. Pressing the wet cloth over my nose, I led the way . . . right . . . then left . . . Where was the exit sign? I'd passed it a thousand times, scarcely seeing it—who takes stairs from the eighty-seventh floor? We were almost at the chasm where the hallway ended when I saw the sign glowing redly through the gloom. If the floor had fallen in a few yards nearer, there would have been no exit.
The stairwell was filled with acrid smoke and fleeing people.
At the seventy-eighth floor the stairway suddenly ended. Seventy-eight was a transfer floor. The stairway continued somewhere on the other side of an open area around the elevator banks. We stepped into a scene of pandemonium. In the choking dust hundreds of people milled, looking for an exit. From the ceiling exposed wires sent showers of sparks into the crowd. Small fires crept along the floor.
Still 50 floors to go. A stream of water from the automatic sprinklers was making the steps slippery.
[Geoffrey Heineman on the 85th floor of WTC 1 just after the plane strikes.] ...after learning that the main entrance was filled with smoke, led his staff through a filing room to a stairwell.
As they descended into the breathable but intensely hot stairwells...
As they reached the lower 20 stories, water began pouring down the stairs.
Five blocks north, near City Hall, he stopped and called his wife on the cell phone, realizing only then that the second tower was on fire. And then the south tower collapsed.
John McLaughlin [91st floor of WTC 1]...He says, “it was then that I heard the roar of jet engines coming right at us. I have a vague recollection of a shadow crossing the blinds. And then one or two seconds after the roar came the impact. The whole building shook, moved, and oscillated. The interior wall and the ceiling at the east end of the office came in.
“People were getting fire extinguishers. Someone had the presence of mind to soak a big roll of paper towels.” Everyone was safe, though George Sleigh, a phlegmatic Briton who is manager of ABS’ Technical Consistency Department, was “encased” in debris and had to be extricated from his cubicle. Steve went to check the fire exits. There were three of them. “The first, on the left, had a lot of water and debris.
“The corridors to the east were impassable, and there was a lot of smoke.
“We started down. I remember very few people coming down from other floors. We stopped at around the 85th floor to take stock and to calm each other. That was much better. We realized the fire was above us and that it was clear below. We just had to get down.”
From then on, they moved quickly, their minds focussed entirely on getting out rather than on whatever might be happening above them. All the same, he says that emotionally he was “up and down like a yo-yo”. “We were completely encased in tunnels. And then we would open a door onto a floor and there would be guys fighting a fire...
They were ordered down to the lobby floor and directed across the plaza to an exit on the eastern side of the complex, Steve helping Ruth along under the drenching rain of the fire sprinklers. Seconds later, at 9.58, Two World Trade Center imploded.
[Claire McIntyre, 91st floor WTC 1]...
ABS has held offices in the World Trade Center for about 10 years, but downsized when the corporate headquarters moved to Texas two years ago. The New York office normally employs 22 people, but at the time of tragedy only 11 staff were actually in the office. Miraculously while hundreds of people located on lower floors in both the north and south buildings are still unaccounted for all the ABS staff escaped.
At least 70 Port Authority of New York and New Jersey staff — including the executive director Neil Leven — are still missing. Their 65th floor offices are over 20 floors lower down the building than ABS’ office.
Robert Chess...was on the 85th floor..."Obviously, there was a lot of damage done to the offices. The ceiling crumpled, and the walls did too. .... We just tried to get out as quickly as possible."
He and others from his office would soon discover, however, that the floor by the elevator bank had collapsed. The workers went scurrying for the stairwell, but it was pitch dark.
"The floor was on fire, pipes had burst, water was flowing all over the place, and there were fires in the walls. I grabbed a trading jacket to put over my mouth. It was pitch dark, but eventually we found the stairwell," Chess said.
I worked on the 89th Floor of 1 World Trade Center.... few minutes later the entire front of my office, where I was sitting, blew up and the entire building swayed back and forth. Flames, smoke, and debris from the ceiling covered the entrance of the office. There were four other people in my office at that time. Since we could not exit the normal way, the only other option was to use the emergency exit, which was located a few feet away and luckily had not yet gone up in flames.
There was a problem, though. Because my company had never dreamed of anything of this magnitude happening, we used the narrow room where the exit was located as the Xerox room, in which were kept file cabinets about 9 feet high used to store supplies, etc. In the explosion, the cabinets fell over and the ceiling came down, blocking the exit door. I thought we were trapped and would burn right there.
One of my co-workers, Frances, was in the Xerox room and was almost crushed by one of the cabinets. In a matter of seconds we were all in the room trying to lift the cabinets and open the exit door enough so that we could crawl through. It's true what they say about superhuman strength when the adrenaline is pumping. We finally did it.
The entire floor was filled with smoke, and luckily the office two doors down was safe to go into. The five of us, could barely breathe due to all of the smoke we inhaled and were restlessly walking around the office, coughing, cursing, crying, yelling, trying to contact people we loved, holding each other. We had no idea what the hell was going on. We thought that perhaps a pipe had burst or something.
The hallways were filled with smoke and we couldn't find the staircases. Finally, about 5 minutes after the second crash, someone who worked for the Port Authority entered our office and directed us to the stairs with a flashlight. Meanwhile, we were getting soaked because the sprinkler system had turned on, people were falling because the debris from the ceiling was piled high, and a couple of people fainted.
[Christine] Gillies was on the 87th floor of the World Trade Center North tower...
What sounded and felt like an explosion rocked the building. Part of the office's roof caved in, and Gillies and her colleagues scurried under their desks while debris fell around them. Almost immediately, smoke filled the room.
Choked on the smoke, the Thor employees left the office. They made their way to a stairwell where a man unsuccessfully tried to put out the blaze with a fire extinguisher.
Gillies' group eventually made their way down an escalator into the mall below the Trade Center. The fire sprinklers were soaking everyone. "We were instructed not to run," she said.
[Andy Perry]: He grabbed his pal Nathan Shields from his office, and they began to run down 46 flights. With each passing floor more and more people joined the flow down the steps. The lights stayed on, but the lower stairs were filled with water from burst pipes and sprinklers. "Everyone watch your step," people called out. "Be careful!" The smell of jet fuel suffused the building. Hallways collapsed, flames shot out of a men's room. By the time they reached the lobby, they just wanted to get out--but the streets didn't look any safer.
Architect Bob Shelton...heard the explosion of the first plane hitting the north tower from his 56th-floor office in the south tower. As he made his way down the stairwell, his building came under attack as well. "You could hear the building cracking. It sounded like when you have a bunch of spaghetti, and you break it in half to boil it." Shelton knew that what he was hearing was bad. "It was structural failure," Shelton says. "Once a building like that is off center, that's it."
Gilbert Richard Ramirez works for BlueCross BlueShield on the 20th floor of the north tower. Someone pulled an emergency alarm switch, but nothing happened. Someone else broke into the emergency phone, but it was dead.
He prodded everyone out the door, herding stragglers. It was an eerie walk down the smoky stairs, a path to safety that ran through the suffering.
Robert Falcon worked in the parking garage at the towers: "When the blast shook it went dark and we all went down, and I had a flashlight and everyone was screaming at me.
Michael Otten, an assistant vice president at Mizuho Capital Markets...proceeded to the 44th floor, an elevator-transfer floor. One elevator loaded up and headed down, then came back empty, so he and a crowd of others piled in. One man's backpack kept the doors from closing. The seconds ticked by. "We wanted to say something, but the worst thing you can do is go against each other, and just as I thought it was going to close, it was about 9:00, 9:03, whenever it was that the second plane crashed into the building. The walls of the elevator caved in; they fell on a couple people." Otten and others groped through the dust to find a stairway, but the doors were locked. Finally they found a clearer passage, found a stairway they could get into and fled down to the street.
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.
Felipe Oyola [WTC 2]...Oyola was back on 81 when the second plane arrived. "As soon as I went upstairs, I looked out the window, and I see falling debris and people. Then the office was on top of me.
[Dan Baumbach was on the 80th floor of WTC 1 when the first plane struck.] He and a few others immediately headed to the core of the building, where a stairwell ran near the elevators. "Fire already was spitting out there, so we found another stairwell and started down," he said.
This time we got to the 75th floor and we were met by a Port Authority building officer who told us to relax," Baumbach said...A few floors down we had to go through a corridor to another stairwell and that's when we saw the side walls and ceiling on fire. There weren't any sprinklers or alarms going, all we saw was one guy from that floor holding a fire hose, trying to put the blaze out.
The more we pressed on, the more people were just feeling overwhelmed and they dropped out. They sat on the steps and waited for someone to come get them. It was horrible to see, but there was nothing to do. Smoke was coming in and then someone's cell phone rang.
They were sent down a stopped escalator to the underground Plaza Level and the WTC mall and that's where — an hour into their frantic flight — they found themselves wading through pitch black surroundings in a foot of water.
[Dan Baumbach] heading down the stairs, he and four other co-workers suddenly came upon 100 others, who were told by a building official, "We'll get you out; be calm, just stay here."
"There was no way we were going to stay there," said Baumbach, 24, who was then warned: "You can try it, but it's at your own risk."
Many stayed. Baumbach did not.
At 10-story intervals, he had to walk through burning corridors. Bizarrely, no sprinklers or alarms had been activated.
A woman named Christina, who declined to give her last name, was on the 47th floor of One World Trade Center.
"The whole building shook, and we saw stuff flying all over the place, out the window. We smelled fire. We tried to run out, and it was all smoke.
Teresa Veliz, the facilities manager for a software development company, was on the 47th floor of the North Tower when Flight 11 hit. First, like many witnesses, she describes the building shaking twice:
"I got off [the elevator], turned the corner and opened the door to the ladies' room. I said good morning to a lady sitting at a mirror when the whole building shook. I thought it was an earthquake. Then I heard those banging noises on the other side of the wall. It sounded like someone had cut the elevator cables. It just fell and fell and fell.
I began to cry. "Oh, my God, I just got off that elevator!" I said. "That could have been me." I prayed those other people had gotten off on the 48th floor before the elevator dropped. But I didn't have much time to be upset because the building shook again, this time even more violently. The lady at the mirror grabbed onto me and held on for dear life."
From a floor in the 50s in WTC 1: "I heard a chunk of ceiling fall and a woman screamed. We all stood and looked at each other and we tried to figure out what happened. We heard the cable snap in the freight elevator while we were talking, and the woman yelled "follow my voice". I followed the woman's voice to find where the stairwell was at to get out." Interview 1000054 (NIST 2004)
From a floor in the 30s in WTC 1: "It [the stairwell] was the closest one to our office. I opened the doorway to the staircase... There was a lot of smoke and there was no one in it. I quickly closed the door." The occupent went to another stairwell down the hall to leave the floor. 1000009 (NIST 2004)
Like the Concourse Level, elevator lobbies throughout the building were particularly affected, likely by excess jet fuel ignited by the crash pouring down the elevator shafts. While only 3 percent [11 survivors] of the survivors reported seeing fireballs in their immediate area at the time of the airplane impact, the observations from the face-to-face interviews show the extreme nature of these events:
A survivor from a floor in the 80s: "The entire corridor became an inferno outside our front door. Smoke began to enter our office. There was also debris falling. ... The fire on the corridor was at least 10 ft high, and it ran the ... good length of the corridor. Then I saw a fireball dome down the elevator shaft and blew the elevator doors. The fireball came right at me; it was a really bright color." Interview 1000055 (NIST 2004)
A survivor from a floor in the 40s: "I saw the elevator in front me had flames coming out from it. The elevator was closed by the flames came from the front where the doors meet and on the sides. They reached about a foot and half, with the flames standing from the floor to the ceiling. I saw a chandelier shaking; it was really moving. The corridor was dim. I also heard people screaming from the [nearby] floor. I felt the heat on my face and I thought that my eyebrows were going to get burned. Black smoke starting filling the corridor, it got really dense really fast." Interview 1000109 (NIST 2004)
A survivor in the basement: "I saw a big bright orange color coming through the basement with the smoke ... A fire ball came shooting out of the basement door." Interview 100760 (NIST 2004)
The elevator lobbies were not the only areas of the building damaged at the time of the airplane impact. Survivors noticed a range of damage and conditions throughout the building, from lost power to fire and smoke, to missing walls and floors....others are more extreme, including collapsed walls, fire and smoke.
A survivor from a floor in the 90s of WTC 1, just below the impact, recounts the severe damage on the floor: "In the hallway (from the bathroom to the elevator), there were no walls left (the wall board was blown off) and the bathroom seemed to be missing (the walls and the floor). There was a hole in the wall near the elevator (in the hall) and fire was coming up onto our floor through that hole." Interview 1000052 (NIST 2004)
A survivor from a floor in the 70s in WTC 1: "To me everything seemed normal, all the ceilings were fine, the electricity was fine, and the air conditioning was also working." Interview 1000118 (NIST 2004)
A survivor from a floor in the 20s in WTC 1: "I was close to the windows. The windows were broken and I saw things from the office were going out the window." Interview 1000064 (NIST 2004)
Despite the massive localized damage caused by the impact, each structure remained standing. However, as each aircraft impacted the building, jet fuel on board ignited. Part of this fuel immediately burned off in large fireballs that erupted at the impact floors. Remaining fuel flowed across the floors and down elevator and utility shafts, igniting intense fires throughout upper portions of the buildings.
The person who used the elevator for evacuation [from WTC 1] reported that he was in an elevator when the building was struck, and the elevator stopped on one of the floors. He was able to use the elevator to move people from that floor to the lobby. Two of the three who used both stairs and elevators were initially trapped in an elevator behind a 50th floor restroom. After freeing themselves, they were directed by firefighters to an elevator to the 44th floor, from which point they walked down. The third person who used both stairs and elevators rode with a person he was assisting from the 52nd floor to the 44th floor. Unable to find a working elevator on the 44th floor, he walked down the rest of the way.
They were both operating elevators in the north tower on Sept. 11. Arturo was running 50A, the big freight car going from the six-level basement to the 108th floor. When American Airlines Flight 11 struck at 8:46 a.m., Arturo and a co-worker were heading from the second-level basement to the 49th floor.
Like his wife, who had just closed the doors on a passenger elevator leaving the 78th floor, Arturo heard a sudden whistling sound and the impact. Cables were severed and Arturo's car plunged into free fall.
"The only thing I remember saying was 'Oh, God, Oh, God, I'm going to die,' " he says, recalling how he tried to protect his head as the car plummeted.
The emergency brakes caught after 15 or 16 floors. The imploding elevator door crushed Arturo's right knee and broke the tibia below it. His passenger escaped injury.
All that morning, Carmen had been carrying hundreds of passengers from the 78th-floor sky lobby to the bond-trading offices of Cantor Fitzgerald on the 101st to 105th floors and the Windows on the World restaurant above that.
"They were so packed (in the elevators) — like sardines," she says.
A full elevator had just left the 78th floor, and Carmen was about to carry up six or seven stragglers. The plane struck as the doors of her elevator closed. They could hear debris smash into the top of the car; then the elevator cracked open, and flames poured in. Carmen jammed her fingers between the closed doors, pulled them partly open and held them as passengers clambered over and under her 5-foot-6 frame to escape.
Kelly Reyher, a lawyer who worked at AON Insurance, crawled out of a burning elevator on the 78th floor and over corpses to reach Stairway A. "There were no bodies or anything in the staircase," he said.
Several male survivors cleared heavy debris from Stairway A between the 77th and 78th floor. After detouring through a door and down a corridor, survivors picked up Stairway A again in the center of the 76th floor. There, the lights were on and the air was fresh.
Cut and bloodied by the jet's impact, Christine Sasser, who worked at Fuji Capital Markets, walked down Stairway A from the 78th floor with her badly injured colleague, Silvion Ramsundar. The 78th floor was dark, Sasser said, but the stairwell was lighted and the air quality fine. As a result, she had little idea of the extent of the death and damage on the floors above her. "You thought, 'This isn't that bad,' " she said.
Even the collapse of the two towers did not destroy the massive Otis 339HT machines. The machines were 8 feet tall and 13-feet-by-8-feet wide. Some were found intact in the wreckage at Ground Zero, still bolted to the specially reinforced beams that held them. Investigators at first mistook them for jet engines.
The moment Roy Bell hit the elevator button on the 78th floor of One World Trade Center to go to the 102nd floor, the first plane hit. Little did he know he was about to cheat death several times in the next 90 hair-raising minutes.
Sheets of fire shooting out of the elevator shaft enveloped him and a woman waiting for the elevator doors to open. Suddenly, the elevator dropped two feet and jammed.
The torrent of fire raining down on him was just the beginning of his harrowing escape, one that thousands can also tell and, sadly, one that many thousands who went through it cannot.
"I'm running through this fire shooting through the elevator to an office where there was no more fire. A woman was freaking out and crying because I looked like a ghost with my hair and clothes burning. People came over to me and patted me down and whacked me to put out the flames. The skin was falling off my hands," he said. "My right hand got it good."
When they arrived at the lower level at 9:30, Bell and the injured woman were taken to the worst possible place given what would happen 35 minutes later - the building's basement two floors below ground.
"They said they had stretchers and wheelchairs down there, but I just wanted to get the hell out of the building," he said. "I ran into a building engineer, who told me there was only one safe exit out and that the building wasn't stable."
Suddenly, it became so dark it seemed like midnight in New York without street lights.
"I couldn't even see my hand in front of my face," Klaum said.
But there was work to be done immediately.
First there was the matter of a mid-rise elevator, Car #11, stuck near the lobby because of a power outage. Four people were inside, and they were understandably panicked.
"We're trained to talk to them and try to calm them down," Flanagan said. "I couldn't even see them from where I was. The car was in a blind hatch just above me, but I talked to them and told them I was going to get them out of there as soon as possible."
Flanagan went to the machine room to reset the car so that it could operate on emergency power.
"It started up and they got out. I never got to see them, but they got out OK," Flanagan added.
Now it was Klaum's turn to respond. Despite being a veteran of Vietnam, there was nothing in his experience that trained him for what was happening. However, he did know how to get people out of elevators.
A low-rise elevator, Car #5, was out, likely because it lost communication with its processor. The machine actually operated the way it was supposed to, safeguarding passengers by stopping when the electricity went out.
Klaum reset the processor, the car moved to the next landing, and the passengers were freed.
With their jobs well done, Klaum and Flanagan were now faced with saving themselves.
The two mechanics made their way through the darkness by forming a human chain with four engineers and two security guards. It took 20 minutes, but the group of eight, the last to get out of 7 World Trade, made their way out and onto Greenwich Street where they ran north to safety. They were finally able to call the office on their cellular phones.
"It was quite hectic, and we did what we could to stay in contact with the elevator passengers while helping to direct other people out of the building and direct firemen to the stairs and the elevators," Bobbitt remarked. "When entering the North Tower, we saw the marble on the walls was severely cracked, and Riccardelli told everyone to stay back from the walls. Don (Parente) noticed that the doors of elevators number 6 and 7 had been blown out."