Foreword (written around 9/15/2001)
The following is my write up of 9/11 that I put together several days after the event had happened. I have re-published it here in its original form. While I copied the HTML document from my old website, I actually haven't re-read this story yet. Maybe in a couple of weeks I'll take the time to read it again.
Throughout the biography, I make references to where I was during all the events.
Biography of 9/11
05:45 AM - Time to Wake Up
It's not surprising, but today started like any other day. Ward III wanted to eat at 5 AM, so we were both up. Today was going to be a busy day. Jerry B. and I were presenting 2 days worth of technology training to partners who came in from all over the North East. Little did I know that it would turn out the way it did...
06:40 AM - Leaving Park Ridge
After taking a quick shower and dressing for the day, I threw a frozen bagel in the microwave, grabbed my laptop case, and headed out the door. Ahead of me was my usual 50 minute trip on the New Jersey Transit train to Hoboken, NJ. This was going to be a quiet trip today. My "train family" (Alicia, Loretta, Neil, Rich, Ron, and Tom) took the 7:48 AM train, so I would be alone. I had hoped to catch up on some sleep, but today I couldn't so I played Hearts all the way to Hoboken.
07:40 AM - Arrived at Hoboken/Jumped on Ferry to WFC
Phew... We finally made it to Hoboken. It's amazing, some days the trip seems to takes 10 minutes, other days it feels like 2 hours. Today was a long day. Once in Hoboken, which is a bit north of the World Financial Center and on the other side of the river, I headed over to the Ferries. NY Waterways runs an excellent ferry. Unlike the Path trains where you are smashed in like sardines, one ferry ride with the amazing view of the World Financial Center (WFC) and the World Trade Center (WTC) is enough to take your breath away. The picture on the front of the website was taken from the ferry. Even in the coldest weather, I look forward to the relaxing and invigorating ride across the Hudson River.
07:55 AM - Arrived at WFC - Point A on Map
As I do every morning, I arrived at the floating dock and quickly headed off towards the Atrium in WFC 3. As you walk, you pass several large yachts that are parked in the Marina (you can see them in the picture). While they're only an inch long in the picture, most of them are over 100 feet long. I'm sure the price tags on the yachts make the $500/day "parking" fee look cheap :) The Atrium at WFC is a huge glass enclosed "atrium" with palm trees. Once inside, you see the grandeur of WFC. The building is marble from floor to ceiling. Here, I head straight east up the steps to a "skyway" that connects WFC 3 with WTC 1.
08:05 AM - Crossing West Street - Point B on Map
The "skyway" over West Street (or West Side Highway) is immense and, my guess is, has over 500 people crossing during any rush hour point. I am pointing this spot out because this was where many of my "train family" was when the first plane hit WTC 1. Luckily, they all turned around a raced back to Hoboken on the Ferry, but they were very lucky.
08:10 AM - Through the WTC Courtyard - Point C on Map
At this point, I'm almost made it into work. In addition to the tall, powerful, and beautiful WTC towers, the courtyard is an immense open area with a huge fountain in the middle. In the summer, they set up a band stand and have free concert almost every day. You can find 1000's of tourists and workers roaming around here throughout the summer. Luckily, there weren't too many people here on Tuesday morning.
08:15 AM - At Work WTC 2 - 26th Floor - Point D on Map
I arrived at work around 8:15 this morning. Our training was scheduled to start at 9:00 AM and we still had to set up the projector and laptop. I went to my "office" that I had reserved for the day, put down my laptop bag, and grabbed a cup of coffee. Jerry Bonvisuto showed up a few minutes later. I met him in the training room where we proceded to set up the rest of the equipment and layout books for our students. By 8:30 AM, our first 2 students had showed up. This is where one of those strange "coincidences" happened. As Jerry and I were talking, I suggested picking up some doughnuts for the students. We have a Krispy Kreme doughnut shop in WTC 5 which (when I was less concerned about my weight) was a favorite visit of mine. Jerry said great and I headed off to pick up doughnuts. My path took me back down to the 1st floor of WTC 2 and I walked underground through WTC 4 and over to WTC 5. This is the point at which my day was completely changed.
08:45 AM - Walking out of WTC 5 - Point E on Map
I rode the escalator up to the revolving door next to Borders books. While the Krispy Kreme is inside of WTC 5, the entrance is on the outside about 40 feet south of the revolving door I was about to walk out. I don't know if I missed it or it was muffled, but I don't remember hearing any large boom when the first plane hit WTC 1. All I remember is taking about 4 steps out of the revolving door. At this point, there were (probably) 100 people running at me. Debris was starting to shower down on us, though the initial pieces seemed like dust. Not knowing what to do, I turned around at attempted to walk back into the revolving door. Before I knew it, I was crammed in the revolving door with 2 other people. I can't tell you anything about them, though I believe the lady (in front of me) fell down. She got up and we managed to get into the building. I walked about 15 feet from the door and stood with my back against the wall. As I looked out, I watched papers and small random pieces shower down for (my guess) about 60 seconds. I looked to the right and another gentleman (a building worker) came in. He had been hit in the head with something sharp and was covered in blood from the top of his head to his chest. He had his hand over his wound to stop the bleeding. What surprised me was that he was very calm. He stood there with a look on his face of "boy, this sucks...". I would have expected him to be screaming. I also watched as people helped others who had fallen get back into the building. I'm happy to say that this was the worst "injury" I remember seeing that day. Once the debris stopped falling, I headed out of the building to see what had happened. At this point, I had no idea how serious the situation was.
08:55 AM - Outside the Millenium - Point F on Map
I walked across the street and looked up to see half of one floor on fire and a few windows on adjoining floors burning. My first thought was a bomb or some type of building problem (gas, etc). I was relieved to think that this was almost over (figuring the firemen would run up and put this out). Unfortunately, I didn't see the huge gaping hole on the North side of WTC 1 or I might have realized how serious the situation was. I called Joy on my cell phone at this point. I figured she'd see this on the news and I didn't want here to worry. When I got here on the phone we were both calm. We didn't think anything major had happened. She turned on the TV and as we were talking, she told me that they thought a plane had hit the building. I told her not to worry and hung up. This was the last time that I was able to "easily" use my cell phone. At this point, I figured I would survey the scene, but I was planning on going back in to check on our class and decide what to do. Still not convinced we were 100% safe, I decided to try and head back in the direction of WTC 2, but I was not planning on going into the building yet. I tried to head South, but there were 1000's of people watching the building burn. I ended up heading a block east and 2 blocks South to a park hoping for everything to calm down.
09:05 AM - Standing in the Park - Point G on Map
As I was standing at the park watching the building burn, I realized that there must have been 3000 people around me. We were all talking. Everyone had heard a different story about what had happened. Many people were talking about a plane, but most thought it was a small Cesna. Little did the realize how big the plane actually was. As I was standing here, my cell phone rang. It was my buddy, Matt from McLean, VA. He had seen the news and wanted to make sure I was ok. I told him about everything that had happened. He told me to be careful. As we were talking, WTC 2 blew up. I was staring directly at the building (talking to Matt), but I saw nothing. All I saw was the explosion and flames coming out of all sides of WTC 2. I seemed to be about half way up the building. I didn't realize this, but I didn't hang up the phone. I screamed something like "Holy Crap" and started running. As I ran, I watched the 1000's running down Broadway. People were falling and getting run over. I looked and said to myself, this is crazy. I didn't want to fall down and then get bombarded by debris. Seeing a large steel newstand that look sturdy, I stopped running and stood with my back against it. 2 other people huddled in and we watched debris, again papers/powered cement/glass, go flying over our heads. After another 60 seconds of being showered, the 2 people left. I waited another 5 minutes before I started jogging down Broadway. As I walked, I stepped over piles of documents, purses, and shoes. All remnants of the crowds running paniced through the streets.
09:15 AM - Trinity Church - Point H on Map
Once I hit Trinity Church I stopped. It was about 2 blocks down from where I was standing. There were still 1000's of people on the sidewalks taking pictures and staring and the two burning towers. At this point, I started getting scared. While it didn't seem very bad where I was standing (because I could see very few injured people), I started fearing that there were more attacks planned. No knowing what to do and not wanting to be out on the street, I walked just inside the entrance of Trinty Church and hid in an alcove before the door. This spot seemed very safe. Surrounded on 3 sides with thick stone, I felt protected from anything that might have happened on the street, yet I was able to watch. As we sat there, more and more people kept walking up to see the burning towers. They just sat and watched. At this point, I started trying to call Joy and Jerry. Unfortunately, there were 100,000 other people trying to use their cell phones at this point and it was almost impossible to get through. I kept dialing and dialing. After about 20 minutes, I managed to get a line and contact Joy. She was more scared now. I told her that I was away from the WTC. I cried a bit at this point, but hearing her voice comforted me. After talking for about 5 minutes, I agreed to get out of there, but not until I felt it was safe.
10:00 AM - WTC 2 Collapses - Point H on Map
I stood in the alcove for about 40 minutes trying to get Jerry on my cell phone. Unfortunately, only busy signals. As I stood there, I stepped out to see what was going on. A gentleman was snapping photos frantically. I stepped back into my alcove when he shouted "Oh my god, get out of here". I stepped out to see what was happening. It sounded like the space shuttle taking off. As I stepped out, he said "Go in. Go in". I looked down Broadway and all I could see was "night coming". Moving down Broadway at 20-30 miles per hour was a "black cloud" of debris. The wind picked up and everything started blowing around. I turned and ran into Trinity Church and into my alcove. As I stood there, the whole building shook. With the building shaking and the smoke coming in, I turned and ran after the photographer and into the church. They were in the middle of mass when we all came running in the door followed by thick clouds of debris. The church started filling up with smoke at this point. The "building people" at the church ran out and shut the large steel doors on the outside. We were now safely trapped inside the church. There were approximately 30 of us. The "building people" continually talked on their walkie-talkies to other building trying to figure out what to do. At this point, we were completely engulfed in the cloud of debris. Through the beautiful stained glass windows on both sides of the church, all we could see was darkness. We decided to head to the basement for safety, but it was locked and we couldn't get down there. An alarm system (in the basement) was going off breaking any possibility of silence. A radio was brought out and we listened and they described the events going on. This was, actually, scarier than any other part of the morning. Earlier, I could see what was happening. Now I could only guess. Some of the people in the church were quite nervous. One gentleman clung to a pillar. Another lady kept crying. I spoke with her to calm her down. The photographer kept talking about all his great photos. (As an aside - he ended up on ABC's Good Morning America and had a cover shot on the NY Time - he talked about being in Trinity Church). The "building people" were getting worried. They were concerned that we might suffocate inside the church with all the smoke/dust coming in. They handed out towels that were cut up to make masks to easy the breathing. I spoke with one of the clergy and suggested he allow people to call their families. He made an announcement and a whole group lined up to use the phone. This helped calm many people. While they called, I kept calling Joy. Now, I was able to get her every 5 minutes or so. We spoke and we were both quite scared again. I told her, as before that I'd get home as soon as it was safe to leave.
10:28 - In Trinity, WTC 1 Collapses - Point H on Map
At this point, we are still in Trinity Church when the sound of the "shuttle taking off" started up again. At this point, we could hear (on the radio) that WTC 1 was collapsing. Again, we found ourselves in the darkness. People we getting more frantic now. We had no idea when this was going to end or when we could safely get out of the building. About 10 minutes after the rumbling stopped, a group decided to try and leave through the West side of the building. About 10 people attempted to run out into the darkness. With in 30 seconds, 6 of them came running back in. They were covered from head to toe in a layer of ash and were having difficulty breathing. The one gentleman said you could see more than a few inches in front of your face. The other 4 people were a young mother, her 4 month old son, her 3 year old daughter, and her mother (grandma of the kids). The mother was quite frantic earlier and her grandmother was asking us to help calm her down. I never saw them again. I hope and pray that they safely made it the 3 to 4 blocks South (my guess) that they needed to go to get out of the cloud. From everything I saw, this is the only item that still "somewhat" haunts me. At this point, everyone sat down and we waited. The church was kind enough to bring out some bagels and I suggested we eat, not knowing what was left for us for the rest of the afternoon.
10:50 - In Trinity, Day light breaks - Point H on Map
Finally, about 20 minutes later, the daylight started shining through the stained glass windows. The radio reports sounded good and it seemed like a safe time to leave. At this point, we opened up the big steel doors in front of the church and walked out. As we walked out onto Broadway, if you looked North, you could see the entire 2 block area around the WTC still cloaked in a black cloud, but if you looked South, we saw the sunlight. It was still a bit smoky, but you could see. Unlike 2 hours earlier, there were only 15 or so people milling around. Everyone had run out either before the first collapse or once it happened. Broadway, once a hustling and bustling street was deserted and covered with every imaginable piece of a building and all of this was sitting in an inch to two of fine ash/pulverized cement. It was like walking on the beach. In front of me were papers, more shoes, purses, brief cases, strollers, insulation, abandoned food carts, abandoned news stands, abandoned shoe shine seats. Anything you would normally picture was there, but the owners were long gone. At this point, there were a dozen rescue workers helping people who were heading out of buildings. They said, "Head down to the Staten Island Ferry" and gave us bottled water. I was still covering my mouth with my towel which I had gotten earlier in the church. As I walked the South past the Bull, I could see that the roadway was covered for another 6 blocks. The dust finally stopped about 2 blocks North of the Southern tip of Manhattan. I walked past a Watch stand at this point. All the cases were laying out, but the masses had helped themselves to all the $10 knock-off watches. After about 15 minutes of walking I found myself at the Staten Island Ferry.
11:20 - Standing at the Staten Island Ferry
When I arrived at the Ferry station, there were atleast a 1000 people trying to figure out how to get home. There were 2 options at this point, stand in line for a bus up the East side or jump on the Staten Island Ferry. We were told that no other forms of transportation were running. Neither of these were very good options for me and, my guess is, would have resulted in another 4 to 6 hours for me to get home. I waited, anyway, for a bus hoping that I could figure out some way to get home from Midtown. At this point, I started dialing for Joy again and managed to get her in about 5 minutes. Mom was nice enough to come over and keep Joy company at this point. They said to get off the island no matter what that entailed. I asked about the ferrys. There is a ferry that runs out of pier 11 which is near the South Street Seaport and only 5 blocks away. Joy would try to call and find out for me. At this point, I figured I'd wait for the bus until I heard on the other forms of transportation.
12:15 - Walking to Pier 11
After waiting for about an hour, a bus finally showed up. I got in line and would have, most likely, gotten on it, but Joy called me. She said that my buddy Tibor saw the ferries running out of Pier 11 and to get on them. In the worst case, they would put me an 1:30 south where he'd pick me up. At this point, just 3 people from getting on the bus, I took off walking the 5 blocks to the ferry.
12:30 - Standing on Pier 11
As I arrived at Pier 11, I could see a few hundred people anxiously waiting to get off the island. As I walked up, I heard a woman scream "Jersey City to the left". This was great news. Jersey City is about 2 miles south of Hoboken, where my train dropped me off this morning. I headed over to get in line and wait for the ferry. Up to this point, I had seen no one that I knew. As I turned around in line, I saw the friendly face of an Indian man that I knew from the train. Sam, who was also looking for a way out, had walked to the ferry and saw me. (It's good to have red hair (easy to spot !!)). Sam and I sat an talked about our experiences. Sam had been in the first WTC bombing, but was now working in a different building. The two of us chatted up until the ferry came. It was nice to have someone to talk with. I finally started to relax. Once we got on the ferry, I called Joy to tell her that I would take the train home. We were both relieved. As our ferry rounded the bend, I got my first glimpse at the WTC "void". The beautiful two buildings were completely gone. All that remained now was the huge black cloud. It was very eerie.
1:15 - Arrived at Jersey City
When we arrived at Jersey City, we were greeted by hundreds of people who were handing out water and offering first aid. Once we got off, there was no public transportation to get us to Hoboken, so Sam and I started walking North. We weren't quite sure where we were going, but as long as we stayed near the water-front, we figured we were safe. About 1.5 miles into the walk, a kind gentleman pulled his car over and offered us a ride. We declined. The walk was quite refreshing at this point. As we were walking, I looked down at my shoes. They were covered in ash. No wonder he figured that we might need a lift.
1:45 - Arrived in Hoboken
As soon as we arrived in Hoboken, we headed right to the train station. We looked up at the departure board and sure enough, the 2:35 was scheduled to go out. Sam and I headed right over. As we boarded the train, we could see that it was almost full. We took some of the center seats and sat back to relax. As I talked to the lady next to me, she asked if I had been hosed down. I said no. It turns out that everyone that came on the ferry into Hoboken was put through a "biological warfare wash down". Since we came in to Jersey City and walked into Hoboken, they assumed we were local workers and didn't clean us up. I made a big mental note at this point to dump all my clothes and take a good shower when I got home.
2:05 - Sitting on the train
We continued to talk about the "wash down". It turns out that everyone was run through a series of hoses. Then, their personal information was recorded and their vitals were taken. I continued to worry about this and wished the train would leave. Unfortunately, we were scheduled to leave at 2:35, so I had a bit of a wait ahead of me. As we sat there, an announcer came on over the train PA system. We would all have to leave the car. Many of the riders had already been moved from 2 different trains and were in no mood to have to move again. As everyone questioned this move, a rumor moved through the train cars -- "A bomb was present in the train terminal...". Everyone started to move quickly. Luckily, before I got off the train, they cancelled the "evacuation" of the train. (That night I found out that someone had left their bag in the middle of the terminal and had gone off. Not knowing what was in the bag, the police decided to evacuate the terminal. A gentleman came up and claimed the bag. That was the end of this event. We were lucky that it wasn't a bomb. While our train car was 100+ feet from the bag, we would have walked right past it to get out of the station). At this point, we all sat back down and went back to our discussions covering the day's events.
2:20 - The train departs !!
Finally, the train started moving and a cheer rung out from the "riders". It had been a long day. We all wanted to get home and hug our loved ones. Now the train seemed slower than ever. (If I thought the ride in was slow, the ride back felt like a week). Over the next hour, one by one, my friends left. While I didn't know their names, where they worked, where they lived, the event had brought us all close together. I knew their kids, their parents, their spouses, and their plans for the future. It was amazing. For the past 5 years, I've ridden into NYC and I knew only a dozen people by name. It's amazing how a train (city, and country) can be brought together in such a moment. Ahh... Finally, I can see my stop. I'm home !!
3:30 - Arriving at home
Lucky for me, we happen to live next train station. As I walked quickly off the train, I saw my neighbor Ruth and my lovely wife Joy. Up in the window of our condo was mom (Joy's) who was kind enough to keep her company throughout the day. At this point I wanted to hug everyone, unfortunately, I still had the thoughts of the biological weapons in my head. I told eveyone to stay away. Joy and mom had set aside garbage bags and I dumped all of my clothes into them. Then it was up to the shower for one of the longest and most thorough showers I've ever taken... Finally, I was able to hug my lovely wife and beautiful son... This being my story, I hope I can end it here with "And they lived happily ever after...", but at this point we'll have to wait and see. Having just watched President's Bush's speech, I see that we'll have to wait and see. I pray that with God's help everything goes as well as possible...
A few final thoughts...
While my story was quite scary, I am feeling much better. Even as we speak, many of the events are starting to fade from my memory. Writing them down was quite relieving, though some of these nights it did leave my heart racing. I will tell you that throughout all the events, I had no idea the magnitude of what was happening. Having gone home and watched hours of CNN, I finally realize the enormity of this. As I said earlier, I was quite lucky. I missed much of the gore and lost lives that many of my good friends encountered. I pray that they work their way through these events and go on to have happy lives. And, this goes without saying, my prayers go out to the many fireman, police, and medical people that gave their all to try and save lives in this terrible event. God bless them. And, yes, don't forget about all the great volunteers that are helping throughout the city. And I thank you for taking the time to read my story.
Answers to a few key questions
Q: What happened to Jerry and all the students ?
A: The students ran out of the office as soon as the first plane hit. Several key people in our office (Avel - good job !!) ran throughout the office and told people to leave. Despite the "fire intercom" broadcasts telling everyone to stay still, our people (luckily) disregarded these messages and escaped the building.
Q: How are you doing today ?
A: Well, life is closer to normal, though I have no office to work from anymore. I have a keener sense of the people and noises around me. I will say that planes flying overhead and police sirens catch my attention more than before.
Classic Quotes from this Event
A European Couple: "This is the worst vacation we've ever had..."
A friend: "I can't believe I climbed back up 5 stories to get my laptop..."
Another friend: "I looked to my left and a guy who weighed 80 lbs more than me blew past me - I knew right then I had to get back to the gym"
Yours truly: "You mean you're supposed to take the backup tapes off site