Just My Luck  – Chapter 6 – Part 4

Waiting for the Inevitable

The plane that struck Tower 2 did so while tilted at a steeper angle than that of the plane at Tower 1. When the wings simultaneously hit the tower, the tip of the left wing was several floors below the tip of the right wing.

I learned later from two of my colleagues who were there, that the tip of the lower wing sliced through the 78th floor Sky Lobby upon impact.  These two were among only a a handful of people who were in the Sky Lobby on 78 when the plane hit and survived to tell about it.  With 18 precious exceptions, all who were in the building on or above the 78th floor were either killed or doomed when the plane hit.

stairs and firemanThe difference that enabled my colleagues to find a stairwell and make their way to safety was that they survived the wing’s impact (though one had to crawl out from under a colleague’s dead body), and their injuries were not below the waist.  Those who survived the crash but suffered broken feet, ankles or legs were unable to strike out in search of another way down.  One of the survivors told me about a long time colleague and friend of mine, Rich (his real name), who was sitting against the wall between two elevator shafts weeping as he stared at his two broken legs.

Rich had to know that there was a very slim chance that he would be rescued.  Likewise, those on the floors above the carnage had to have known they were trapped.

For several months following I couldn’t keep my mind from straying into that fateful place.  Would I have frantically sought an escape route, would I have returned to my office to be in a familiar place, would I have sought out others so as not to die alone?  What prayers could I possibly have said?  I was often brought to tears at these and other speculations. PTSD at work.  It was a self-torture that, painful as it was, could not be nearly as intense and desperate as the thoughts and emotions felt by those who’d  actually been there.

God bless their souls forever.

A Grand Prize Lottery Winner

On September 12, when I fully realized how razor thin the line between my life and my death had been the previous morning, I broke out in a cold sweat from head to toe.

  • If the elevator I’d summoned to take me from the Sky Lobby to my 102nd floor had arrived 15 seconds before the woman in the lobby screamed, I probably would have been ascending in the elevator and wouldn’t have heard her.
  • If I had reached the 102nd floor, I wouldn’t know anything was amiss until someone there told me about the plane crash next door.
  • If I knew that the emergency was in Tower 1, I would have surely gone to see the disaster from our floor’s north-facing windows, but I would have had no sense of urgency to leave. In fact, I would have followed the instructions a safety expert gave over the PA System in Tower 2 that people should remain where they were in the building.
  • In other words, I’d most likely have been killed.

 

In hindsight, many people have condemned the announcement in Tower 2 directing people to remain where they were.   True, many who complied with that announcement lost their lives and I sincerely wish those victims had escaped too, but at the time of that announcement, nearly everyone thought we were dealing with a horrible accident.  No one in the building had been warned as yet that another plane might be on its way to Tower 2.  In that context, the announcement was probably a prudent attempt to keep the escape routes needed by the occupants of Tower 1 from being crowded with people who were thought to be in no danger in Tower 2, which was a legitimate concern.

In re-running in my mind every step I took that morning, the confluence of time and events that kept me safe from harm began with an un-purchased lottery ticket.

Arguably I won the biggesLottery Prizet ever lottery jackpot, my life, and I ultimately didn’t even buy a ticket.

But for that whim on the platform of GCT, I am certain that I would have been in my office with a cup of coffee hoping all would go well for Mary and Tom in the Pfizer meeting, when Tower 1 was hit.  And I imagine I could have been typing away on my laptop in my 102nd floor office when the second jet would have cut off all routes to safety when it plowed into my building.

I would have been in some very good company, but I’m very thankful I wasn’t.

A Tectonic Shift

I was out of the building and on the street, but not fully out of danger.  Immediately after the Tower 2 explosion above me, the sound of breaking glass and the impact of all manner of other stuff falling from on high broke like a tidal wave on the shore.  I crouched, ducked my head under my free arm, and ran for the cover I’d been less urgently seeking moments before.  I was greatly relieved when I rounded the corner of a building on Broadway and stood tight against the wall.  I took stock of where I was and was relieved to be unscathed and safe.

It took me a surprisingly long time before I digested the significance of the second plane.  But when I did, it hit me hard.

This was certainly no accident. Somebody tried to kill me.

Somebody just murdered hundreds, perhaps thousands, of innocent people; people like me who awoke that morning thinking, as I did, that this was the beginning of a new day in an old routine. Nothing more.

I knew now I was in the midst of a tectonic shift. The world had just been rocked hard and irrevocably changed.  This had to be the start of a darker new world.  My preciously confined personal world had just been engulfed by The World at large.

I had no idea how things would be different, but they weren’t going to be good.

But I did know what I had to do next.  I had to let Doris know I wasn’t dead. There was a pay phone on the wall next to a bodega near by and no one was using it.  I thought this must have been a heaven-sent opportunity to call home and let Doris know I was okay.  I took the receiver off the hook, dropped a couple of quarters into the slot, put the phone to my ear and heard nothing more than the new ringing in my ears.

©2016 James Ash

 

(to be continued)

©2016 James Ash

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