A last call home, a long escape and a miracle
Seattle Times news services
"Denise, honey, I can't believe what my eyes are seeing!" her husband, Robert DeAngelis, 48, said from his office on the 91st floor of the World Trade Center Tower Two, the south tower. "I can't believe what's going on."
"What's wrong, Robert? What's wrong?"
"Denise, my God, they're jumping out the windows; they're jumping out the windows."
"Go and turn on the TV, Denise!"
She turned on the TV in their living room. The sky was a brilliant blue over the Manhattan skyline, but a noose of black smoke swirled around the first tower that had been hit minutes earlier.
"Denise! My God, three people right in front of me just jumped out of the window of that building."
She watched the TV and saw the second jet speed left to right across the screen.
She screamed into the phone.
"Robert, there's another plane coming. Get out of the building. Get out of the building!"
There was no answer as the skyscraper erupted into flames.
"I love you," she said.
Denise is still awaiting word from her husband.
She beeps him every hour on the hour because she thinks that may help rescuers locate him.
Blind man's long escape
A blind Colombian man accompanied by his dog was led to safety by his boss down 70 flights of an emergency staircase in a World Trade Center tower after it was slammed by a hijacked plane.
Seated with his golden Labrador retriever guide dog beside him yesterday, Omar Eduardo Rivera told Caracol television and radio how two days earlier he fled down the stairs for more than an hour with his hand on the woman's shoulder.
He unleashed the dog to let it escape, but with glass falling around them, the animal led him to an emergency exit and stayed by his side as a crowd of people descended the stairs to escape the building, which collapsed soon afterward.
Computer worker Rivera was in his office on the 71st floor, his dog underneath his desk, when suicide hijackers crashed a jet into the 110-story building 25 floors above him.
"The dog was very nervous, and he ran off but came back and kept by my side. He didn't bark."
At the emergency exit, his boss led him down the stairs.
"I took hold of her arm. She went down on my right side and the dog on my left. When it became narrow and people were pushing and shoving more, she went in front and I just held on to her shoulder," said Rivera, who is from Bogotá.
"At first there was panic, and some people tried to run and go first. But really, most people behaved quite prudently and grasped what was happening, so we walked down in an orderly fashion, but it was slow going."
A rumble, and then tower fell
Electrician Ed Sabino, who survived a bomb attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, said he has no idea how he fled the 39th floor. He was knocked off his feet when an airplane slammed into the building.
"I went over to the window to call my wife and tell her I was OK, and as I was standing there, looking at Tower Two, I see this big explosion and then debris flying everywhere."
"I was walking calmly when I heard a rumble and thought that didn't sound good and looked back and saw the top of the tower collapsing, and I just started running as fast as I could."
Life saved by stranger's hand
Tiffany Keeling, a financial adviser at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter with an office on the 61st floor, knows how she got out: A bloodied stranger grabbed her hand and guided her down more than 20 flights of stairs.
The two made it onto the street, and she then narrowly escaped the collapse of the tower.
"It was like being in the middle of a tornado. It was perfectly clear, and then I saw the top part of the building was about to fall on me," Keeling said.
"I thought I was going to die."
She felt something heavy hit her and the next thing she knew, she was buried in rubble.
She dug herself out and saw the legs of another victim in the rubble. She tried to save that person only to find that it was the body of a co-worker.
A miracle for firefighters
"We ran into the building, and all the windows on the ground floor were broken," said Sean O'Sullivan, a firefighter in the New York Fire Department's Engine Company 9, which responded to World Trade Center Tower One after a report of a plane crash. "We climbed in through a broken revolving door."
It was just after 9 a.m., and as O'Sullivan and his crew were climbing to the 26th floor of Tower One, Tower Two was struck. It collapsed at 9:50.
O'Sullivan was on the 26th floor when he and his company were told to evacuate. Tower One was falling.
"We could feel the building shake. We could feel the air rushing from the stairwell," he said. "There was a rumbling and a whoosh noise."
Firefighters ran down the stairs, many carrying injured people from the highest floors of the crumbling building. Others ran up, looking for their comrades.
Engine Company 9 made it to the street level. They were going to regroup and head back in. They were less than a block away from the front doors of Tower One.
Then it fell from the sky.
"All of a sudden you could see the top of the building, one story at a time. The windows were blowing out," O'Sullivan said. "It was just a massive cloud of debris. Everybody started running up West Street."
O'Sullivan ducked behind a light pole, but he soon realized it wasn't enough cover. Stumbling, he dove under a Fire Department Suburban. "There were burning papers coming under the truck," he said.
He climbed from beneath the truck as the cloud grew, opened the door and searched for a mask. There wasn't one, but he found water to rinse his eyes.
He hadn't realized it, but a lieutenant in O'Sullivan's company was under the truck with him. "We ended up walking the street, screaming for our company," O'Sullivan said.
And a miracle began to unfold.
Everyone from Engine Company 9 and Ladder Company 6 was alive.
"Once we found everybody it was just ... you didn't know what to do," O'Sullivan said. "We had no gear, we had nothing. We just started grabbing gloves, tools, helmets, regrouped and went back.
"When I was there, I just wanted to stay busy," said O'Sullivan, 32, after finally making it home to his 2-year-old son, Shane, and his wife, Tricia.
"I didn't want to look at the world around me. It helped a lot to do something. And now, coming home to see that the whole world isn't like that right now — isn't like downtown Manhattan — is a great feeling."
Business trip to a nightmare
Erick Paulson, a businessman from Portland, locked eyes with a New York City police officer frantically directing traffic away from the World Trade Center Tuesday morning. A pile of human remains lay at the officer's boots.
"He looked at me, and I looked at him," said Paulson, 24. "This sense of overwhelming remorse passed between us. That single second will haunt me for the rest of my life."
Paulson had been running late for an 8:45 a.m. meeting at the trade center when he heard what sounded like a sonic boom. Before he could look up, an apple-sized chunk of metal plummeted from the sky, piercing the back window of Paulson's taxicab. "I thought we were going to be crushed," he said.
The cab driver tried to speed away. The horror of what had just happened didn't crystallize for Paulson until he spotted a second plane piercing the morning sky 18 minutes later.
"I looked through the windshield and saw the next plane coming," Paulson said. "Everything just clicked: This is no accident. This is murder. This is suicide. This is terrorism."
As explosions ripped through the center's towers, thousands upon thousands of white papers fell gently from the sky like snowflakes.
"All I was thinking was, that's someone's work," Paulson said. "That's something someone just put on the copy machine. That's a memo that had been going around the office. This was someone's office, just like my office. And now people are gone."