Some lucked into life last week
But, for reasons she cannot entirely explain, last Tuesday was different.
When Gottesman and her dog, George, headed out for their morning walk, they found summer's heat and humidity had lifted and the air was crisp and clear. George, whose heavy coat is a burden in hot weather, celebrated by chasing squirrels in the park. Gottesman gave herself a little extra time to savor the sunshine.
"I should be getting to work," she told herself as the clock ticked, but in the end, she walked George for almost an hour and arrived at the World Trade Center at 9:15 a.m., late enough to miss the plane that slammed into her office building at 8:45.
In the days after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, America's bleak mood was perhaps best represented by the ash-strewn rubble of the once-mighty twin towers. But there were a few bright spots, too, almost from the beginning: tales of amazing good fortune that offered refreshment and respite to a nation stunned by grief.
A passion for the Denver Broncos. A few drinks. So little stood between life and death for many who escaped the wrath of the hijackers.
The mighty were spared along with the meek. A forgotten camera may have helped save Australian swimming star Ian Thorpe from being at the World Trade Center during the attack.
Here are some stories that exemplify the definition of narrow escape:
Michele Molnar may want to thank Mother Nature and the Denver Broncos' Brian Griese: They are two reasons she is alive today.
Molnar, 29, of northern New Jersey and a camera operator with PBS' "Nightly Business Report," is an admitted creature of habit: "Every day I get in to the (World) Trade Center at 8:50 and walk upstairs to the main level. I go outside, I stop by the same guy, get my three Cokes for the day and I'm in work by 9:02 a block and a half away."
Tuesday she did something different. She overslept. She had planned to attend the Yankees-White Sox game, but that was rained out. So the Denver Broncos fan stayed home and watched the Broncos beat the New York Giants.
"All my friends are Giants fans," she said. "I called to gloat to one of my friends, and I was on the phone for over an hour. When I woke up the next morning, I went to turn on the shower and decided I was tired, so I went back to bed. ... And when I woke up, I had missed my (regular) train."
On her way to work, she called the Miami office and was told to get out of the city.
"I called my father. ... It took me like three tries to get through. He's like, 'Where are you?' and I just started crying. It's not like me. Nothing rattles me. We're New Yorkers. Nothing rattles us."
When Christine Gottesman emerged from the subway into the World Trade Center, she was met by police officers who said to get out of the building. The 33-year-old lawyer left, crossed the street and looked up. Both the twin towers were on fire.
If she hadn't lingered to walk her fluffy red chow for so long, she said, she easily could have been in or near an elevator when her building was hit.
Jonathan Peyser worked on the 103rd floor of the north tower, Tower One, of the World Trade Center. Hundreds of his co-workers at hard-hit Cantor Fitzgerald have been reported missing in the attack.
But Peyser, 44, who often arrived for work by 9 a.m., wasn't at his desk Tuesday; he was attending a religion class in a different part of the city. The class in Jewish Talmudic law takes a break during the summer, so the first fall session was held at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.
While Peyser, the father of five young children, was in class, the hijackers struck. The software developer attributes his narrow escape to "fate, let's just leave it at that."
"Oh! There's one other point to the story," he said. "We laid off 30 people on Monday."
So they didn't come to work Tuesday?
A party may have saved Jane Podurgiel's life.
Podurgiel, 32, a marketing writer, worked on the 70th floor of the World Trade Center's south tower, Tower Two, and an average weekday could have found her in the elevator when the second terrorist attack came at 9:05 a.m.
Fortunately, however, Podurgiel had been at a party for The Onion magazine the night before. She had a few drinks, stayed up a little later than usual and hit the snooze button when the alarm went off.
As a result, she was about 15 minutes late and never even allowed onto the elevator. She was standing outside, watching, when the second plane hit her building.
By that point, Podurgiel had reached her father by phone but hadn't talked to her brothers in Baltimore. As she headed away from the burning buildings, she tried to place a collect call to one, but whoever answered the phone wouldn't accept the charges.
Podurgiel appealed to the operator: "Can you tell them that I was just at the World Trade Center and it blew up?"
"You know, I'll just put the call through, don't worry about it," the operator said.
For years, former Illinois Lt. Gov. Bob Kustra has been engaged in a running, though light-hearted, debate with his wife, Kathy. He is one of those people who has to arrive at an event 10 minutes early. She doesn't mind being 10 minutes late.
That issue came into play when the Kustras were in New York for their 13th wedding anniversary. They had purchased tickets for the World Trade Center observation deck the day before, but it was raining so they decided to use their tickets Tuesday at 9:30 a.m.
That turned out to be 9:30 a.m., Kathy time, so Bob Kustra went for a walk in Greenwich Village. He was on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 10th Street when a man said, "My God, the World Trade Center's on fire."
Speaking from his home in Lexington, Ky., a few days later, Kustra said he left New York with a new appreciation of his wife's tendency to "dilly-dally."
"Thank goodness that she was taking her good old time."
For Samuel Rosen, safety was found in a cup of coffee. Rosen, a lawyer from Fairlawn, N.J., takes a train into New York and walks through the World Trade Center complex to get to his office.
"In essence what happened Tuesday was, I was going to get the express train," Rosen said. "I didn't get the express train because I stopped for a cup of coffee and caught the later train. If I had gotten the express train, I think I would have gotten into the complex under the trade center probably about quarter to 9. As it was, we got into the station at 3 minutes to 9 ... but the train doors did not open. ... After two minutes, the conductor or whoever got on the train's PA system said, 'There's a police action here and we're taking the train back to Hoboken.' So they took the train back."
Patrick Davitt, a recent college graduate, was on his second day at Merrill Lynch, across the street from the World Trade Center, when the hijacked planes hit the towers.
"I ran to the window after the first one and no one could believe what we were seeing," Davitt said. "I was going back to my desk to start working again when someone started yelling, 'My God! It's another one.' "
But the story doesn't end there. Last summer Davitt worked for Sandler O'Neill & Partners on the 104th floor of the trade center's south tower.
"They made me an offer ... but I thought Merrill Lynch was more of a name," he said. "I thought the long-term prospects were better."