My wife, Judie, and I arrived at our health club early the morning of September 11. We wanted to get a good workout completed before heading to the office. We watched in horror as the televisions showed the results of the first plane crashing into the World Trade Center. As we watched, a second plane appeared on the screen, crashing into the second tower. My wife grabbed me and said, "Let's go!"
We got to our van with my wife in tears. It was Tuesday, the day our son heads to the NYU Library to complete his research for his Masters degree. As a student at Stevens Institute of Technology, in Hoboken, New Jersey, Josh takes the PATH train that arrives in the basement of the World Trade Center. I kept assuring my wife that it was too early for Josh. He normally goes later in the day. All the time, hoping that I was correct.
We immediately started calling my son. No phone service. Finally, a few minutes later, the phone rang, but only to voice mail. Judie said, "Call home right away, there is a crisis." Within five long minutes, Josh returned the call. He was fine, but couldn't talk long. His roommate, Tom, was missing and he wanted to keep the line open. Tom had a co-op job this semester in the World Trade Center. Another fraternity brother, Chester, also had a co-op job in the World Trade Center.
Minutes later, our daughter, Desiree, a freshman at University of Miami, called. She was distraught. Just four weeks earlier, she had taken her boyfriend through the World Trade Center on a visit to New York. "I was just there!" Shock was in her voice.
A colleague called. So many people know that I am always flying all over the country. Please let him be home this week. I was.
Knowing my children were safe, I thought back to the rest of my family. My wife's sister and husband live a short distance from the World Trade Center. She works up the road. My brother, Jerry, works in the financial district. I wasn't sure what building. My other brother, Mike, travels to New York between offices. Was he in the city today? My nephew, Dan, works in lower Manhattan. Then, what about extended family and friends?
Judie and I continued to watch the scenes on the television. Then, they flashed to the Pentagon. Another attack. Judie asked if my fraternity brother, Richard, still works in the Naval section of the Pentagon. I said, "No." I hope I'm right.
As the television reports flashed between the Pentagon and the World Trade Center, I started yelling at the television, "Get the equipment and people away!" The engineering mind set in. The building may experience a progressive collapse.
When you work many years in the Building Code business, the term "progressive structural collapse" becomes a catch phrase. The Building Code requires all buildings to be so constructed to prevent a progressive structural collapse. Structural redundancy is required to prevent such an occurrence. The Old BOCA National Building Code read, "Buildings and structural systems shall provide such structural integrity that the hazards associated with progressive collapse are reduced to a level consistent with good engineering practice. Structures shall be able to sustain local damage or failure with the structure as a whole remaining stable."
But, a wide body aircraft would easily take out the redundant structural elements. A wide body aircraft carries in excess of 10,000 gallons of jet fuel (kerosene). It was only a matter of time before the fire heated the steel to its yield strength and failed.
As the talking heads continued to speak, I watched as the South Tower collapsed. I yelled again that the building is falling. My wife heard me, the talking heads didn't.
I said, get away, the other tower will go too. But, no one heard me. Even if the sprinkler system had withstood the impact of the plane, which I highly doubt, they are only designed for a fire of 1,500 square feet. This fire far exceeded any design we could imagine.
Then somebody on the television said the North Tower may fail too. I agreed and said, "Get away." No one heard the television commentator.
By afternoon, my stomach was tied in a big knot. Not one bit of work was done. Many calls continued between my two children. Josh called again, distraught. His roommate was still missing!
The other fraternity brothers returned to campus, but not Tom. Chester came back, covered in dust and debris. He was clearly shaken. Chester works on the 95 floor of the North Tower, but he was a few minutes late for work. He was evacuated from the lobby when the dust and debris covered him. As he related his story, Chester realized that all of his work colleagues perished in the attack, the point of impact of the plane. He no longer had a co-op job. He packed his bags to be with family. He's on his way home to Florida.
Tom was still missing. Tom's father called the fraternity house to see if they had heard from his son.
I called my parents in northern New Jersey. "Please watch over my son, his roommate is missing, and he is distraught." My mother assured me that all of the other family members were okay. Jerry was 2 blocks away, but got out. Dan was not in the city, nor was Mike.
But Mike's family was concerned about his wife's brother, Eddie. Eddie is a Deputy Fire Chief with the New York City Fire Department. No one had heard from Eddie. They didn't know where he was. But, as a fireman, he wouldn't have time to call home.
Late in the evening, Tom returned to the fraternity house. Tom was located on the 40th floor of the North Tower when the plane struck. Fortunately, an older gentlemen in the meeting was in the World Trade Center eight years earlier when the bombing attack occurred. He yelled, "Get out!" They all ran for the exit and climbed down 40 floors.
Tom and Josh spoke all night. Tom was in shock. He recalled looking in the eyes of one fireman climbing the opposite direction in the stair tower. He could see that the fireman knew he may not return, but that he had a job to do and he was going to do it. Tom is convinced he is buried in the rubble.
Still no word about Eddie.
Sleep was sporadic. Eddie was on my mind. The Mayor said 200 firemen died. Please don't let one of them be Eddie.
In the morning, I asked Judie to call my parents. I didn't want to be the first to hear about Eddie. By good fortune, Eddie was off duty during the attack. However, all of the men in Eddie's Company are dead. The tragedy continues - all of the men in Eddie's old company are also dead. My brother's family is devastated.
My first engineering job was five blocks from the World Trade Center. Every day I commuted on the PATH train, entering and exiting the World Trade Center.
I kept thinking how, as an entering freshman at Stevens, the Towers stood 66 stories and 33 stories high. As I studied engineering, I watched across the river as the World Trade Center twin towers were completed. My college yearbook highlighted the walk of Philippe Petit. During our senior year, he strung a rope between the two towers and tightrope walked between them. How many remember that incident in 1974?
During my college years at Stevens, I saw the towers go up. During my son's college years at Steven, he watched them come down. When they came down, a part of all of our lives came down with them. Josh put it aptly, "It is all very surreal!"