Remembering 9/11/01 – My Morning in Lower Manhattan

While I still maintained residence in Chicago, I worked in New York from late in 2000 until around 2004, a consultant with Deloitte Consulting working mainly in lower Manhattan and occasionally with the private wealth institutions in midtown. My “home” ranged from the Hilton and Starwood brand hotels (I was a “points junky” as many consultants were) to the Righa Royal in midtown to a great studio apartment in Union Square. For several weeks, I stayed at the Millenium Hilton directly across the street from the World Trade Center. When my dad came to visit me in New York in August 2001, this is where I was staying.

But on Sept 11, 2001 my home was the Embassy Suites Hotel of World Financial Center and my office right off of the intersection of John Street at One Seaport Plaza. My route to work every day was a brisk 10 – 15 minute walk across the pedestrian bridge that linked World Financial to WTC, through the World Trade Center and down John Street. On that particular day, I was tired and perhaps a bit lazy. And I was a bit later than normal. So, I chose to take a taxi that day. Taxi drivers HATE that. Traffic is crap and the trip is so short its basically a headache for them.

I got to my office building at around 8:45 am. After going through security as usual, I got on the elevator.

  • 8:46:30 Flight 11 crashes at roughly 466 mph (790km/h or 219m/s or 425 knots) into the north face of the North Tower (1 WTC) of the World Trade Center, between floors 93 and 99. …. The aircraft enters the tower mostly intact.

The plane obviously hit the tower while I was on the elevator. I did not feel anything or hear anything on the elevator but when I got to the cafeteria of the building, there was commotion and dozens of people gathered near the windows. I joined them and looked out of the large windows as there was clearly a fire in the North Tower.

From the cafeteria, several people stood at the cafeteria window looking out at the WTC North Tower as it burned. There had been boiler fires recently and downtown Manhattan buildings often had little fires. We all just thought it looked pretty bad but we all still thought it was just a fire. We were all surprised but you know, New Yorkers! As investment bankers and New Yorkers, most people surrounding me were used to excitement. Lots of swagger. Lots of attitude. “Dude, that looks pretty f*’d up”, “What the f*&k? Some engineer is about to get fired”, “Damn cleaning lady left her cigarette in the storage closet again.” We all thought it was a boiler. Maybe an electrical fire or some cleaning crew smoking in a room of combustible cleaning solvents. A FEW people speculated it was a small plane, apparently having heard of something like that happening before.

  • 8:49:34: The first network television and radio reports of an explosion or incident at the World Trade Center. CNN breaks into a Ditech commercial at 8:49. The CNN screen subtitle first reads “World Trade Center disaster.”

I paid for my bagel with cream cheese and coffee and went to my office. When I got back to my office, my client, the Chief Financial Officer of the firm, was in his office and the news was on. I stood in his office for a while watching the scenes of the fire and listening to more speculation as to what was going on. After a few minutes, I went back to my desk to start my day. I called my partner back home and woke him up to have him turn on the news. He had already started getting calls from people who could not reach me on my mobile phone.

Then I felt a tremendous shake, heard a loud noise, and knew something had majorly gone wrong. Running into his office, I heard my client screaming “Those bastards. Those f*cking bastards.” We were at war.

  • 9:03:02: Flight 175 crashes at about 590 mph (950 km/h) into the south face of the South Tower (2 WTC) of the World Trade Center, banked between floors 77 and 85.[12] By this time, several media organizations, including the three major broadcast networks (who have interrupted their morning shows), are covering the first plane crash—millions see the impact live. Parts of the plane leave the building from its east and north sides, falling to the ground six blocks away.

I have never in my life felt as sick to my stomach as I did at that moment. Fear, anger, sadness, shock, disbelief … all kinds of emotions hitting all at once. My brains battling with my heart. Tears held back as anger welled up. Immediate questions of what was next and was the entire city under attack or worse. My client and I stood around with his assistant and others as we awaited information from our building. Part of the building began to evacuate immediately. There were multiple companies in the building and some had different instructions than others. I walked downstairs and looked out the front door. There was chaos and dust everywhere. People were walking by and looking up. Lots of security resources were yelling at people. But everything was conflicting. Some said stay inside while others said get outside.

  • 9:37:46: Flight 77 crashes into the western side of the Pentagon and starts a violent fire

Immediately, everyone began to think the worst. WTC, the Pentagon, what was next? Chicago started evacuating the Sears Tower and other large buildings. Even buildings in Charlotte and Atlanta were evacuated. I changed my voicemail on my mobile (had to call using my desk phone) to let everyone know I was okay. Later I would feel bad that it took me this long when I found I had dozens of voicemails from worried friends and family.

Just blocks from what would later be known as Ground Zero, everyone in our building that had not yet evacuated began to debate whether to stay or go. I decided that the likelihood of our building being a target was low (not really a famous building and far away enough from WTC that it could not be an accidental hit) and that the chaos outside looked more dangerous. I stayed inside and went back upstairs to my office. Minutes later I would be thanking God for my decision.

  • 9:59:04: The South Tower of the World Trade Center begins to collapse, 56 minutes and 2 seconds after the impact of Flight 175. Its destruction is viewed and heard by a vast television and radio audience. As the roar of the collapse goes silent, tremendous gray-white clouds of pulverized concrete and gypsum rush through the streets.

Running from Debris

This picture has become quite famous and reminds me of the second time that day God gave me the right decision for some reason. These people were running down my street, the same street I walked every morning from WTC to my office. They were running from the plumes of smoke and debris that rapidly overtook lower Manhattan and quickly made its way to my office building. People who had left our building were either already over the Brooklyn Bridge or standing nearby watching. Those standing by watching ended up covered with dust and debris, and exposed to awful things flying down the street.

After the first building collapsed, we stayed in the office. We continued to watch the news in horror as we saw repeated over and over the images of the building we saw everyday collapse in a cloud of smoke. Then we watched in horror as the second tower collapsed.

  • 10:28:25: The North Tower of the World Trade Center begins to collapse. … The Marriott Hotel, located at the base of the two towers, is also destroyed. The second collapse is also viewed live on television and heard on radio.

About a half-hour after the second tower collapsed, our building began to completely evacuate and my client and I joined others in helping get people out of the building. To this day, I have so much respect for this particular CFO who was one of the last people out of the building, waiting until he was certain that everyone from the firm was getting out and heading away from lower Manhattan. I was a new Manager and he was CFO of a large Securities firm. But on that day, everyone was an equal. And we were equally shocked, equally saddened, and angry. So angry.

As I left the building, I saw shoes, purses, briefcases, dust and building particles, and TONS of paper everywhere. There was a strong burning smell all around me and the dust burned your eyes. There was relative quiet by this point, despite there being thousands of people outside. Everyone was in shock. There was crying and anger but mostly there were looks of disbelief. I think I was personally more surprised by the buildings falling down than by the attacks themselves.

I walked down the street to the Brooklyn Bridge and started the walk so many took on that day. Trying desperately not to look back on the chaos that was lower Manhattan or the gaping hole in the skyline that was now filled only with smoke, I trudged along with hundreds of others, strangers united for once if never before. All races, genders, ages, and sizes. Suits and sweats. Children with school uniforms on. All walking away from a nightmare but not really sure whether the nightmare would be over when we got to the other side.

As I walked, I thought about three things:

  1. What would have happened if I walked as normal? Where would I have been when the first plane hit? The second plane?
  2. How many people are now dead and how many will never be found? How much more of this death and destruction would I have seen had I walked outside of my building before the collapse of the first tower?
  3. What do I do when I get over this bridge? I knew NOT A SOUL in Brooklyn.

I felt alone, scared, and … Yes, pissed.
And I will move on, but I will never forget.

In peace comes strength,
Adam

Click here for the entire timeline of that horrific day from Wikepedia. All timeline sections denoted by bullets above were taken from this source.

Here are the archives of news coverage from the day. http://www.archive.org/details/911/day#videosummary

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Adam L. Stanley | ALSWharton Connections

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8 comments

  1. Thank you Adam. It cannot be easy remembering the events of that day but it is so important that you can share them.

    Warmest Regards,
    James

  2. Adam, Well written and so true. I went to college in the area and know it well. I remember the 1st time being in the area after this atrocity and seeing this blank space in the air where the Twin Towers once were. I still get chills thinking about it. I also remember people coming together as one in the days afterward. Watching the reading of the names this morning before I went out bought tears to my eyes. Never forget.

  3. Adam,
    I sat in a roll call room in Chicago. I was still a Police Officer… We watched a 50 inch screen as the disaster unfolded. It dawned on me that you were in New York, but I remember thinking that this was too horrific for GOD to let it touch you. Then I got word that you were in your building lobby, then I watched the buildings come down, and was unable to contact you. I thank GOD for keeping you that day.
    Daddy

  4. Adam,

    Having never known anyone to experience the tragedy first-hand (until today), I could only reflect on the emotions that I felt on that day. After reading about your experience, I now understand the fear and danger that many Americans went through on 9/11. Thanks for your willingness to share.

    Hope all is well.

    Brian

    1. Thanks for your comment B, good to hear from you! It’s tough because that day means a lot to many people so everyone wants to talk about it. I rarely talk about it because inevitably someone will say something that annoys or upsets me!

  5. I can’t imagine the horror of seeing this in person. While we watched it from 100’s of miles away, I remember the feeling fear and anger, wondering how could this happen in our country. I also remember how this country was unified after the catastrophe and wish we would could always be so. Thanks for sharing your story.

    1. Paula – I truly hope we can return to that feeling of unity without, of course, another tragedy. I also found the unity inspiring. When I finally went back to NYC 10 days later, I felt that spirit of unity and resiliency strongly!

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