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Thursday, 13 September, 2001, 19:01 GMT 20:01 UK
'We ran for our lives'
People escape World Trade Center
Escaping workers remained calm amid the destruction
Mike Shillaker was one of the Britons lucky enough to escape the World Trade Center before both of the New York landmark's towers collapsed.

The businessman from Islington in London was on the 72nd floor of the south tower and decided to get out after the first plane hit the north tower.

A hundred people from the UK are known to have died and the death toll could rise by several hundred.

A colleague and I flew into New York on Monday evening for a range of client meetings on Tuesday - the first at 8am local time (1300BST) in the south tower of the World Trade Center.

We were on the 72nd floor of the south tower when the first plane hit the north tower.

We heard the bang and saw debris and - thank God - the client that I and my colleague were visiting had the sense to realise what was going on and told us to get out of the building.

As we got to around floor 50, a message came over the tannoy telling us ... we did not need to evacuate the tower

We were not so "streetwise".

Walking down the stairs - 72 floors seems like one hell of a long way to have to go - we were afraid, but not really sure why.

We really did not know exactly what had happened.

The evacuation was very orderly, people were great - no panic.

Second plane

As we got to around floor 50, a message came over the tannoy telling us that there was an isolated fire in the other tower, and we did not need to evacuate our tower.

Thank God we continued down, others did not.

As we reached around floor 38, the second plane hit and the whole building rocked, I guess like a building must shake in an earthquake.

The World Trade Center collapses
Mark Shillaker escaped Tower 2 minutes before it collapsed
Because we had no idea what had happened - we were blissfully ignorant as to what was going on - no-one really panicked.

If we had known what I later saw on television, I fear things may have been very different.

As we eventually reached the lower floors there was a greater sense of urgency.

Clearly people at the bottom knew what had happened and told us to get out of the building.

People began to run, the feeling changed, everybody was clearly more scared - not least because we feared the risk of being hit by further debris falling from above.

Relative safety

Even then, we had no idea that a second plane had hit our tower, although there was already speculation that the first explosion was a plane with people around me assuming an accident.

Once out of the building, we ran - not sure where, but to what we thought was relative safety.

We stopped to catch our breath, and after five minutes or so the north tower collapsed.

We knew that as we were escaping, firefighters were heading straight towards a total disaster area

We heard the noise, saw the smoke and dust, and ran for our lives again.

Although we escaped, we were very lucky and many many others, I know were not so lucky.

As we ran, the vivid picture of streams and streams of firefighters travelling towards the scene will stick in my mind, I think forever.

Even then, we knew that as we were escaping, they were heading straight towards a total disaster area.

Television pictures

Even then we realised that many of those men and women would probably not return from the scene alive.

Only when we returned to Manhattan in the evening did we stop to see the television pictures.

Only then did it really begin to sink in - the enormity of what had just happened.

We were still high on adrenaline and trying to be very resolute.

But waking up the next day, the real sense of what had happened hits - and the real feeling of sadness - for those who did not get out alive, and for those rescue workers who basically gave their lives to save many many people.

Different scenarios

I will never forget 11 September 2001 - the mixed emotions of euphoria at being alive, followed by immense sadness for what had happened. Still it is not over.

It is almost impossible to stop replaying the scene with different scenarios.

Each time I have a realisation that we were so, so lucky and things could so easily have been different.

I am also amazed by the calmness of the individuals who evacuated with us and in awe of the efforts of the emergency services, right from the start.

I am lucky but others are not, and my heart goes out to the families of each and every person who has not made it through this most horrendous experience.

A telephone helpline has been set up for worried friends and relatives. For information call 0207 008 0000.

Survivor Mike Shillaker
"I just remember... hearing a bang"

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See also:

13 Sep 01 | Americas
Survivor who ignored advice
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