It was a beautiful morning. It was the first day in months I was able to wear a suit without overheating. The brownstones in Brooklyn looked great, the air was fresh, and the people were all out either going to vote or walking their dogs.
I took the N train seven stops to Cortlandt Street / WTC. This was a 20-minute trip. From the station, the base of Tower 1 is just a little more than 100 yards straight ahead. Quickly I went through the turnstiles and into my elevator bank, which serves floors 33-40.
I rode alone to the top - floor 40 - which was Lehman Brothers IT headquarters.
At 08:48, as I was sitting in my chair, I felt a tremendous jolt. My office chair rolled in one direction and then the opposite direction. During the sway, I could hear the grinding of concrete and steel.
A second jolt hit as I was standing on the ramp leading down to the reception area. Again, the building leaned one way and sprang back the next. This was also accompanied by the sound of an explosion.
Firefighters on the stairs
Burning metal pieces and tons of paper were flying outside the south windows and falling to the ground below. Several people just stared out the windows, completely shocked at what they were seeing. I really thought the building was going to fall down right then and there.
Our floor's volunteer Fire Warden quickly rounded us up. I estimate that there were about 30 people on my side of our floor. He gave us the go-ahead, and we began our descent. I went into the stairwell and joined a long line of people. With the exception of a couple of impatient people, everyone was calm. There was a feeling that the worst was over.
We were descending at a rate of about one floor every 40 seconds or so. People were getting through to friends on their cell phones. They were reporting back that a "corporate jet" had struck our building.
At floor 25 we encountered the first firefighters walking up the stairs. These four men had beads of sweat on their faces and were carrying oxygen tanks, masks, and hatchets. We stepped aside and allowed them to pass.
Soon we passed another team of firefighters. They were also carrying a heavy load of tools and oxygen tanks.
Beginning on the 5th floor, water was running down the stairs. The water from the sprinklers was finally getting to us. By this point, there were very few people on the stairs. Many had taken detours.
Just then, at floor 3, there was an open door. It was the mezzanine level in the main lobby. I stepped out into the bright, sunlit space, and looked out the ground-level windows. It was then I realized just how disastrous this was. There was blood splattered on the windows overlooking the plaza. People who smoke often stand directly outside the building when they have a cigarette. There were no people there.
'Everything was covered in dust'
But there was much blood on the windows. Out in the plaza between the two towers, there was flaming, metal debris and dozens of dead pigeons. The fountain and sculpture between the two towers was crushed by debris. And everything was covered in dust and paper. This was unlike anything I've ever seen. The heat from the flaming debris was intense. It was blurring the landscape outside.
I followed my colleagues down a non-working escalator, to the lower level of the lobby. This area is the base of Tower 1 - the “ground” level. We walked past the very turnstiles I passed through earlier that morning. They were being rained-upon by sprinkler water, leaking from the ceiling above.
My colleagues and I walked across Church Street and then turned around and looked up. We saw both towers on fire. Both towers had similar, charred, massive holes in their sides, and bright red flames were coming out of the damaged areas. It was unbelievable.
By this time, my colleagues were crying and looking at the towers in disbelief. They had their arms around one another. News photographers approached us and others to take shots. We walked to the corner of Fulton and Broadway, and I saw something horrible. I recognized a piece of a jet airliner's front landing gear.
It was on the street, underneath what looked like a large pool of blood. There was so much blood on the street.
'The Brooklyn bridge shook'
Since most of us live in Brooklyn, my colleagues and I began walking towards Brooklyn bridge.
When we were on the pedestrian walkway, which spans over the center of the bridge, the unthinkable happened. At 09:58, there was a distant, yet giant crumbling sound. That sound became a giant roar. Thousands of us turned around and we saw the upper floors of Tower 2 give way, and break away from the rest of the tower. Then, almost in slow motion, the building fell straight down.
Through the haze and smoke, I could see the silhouette of the building as it seemed to become thinner and thinner, as its contents fell straight down. Finally, there was nothing left of the South Tower but a thin spine (core) of elevator shafts. And then that seemed to disintegrate. Everything shook. The Brooklyn Bridge shook.
This is too big to comprehend right now. I am just so lucky to have been able to walk away from this without a scratch.
I will never get past this as long as I live. And one of the most powerful things I will never forget is walking past firefighters who were walking up the stairs as I was walking down.