The following was written by George S. Phoenix, III Garfield, New
Jersey, USA and is his story of September 11,2001.
This is in his own words and is posted here with his
knowledge and permission.
What I've written here is a sequence of events of
my experiences on
September 11, 2001, the day the World Trade Center was attacked. I've
written it for myself so I wouldn't forget any of the details or sequence of
events. Details tend to get jumbled up in one's head or forgotten over time.
So, forgive me if it seems a little over-detailed.
I got to work, on the 74th floor of WTC1, at 8:00 am. At about 8:30 or so, I
went to the cafeteria to get my usual coffee, milk and danish. To get to the
caf, which was on the 43rd floor, I had to go to the 44th floor and take an
escalator down one floor. Returning from the cafe with my food, I entered an
elevator in the bank of elevators that serviced floors 67-74.
A little note on how the elevators worked in the building. From the
ground floor, if you had to go to an office on any floor up to the 40th
floor, you went to a bank of elevators and took an elevator to your floor.
If you had to go to a floor from the 75th floor on up, you took one elevator
to the 78th floor lobby and then you went to a bank of elevators and took an
elevator to your floor. If you had to go to a floor from the 41st through
the 74th floor like me, you took one elevator to the 44th floor lobby and
then you went to a bank of elevators and took an elevator to your floor.
So, I got into an elevator that serviced floors 67-74. Five other guys got
in after me, the last fellow being a window washer. He was carrying his
bucket of soapy water with his squeegee and his wooden extension pole. The
elevator started moving. Suddenly it stopped and banged violently from side
to side. The lights were still on. We pushed the emergency call button to
call for help. As far as we were concerned, the only thing that happened was
that the elevator had stopped. No one answered right away so we pushed the
alarm button. We pried the doors open only to find a wall in front of us
with "50" chalked on it. Apparently, we were stuck at the 50th floor. We
closed the doors and then someone answered our calls for help and I believe
said something about an explosion in the building.
Then I smelled smoke. This changed things. We had to get out. I got out my
handkerchief and covered my nose and mouth. Then I remembered that it was
better to wet it so I dipped it in my milk. I suggested to the others to do
the same. We pried open the doors again and laid down the window-washer's
pole to keep the door open. It was the perfect size. Now we started kicking
the hell out of the wall in front of us. It was no use. It was sheetrock,
a.k.a. plasterboard or drywall, in 2 feet wide sections with a steel frame
around it. It hardly moved. We would have to dig through it.
Nobody had a knife or any tools. The only thing I had was my keys. The
window-washer, John, pulled out his squeegee and another fellow, also named
John, starts digging into the wall with it. This second John turned out to
be Deputy Director of Operations for the World Trade Center. The squeegee
had a sturdy metal piece, which held the rubber part in place. All this time
the smoke is getting worse.
John the director and I both had cell phones but neither one of us could get
a signal. As they worked on chipping through the wall, I climbed up on a
handrail on the elevator wall and the back of another fellow to try to find
a way through the top of the car. It consisted of metal panels. There was no
obvious way to get them open. They didn't slide or push in or have any
latches so I started to pound it with the heel of my hand. It didn't give. I
had to get down anyway. The smoke was getting to me.
Eventually, someone got through the wall. We now had a hole about the
diameter of a finger and fresh air was coming through. The elevator shaft
wall turned out to be 3 inches thick. It consisted of 3 ply of one inch
sheetrock held together by the steel frame I mentioned. We continued to chip
away and kick at the wall. Then I noticed John the window-washer was holding
a piece of the squeegee that had come off. It was the part where the pole
screwed in. It was triangular with 2 pointy corners and the corner where the
pole screwed in. I grabbed it and started hacking to one side of the hole
and another guy worked on the other side. Then I got the idea to try and
score the wall so that when we kicked at it, there would be weak points. As
we took turns kicking the wall, my foot finally went through and we had a
nice sized hole now. We took turns kicking at the edges of the hole making
it bigger. Eventually, we had a hole about 2-3 feet high by 1 foot wide. But
there was another wall on the other side.
We saw aluminum framing and more sheetrock. But this sheetrock was much
thinner and we kicked through it easily. It turned out to be a bathroom on
the 50th floor. We kicked through the thin sheetrock and wall tiles and made
a hole big enough for a man to fit through. One guy went through and ran to
find some help. Then I went through. Someone in the elevator started kicking
at the aluminum stud, made the hole a little bigger and the rest came
through. We were in there for about 40-45 minutes total.
The guy who was through the opening first came back with someone and we went
to a staircase that took us to the 44th floor lobby. This was where we first
learned that the towers were both hit by airplanes. We were led to another
staircase, but before heading down, I made a cell phone call to my wife. She
answered the phone crying and I told her I was not hurt and had been trapped
in an elevator but had escaped and was on my way down from the 44th floor.
It wasn't a good connection and I couldn't make out everything she was
saying. I told her I would call her when I got outside.
The trip down the staircase was, at first, uneventful. It was stop-and-go.
There were firemen everywhere. Many doors on the way down had either cops or
firemen going in and out making sure the floors were empty. The occasional
fire fighter passed us going up with axes and sledgehammers. They were
huffing and puffing in their heavy outfits. I guessed they were going up to
the impact site. It was like this until I got to the 13th floor where things
The ground below us shook and there was a long, deep thundering sound. Then
dust started coming up the stairway. It got to where you couldn't see 3 feet
in front of you. Someone said it was probably an elevator that fell down but
that wasn't what happened. I covered my mouth and nose again with my
handkerchief and we all made our way down the stairs led the whole way by
the firemen. A few floors later, a fireman opened a door and said things
were clear and to follow him. Since I was near the end of the line, only 3
or 4 of us followed him through. It was now pitch black and dusty and we
were walking ankle deep in water. The only light came from the firemen's
small flashlights. We came to another door but there were people standing
there and things weren't moving. I pointed out to the firemen that at least
the other staircase was moving and we were led back to where we came in. We
continued down and came to a door, which also led into a dark, dusty and wet
passageway. We exited the passageway and emerged onto the mezzanine, which
overhang the first floor lobby of the building. This mezzanine was where the
Engineering Department had our Christmas party last year. It was strewn with
dust and debris. The firemen told everyone to stay close to the wall and we
were led outside through a broken window.
What was once the beautiful plaza between the 2 towers was now like a scene
out of a B movie. There was dust, paper and twisted pieces of metal
everywhere. We walked along the building through the rubble and a policeman
informed us that the Pentagon had also been attacked. I couldn't believe
what I was hearing. The Pentagon? When we were clear of the building I
looked up and saw the gash in the tower where the first plane impacted. It
was shocking. We were led down a set of stairs to the street and told to
just keep walking away from the area. As I walked away, I heard someone say
that World Trade Center 2 had collapsed. I totally dismissed this. It just
wasn't logical. I looked up at where it should be and saw smoke and dust.
That didn't mean it wasn't there, right? Then I came to realize the
thundering and dust that occurred when I was at the 13th floor must have
been WTC2 coming down. I just couldn't believe it. I tried and tried to get
in touch with my wife but the whole town was also trying to get calls out. I
couldn't get a line.
When the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993, it took some people over 3
hours to make their way down the stairs. WTC2 collapsed a little over an
hour after the whole thing started. I kept thinking that there must be
thousands dead. Two blocks from the site, I ran into a friend of mine, Tom,
who worked on the 82nd floor. Tom is a big man; about 6'3" and 330 lbs. in
his early 50s. He was breathing hard. We stopped for a minute or two and
chatted. We continued on and ran into a guy he worked with on 82. I thought
to myself that this was a good sign. If people from 82 got out alright,
there was a good chance for my coworkers and the rest on the upper floors.
This fellow we ran into, Tad, told us that he was sitting at his desk, a
window seat, when the first plane was approaching the building. It seemed to
be coming right at him. He could see the pilot's face! It veered up and
struck the building. I had been out of the building for only 15 minutes. We
were about 5 or 6 blocks from the WTC when I heard some explosions and
turned to look up at where they had come from. What I saw was surreal.
The antenna and the rest of the roof atop the building I had just left,
leaned to one side and fell in on itself. The rest of the floors below
collapsed under the weight and an enormous cloud of dust and debris was
expanding outward from the Trade Center. Everyone turned and hauled ass. I
turned around urging big Tom on but he wasn't able to keep up. When I turned
again, I didn't see him. Today (9-13) I talked to him and he told me he had
ducked around a corner and into a doorway. I spent 10 minutes or so in the
area looking and waiting for him to come walking down the street but I
couldn't find him. I felt horrible. I was sure he was OK but felt sad
thinking about how he must feel to have been left behind.
I kept walking and found out that I was heading north. Then I ran into John
the window-washer! We embraced and talked some and walked together. Finally
I got through on my cell phone and spoke to my wife and my sister Lynn.
After calming them down, I tried to reach John's wife at work for him.
Eventually, we got a ringing phone, but no one answered. John went off on
his own and I walked until I reached the Holland Tunnel. It was closed and
there were a lot of people standing around talking and listening to the
radio in some guy’s car. After ten minutes of that, I went west until I hit
West St. and continued north. I stopped at a pizzeria and bought a Snapple
then continued north.
Then I got a good idea. I got through to home again and got my friend Tom's
home number from my sister. I called his wife and told her I saw him and
that he was alright. Then I ran into a guy, Frank, who worked on my floor in
the Mechanical Engineering Department. He told me he saw lots of people from
our floor so things were looking good. After 10 or 15 minutes chatting with
him, I continued north. Something Frank said stuck in my head. He said that
he was avoiding the major train stations. Terrorists knowing these to be a
likely place where people would flee might make them a target.
I figured I could get to the ferries in midtown and get the hell off of that
island. I got to Chelsea Piers which is around 30th St. and there were
people in the street with bullhorns telling anyone interested that ferries
to New Jersey were leaving from Pier 61. I went in and was walking to the
end of the line when I saw a another guy, Dennis, who worked on my floor in
the Electrical Engineering Department. We shook hands and had a few words
before I took my place at the end of the line. The line was about 600 feet
long. It looked like a long wait. I called home and gave a status report.
After 20 minutes or so, a ferry came and took a load of people and the line
moved up some. I figured it would take 5 or 6 more ferries until I got on
one. About 15 minutes after the first ferry, the Spirit of New York, and
dinner cruise ship that runs out of that pier, parked itself at the dock and
all of the rest of us who were waiting were loaded aboard and taken to
Weehawken, New Jersey. We were told that buses would take us from there to
Giants Stadium which was going to be used a staging area.
When I got to Giants Stadium, about 2:00 pm, I walked around the parking lot
looking for someone I knew. This is the same parking lot, #13, that I had
many a beer and barbeque in before heading in to a soccer or football game.
I didn't find a familiar face. My wife and sister were on their way to get
me but then they closed Rt. 3, the major highway to the stadium. I spent
about 3 hours there and my wife was stop-and-go on the highway. I went over
to a state trooper and asked him if he could find out exactly where on Rt. 3
the road was closed. He tried but couldn't get an exact answer. He took one
look at my dusty pants and dust caked shoes and asked me what I'd been
through. After I told him, he all but dragged me over to a reporter who was
interviewing people about their experiences. I gave my story to channel 12,
a local PBS station. I haven't seen it but lots of people have told me that
I decided to take one of the buses to Newark's Penn Station. I called my
wife and told her to get off of the road when she could and to try to get to
Newark. Once on the bus, I overheard the driver's radio say that Rt. 21 into
Newark was all clear so I called my wife to pass that on. The road was all
clear but then traffic came to a stop. There was an accident about a
half-mile ahead. My sister called to say that they were about a mile and a
half behind us and also stuck. We sat there for about 30 minutes or so. The
bus driver wouldn't let me out on the highway but once the traffic started
moving, I talked him in to pulling over at the next exit to let me out. Ten
minutes later, they came along and picked me up and there was an emotional
I got home (after 7:00 pm), kissed everyone, showered, phoned loved ones and
had a bite to eat. I responded to as many of the messages on my answering
machine as I could get through to. From about the time I was at Giants
Stadium until I ate, I had had some pressure in my upper chest. I figured it
was from the smoke and dust that I must have inhaled during the course of
the day, but it had gone away after I'd eaten. Everyone nagged me until I
agreed to go to the hospital to have myself looked over. My lungs and heart
sounded fine but they wanted to do an EKG. Well, they saw a wiggle on the
EKG they didn't like so they wanted to run some blood tests. It was now
after 11:00 pm. They said I would be there for another 7 hours minimum. The
blood tests had to be run 6 hours apart. In the end, it was going on 9:00 am
when I got out of there. I had gotten a total of maybe 3 hours sleep all
night and my poor wife didn't sleep a wink.
Later in the day, I spoke to a former boss of mine, Fred, in an office in
New Jersey where I had worked for 9 years until this past December when I
was transferred to the WTC. I was one of two guys unaccounted for that
worked on the Civil Engineering Department. In the end, everyone was
accounted for and unharmed.
The news reports of the day are very disturbing. The phone calls from the
planes to their loved ones, the passenger lists showing children names,
people leaping to their deaths avoiding the fires... Then there are the
people dancing in the streets celebrating somewhere in the Middle East. Even
in my town of birth, Paterson, New Jersey, where there is a section of Arab
population, there were reports of people dancing in the streets celebrating.
Police were there to stop a certain riot situation. What kind of people
celebrate the deaths of the innocent?
The 2 things I think of most are the sight of the second tower tipping over
and falling in on itself and of all of the firemen directing the evacuation
and climbing the stairs in full gear to help those trapped high in the
tower. There was never a doubt on which way to go and there wasn't much
panic. This is because of the presence of the firemen, those brave souls who
run into burning buildings. Every time I think of them, I cry.
Only a fool wakes a sleeping giant. These murderers have now given the
civilized world just cause to go in and wipe out terrorists anywhere,
anytime we see fit. We know where they train and we know who supports them.
This is the beginning of their end....
©2001 - George
S. Phoenix, III Garfield, New Jersey, USA
I have another friend that worked at the Pentagon and had she not been sick
on 091101 she would not be alive today.
When we think back to
September 11, 2001 lets never forget that those who died, those who
survived, those who saved lives and lets thank and honor those who have
brought and continue to bring those who do these horrific deeds
September 11,2001 Links
For one of those who was killed.