Wednesday, September 14, 2011

High School Classmate Recalls Escape From WTC South Tower On 9/11

Days after the 9/11 attacks, I received a newspaper clipping in the mail from my mother back in Texas, about a high school classmate who escaped the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

This year, for the 10th anniversary of the attack, he gave an interview to the Brownsville Herald, which she also just alerted to and I wanted to share here.

Tom Elliott says memories of his escape down a smoky stairwell of the World Trade Center’s South Tower have returned more vividly this year as the nation marks the 10th anniversary of the terror attacks that changed his life.

On Sept. 11, 2001, he was working on the 102nd floor of the South Tower when the terrorist attacks began, said Elliott, a 1986 Harlingen High School graduate and the son of San Benito City Commissioner Bill Elliott.

...Elliott, a project manager for an insurance administrator, said he was at his desk on the South Tower’s 102nd floor when a jet hit its twin, the North Tower, at 8:46 a.m. EDT.

...For Elliott, "it was a gut-feeling-decision" that led him to a stairwell from his office after the North Tower was hit.

That day, the decisions he made on his journey though the cramped stairwell saved his life, he said.

As he passed the 70th floor, an announcement over the intercom told survivors to take an elevator or stairwell to return to their offices, Elliott said.

But he decided to continue his trek to the ground floor, he said.

"I was between the 69th and 68th floors when the plane (United Flight 175) hit," he said. "It hit about 10 to 15 floors above, between the 80th and 78th floors. I was stunned, in disbelief. You could see a crack in the wall. In the back of my mind was, was I going to get out of this alive.

"We started going down the stairs again, literally single file. As we got to the lower floors, it got more crowded. We passed firemen going up the other side of the stairs, basically going up to their deaths. Then there was a back-up getting out of the stairwell. We exited at the World Trade Center mall. There were hundreds of people congre-gated in the middle of the street."

"I turned around and looked up and you saw two gapping holes in the two buildings where smoke came out. It was surreal. It was out of a movie, like something you’d never see," he said.

About five minutes later, the tower collapsed, Elliott said.

“One thing that recently struck me is how close it was for my name to be in bronze if it wasn’t for some of the decisions I made,” Elliott said of the names of the dead engraved on a memorial to be unveiled Sunday.

“I choose to be thankful,” he said. “I just feel lucky.”

In May, the killing of Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attack, struck deep in his heart, Elliott said.

“We were watching the news coverage when I broke down, which was completely unexpected,” he said. “I don’t know how much of it was relief or fear of what could be next — what everyone wonders about. What happens now? The figurehead is gone. Who takes his place?”

Elliott said he has now focused his life on his 5-year-old adopted daughter, who he said is still too young to hear his story.

“I’m much more living for today rather than dwelling on the drudgery that can be life sometimes,” he said. “It changes your perspectives and priorities. Over time, you learn that’s your experience. It’s part of my make up.”

Quite amazing, to think that the wrong decision or even the hesitation of just a few moments could have cost Tom his life, not once, but twice that day.  He truly had the Hand of God over him

No comments: