Surviving the Impact: Escaping the South Tower

9/11/01

It's the fieldtrip we've all been waiting for. After all of our hard work and fundraising our 7th grade class finally gets to do what we've been dreaming about for the past year. We finally get to go the World Trade Center.

I find myself thinking these thoughts as my class rides up in the spacious elevator up to the 78th floor-the sky lobby. I glance around to see every single person in the class here. Even the kids who never seem to want to do anything but sit at home and watch TV all day. They're all chattering loudly, filling the cramped elevator with their voices. I look down at my watch to check the time. It's 8:40. We still have five hours left.

Finally, after what seems like eternity, the elevator door open in the sky lobby. The entire group gasps at the sight. It's absolutely beautiful. Shiny porcelain tiles decorate the floor; there are a few plants in pots around the room, shoved up against the white walls. But all of that is blown away when our teachers usher us towards the window and we look through the glass.

The sight is breath taking. All of the tall towers I have become used to looking up at are now as small as houses. I can see the Empire State building in the distance. The cloudless blue sky hangs beside me, ever present. I grin at the amazing sight. I hear gasps of excitement near me as all my other classmates crowd around the window beside me.

Bzzzzzzz.

I furrow my brow and glance around the room, wondering at the strange buzzing noise. It's muffled, yet near. No one else seems to hear it, even as it gets louder. I figure it's a vent and shrug.

BANG!

Everyone jumps at the loud noise. The lights above us flicker and the chandeliers jangle a bit. A slight rumbling noise fills the air. The buzzing is gone.

"What was that?" a voice asks. One of the teachers opens his mouth to answer but is interrupted.

"Look!" the girl beside me cries, pointing out the window.

I crank my neck around to look out the clear glass. I gasp along with my classmates as I spot papers fluttering past the window, some burnt around the edges. They float away and towards the ground, disappearing out of sight.

I turn again to see the teachers glance at each other, slight worry shining in their eyes. They call to us and herd us towards the elevators. I see confused and angry looks on my classmates' faces. We stand in front of the elevator doors, waiting to get on. The doors open and five men step out.

"Your attention, please, ladies and gentlemen," a voice suddenly blares over the intercom. "Building Two is secure. There is no need to evacuate Building Two. If you are in the midst of evacuation, you may use the re-entry doors and the elevators to return to your office. Repeat, Building Two is secure."

The men exchange looks with our teachers as our class stands there, waiting for a decision. The men walk away and the teachers glance at each other once more.

"We can't just leave!" some kid yells.

With those four words, the decision is made, and we are moved back to the window. Paper is still floating by, but I try to ignore it and focus on the Manhattan skyline beyond. I shake my head to clear the horrible thoughts running through my head and turn away from the window. I check my watch again. 9:03.

Suddenly, I hear a boy yell, "Holy crap!"

The teachers all turn to him, disapproving looks on their faces. "Mister-" but he never gets to finish his sentence. And I turn to see the dark shadow of the plane heading straight towards us.

BOOM!

The noise is deafening. I slap my hands over my ears, trying to block out the noise. In that one millisecond, my mind can't register what's going on. Then the room around me is ripped apart. My body is sent flying, pain shooting through my very being. My head slams into a wall across the room, and everything goes black.


"Hey. Wake up."

I groan and open my eyes. My head is pounding and my right shoulder and ankle are throbbing with pain. I lift my head up. A brown haired boy is looking down at me, his eyes full of concern.

"What-"

"Come on," he says, grabbing my hand and yanking me to my feet against my will. "We've got to get out of here."

I look around myself, wondering what just happened. My eyes widen when I see flames everywhere. They're licking the walls and the elevator shafts. I glance at the floor and gasp. There are people on the floor, some of them my classmates.

Still. Not moving.

I lose my breakfast.

"I know," the boy says, avoiding looking at the floor. "But come on. We have to leave."

I look up at him. His name is…Raymond.

"What happened?" I ask.

"I'm not sure," Raymond replies. "But I don't care. I've got a really bad feeling. We've got to get out of here now."

I nod and he helps me move across the floor to a staircase with a huge A above the door. Raymond opens the door, and the two of us limp down the stairs. I'm helping him walk and he's helping me walk. I can see his right ankle is swollen, and he has deep slashes in his both his knees.

Along the way, we pass people. They are coughing, covered in soot. We pass them by silently, slowing going down step-by-step. It takes a little over twenty minutes to reach the 40th floor. This is when we pass the first firefighter. His weighed down by all of his equipment and he breathing hard, yet he keeps going. He glances at us for a moment before he keeps going.

It's another half-hour before we make it to the lobby. We limp across the polished marble tiles and the security guard looks at us briefly. He looks away, then does a double-take and rushes over.

"What are you two doing in the tower?" he asks furiously.

"Field trip," Raymond grunts. "What happened?"

The security guard looks us over. "Can you two run?" he asks, completely ignoring Raymond's question.

"I don't know," he replies, glancing at me. "Maybe."

"Okay," he says. He pulls the two of us along through the shopping center, which our class planned to pass through before we left for the day. We pass piles of merchandise, dozens of stands knocked to the ground. The security guard yanks us farther in before we come to a glass door leading outside. I can see dust and debris covering the ground. What happened here?

"Okay," the guard repeats, glancing up towards the top of the tower through the clear glass of the door. "When I say go, you two run. You get away from the towers and find an ambulance. Don't look up, don't stop for anything, just run. You got that?"

Raymond and I glance at each other, looking into each other's eyes. Then we look back at the guard and nod simultaneously. The guard nods back and looks back up at the tower, preparing to open the door.

He shoves it open and shouts, "Now!"

Raymond and I explode out of the door, sprinting like our lives depend on it. We follow the guard's advice and don't look around. We hear crashes behind us, but we keep running. Finally, we are forced to stop, short of breath. I look back at the Twin Towers, now a couple blocks away, and gasp.

Pitch-black smoke is rising form gaping holes in both towers. Fires rage along edges of the buildings. Sparkling paper twirls in a cloud around the holes. Debris plunges from above, crashing onto the plaza Raymond and I had just run through.

The two of us look at each other. He opens his mouth to say something but is interrupted by a loud rumbling noise. We both look up to see another explosion in the South Tower, sending plumes of dust and debris outwards in a rain of chaos.

Before I know what's happening, Raymond is pulling my arm, yelling for me to run. A white cloud billows down the street, racing towards us. I know we'll never outrun it in our condition, but that's when I see the guard.

He's waving people into a building, holding the door open and yelling at them to move faster. I yank Raymond over to the building with me and the two of us dive through the door. The guard slams the door shut behind us and darkness engulfs the world as the dust cloud rolls past the window.

I sigh and lean against the window. I slide down the glass until I'm sitting on my bottom. I stare at the shiny elevator for a long moment it gives a short 'ding'. The silver doors slide open and a man in a tie and suit bursts through. "Was it another plane?" he asks.

The others in the room shake their heads and grumble unhappily. None of them know why there was a second explosion.

"What do you mean another plane?" Raymond asks above me. I just now notice him standing beside me, trying to hand me a water bottle. As I take it out of his hand, the man from the elevator answers his question.

"Didn't you hear?" he says, looking him incredulously. "Everyone knows by now. It's a terrorist attack. Someone flew two planes into the Twin Towers and another in the Pentagon. I hear there was another one that crashed somewhere around Washington D.C."

I can't hold it in anymore. I burst into tears and pull my knees up to my chest, wrapping my arms around them. I don't even pay heed to all the people in the room staring at me.

Raymond sits down beside me and puts a hand on my shoulder. "Hey," he says softly. "It'll be okay. We got out. It's over."

The security guard who pulled us in gaps slightly, his eyes wide. "You two came from one of the towers?" he asks. Raymond nods at him and he looks us over before pulling a radio out of his belt and speaking into it. "I need an ambulance down here."

I zone out as he lists off an address. Raymond continues to comfort me until I've stopped crying. I wipe away my tears and down some water, soothing my parched throat. I look around again to see the man from the elevator holding a phone up to his ear. He flips it shut and rubs his face. The other people look at him expectantly as he tells them the news.

"The South Tower collapsed."

Gasps of "no way!" and "impossible!" fill the room. It can't be real. This is the World Trade Center we're talking about! It's indestructible!

The air has cleared slightly outside, so we decide to go take a look. As we walk onto the street, puffs of dust puff up at every step. Everything is covered in the white powder. If there would ever be a nuclear winter, this is what it would look like.

I look up and I can barely see the silhouette of the North Tower, now only a shadow against the darkened sky. The man from the elevator was right. I can see no second figure. The South Tower is gone.

"Where's that ambulance?" the security guard asks through is radio.

The reply is blocked out by the sound of rumbling. Everyone looks up and I hear murmurs of "no way" around me. Through the cloud of white filth, I can see the North Tower crumpling the ground.

"Run!" someone shouts, and we are again sprinting down the street. As people again rush into the building we had just vacated, but Raymond and I never reach it in time. Our bodies are too tired, our injuries to severe. We run side-by-side as the cloud overcomes us and we trip and fall together.

I try to suck in breaths, but all I get is a mouthful of that horrible white dust. I can't seem to get any air in my lungs. I'm like a fish out of water.

As my struggles cease, everything fades to black.


I wake up again, this time in the hospital. The suffocating smell of chlorine fills my nostrils and the simple act of wrinkling up my face hurts. I look down and take stock of my body.

There's a respiratory mask over my mouth and I'm covered head to toe in bandages. What little skin I can see is covered in cuts and bruises. I turn my head painfully to either side. There's a blinding white wall to my left, but to my right is an equally beat up Raymond. He's staring right back at me.

I don't even have to ask the question before he answers. "They found us in the smoke," he croaks. "We didn't suffocate luckily, but we lost enough air that we both passed out."

I nod and open my mouth to ask the other question, but he answers that too.

"Both the towers collapsed. They managed to put the Pentagon fire out, but part of that collapsed too. The last plane crashed somewhere in Pennsylvania. Their calculating the death toll around five thousand."

I nod sadly this time and crane my hade around to look at the newspaper on the desk next my bed. It's dated September 12.

Raymond reaches out of his bed and I mine. We clutch each others fingers between our two beds and Raymond grin despite the situation. "This reminds me of a movie I saw once."

"Nobody can blame us," I reply, my voice painful and scratchy. "Considering what we went through."

He nods and says, "We're survivors."


In honor of all those who lost their lives on September 11, 2001. May they rest in peace.