No! No! No!
One person after another plunged down the length of the North Tower, alongside pieces of wreckage from the plane and the tower. Why were they jumping? I wanted to stop them. To stop this awful reality. I wanted each “No” that I screamed to stop each person from hitting the ground. I wanted my shouts to push them back up to where they had jumped from. No, I wanted to help them. I started running toward the plaza, running past the stone benches I used to sit on. Past a photographer quickly snapping pictures. I ran through that blizzard of falling paper, knowing I had to help those people. I could now see much larger objects were falling in the plaza. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a man following behind me on my right.
I bolted up the plaza steps and stopped at the southwest corner of Building Number 5, under the protection of an overhang. The north tower was right across from me, less than a block away. It loomed upward; the only thing separating me from the tower was a section of the plaza, where huge pieces of twisted metal shapes were crashing onto the concrete, each impact booming thunderously. Large shards of glass from blown out windows fell steadily, sounding like a hard hailstorm as piece after piece hit the ground, shattering. I wanted to run across the plaza toward the tower, but there was all that debris falling. Frantically looking around, I saw that the overhang I stood under went along the length of Building Number 5, and I thought maybe I could run around to the tower, protected by it, and be able to get closer to the people on the ground. Maybe I could pull someone to safety that might still be alive. Hold someone’s hand until help came.
Just as I started to move, my attention was broken when something caught my eye, and I looked up and to my left, and saw another man falling. But this time, much closer, and with much greater detail. I couldn’t take my eyes off him, and as he neared the ground, I saw clearly how frantically his arms and legs were moving, as if he was desperately trying to slow himself down. As I was about to see him hit the ground, his descent took him behind the stage where I had watched those noontime concerts.
The man who had been running behind me from my right reached me and stopped. I turned to ask, “What do we do?” and was aware of someone falling on top of a pile of clothes just across the plaza. It took an instant to register that it wasn’t a pile of clothes. The person had fallen on top of a pile of bodies that were already lying there. I stood and stared as one body after another fell.
And the bodies and debris kept falling and falling until shouts from two guards drew my attention to a side entrance of Building Number 5, where they were holding the door open and screaming for us to get in. One last, quick look at the intensity of wreckage and people falling told us we had no choice. If we wanted to live, we had to run toward the two guards. We ran into Building Number 5 and joined a crowd of other people evacuating the building. We went out a front entrance right next to my favorite bookstore. I pushed through the crowded streets and sidewalks to get back to where I had been standing on Church Street, feeling I needed to get back there, to that exact spot, though I don’t know why. Whatever the reasons, I was only standing there for a brief moment before the others and I heard the incredibly loud sound of an airplane, the second plane, as it approached the south tower. Looking up, and to my left, the plane was so big, and so close to the top of the buildings it passed. I stared at the plane not believing it would hit the tower.
The middle floors of the tower blew outward in a massive inferno of bright orange flames and dense clouds of black smoke. Time stood still for just a second, as if we all were suspended in disbelief. In the next beat, pandemonium broke out. Screaming, panic, mass confusion. I, along with everyone in the street, just started running, literally running for our lives. Twisted metal, glass and other debris were raining down on us. I ran towards Fulton Street, thinking, at one point, that I was going to run right out of the loafers I was wearing. As I turned east onto Fulton, I slipped, and fell to my hands and knees. Some people stepped on top of me, pushing me to the ground, and I thought, for one brief moment, that I was going to be trampled to death. But I got back on my feet, started running, and stepped on someone, myself. I remember running and saying out loud, “God save us all.”
To my right, I saw a man scrambling to get under a van. He was dressed in a suit and was lying on his back, desperately trying to slither beneath the protection of the vehicle. I remember glancing at his face, and our eyes locked for one brief second. The look of sheer terror on his face was so contorted that I almost laughed out loud. I don’t know why I didn’t.
Up ahead of me, a man was lying in the middle of Fulton Street. He was a heavyset man in a suit, lying on his stomach. Everyone was running right by him. I started to run past him myself, but for whatever reason, I stopped and ran over to him. I dropped to my knees at his side. It was then I noticed all the blood and where it was coming from. His skull had been split open, and the top part of his brain was protruding through the split. Blood was gushing out of the wound. Amazingly, he was breathing. I saw, lying near his head, a putty knife—a regular looking putty knife that had an almost even line of blood on its blade. I thought, oh my God, is this what hit him? I remember putting it back down as another man came running over, dropping down on his knees on the other side. Someone handed a denim jacket to me saying “take this.” I took it and applied it over the opening in his skull. The other man who had come over put his hand on top of mine, and we held the jacket there with all the pressure we could summon, trying desperately to slow down the flow of blood. Now that the falling debris had lessened people were stopping and others ran over to us. An ambulance was on Church Street. We all started screaming for it. “Over here! Over here!”
As the ambulance began to make its way toward us, through the debris in the street, someone, who said they knew first aid, suggested we turn the man over onto his back. Four of us did so, carefully. His teeth were covered with blood and dirt or soot or something, and two of us used our fingers to clean out his mouth. I noticed that his watch was lying there beside him, having come off. I picked it up and put it in his left pants’ pocket. His employee work tag was hanging around his neck. I didn’t really look at it. I wish, now, that I had. I wish that I had looked at his name and memorized it, so I could find his family and tell them that he wasn’t alone, that he had people with him.
The ambulance reached us, and a flat board was brought over. He was so big it took at least six of us to gingerly get him onto it. He was belted to the board, and we lifted him and carried him to the back of the ambulance. I remember touching his arm and whispering to him, “You’ll be okay. You’ll be okay.”
As the ambulance began maneuvering up Fulton Street, I followed it up to Broadway. I looked at my hands and saw that they were covered with the man’s blood. There was another ambulance on Broadway, already treating some of those with minor injuries. I went up to one of the EMS workers and just showed her my hands. At first, she thought it was coming from me, but I told her, “No…it’s someone else’s.” She had me sit down on the curb and said she would be right over to wash my hands. A man in a suit looked down at me and asked if I was okay. He was the only person who asked me that all day. The EMS worker returned, knelt in front of me, and began cleaning my hands. I looked right at her. “What’s going on?” I remember her looking at me and saying, “I don’t know, but this is awful.”
She helped me up from the curb and went to attend to others. I was in front of my office building, and I saw one of my coworkers. I went up to her, and we hugged. She later told me I was shaking like a leaf.
I suddenly thought of my parents seeing all this on TV. I started going up to people, asking, “Can I use your cell phone?”—but none of them were working. The lines at the pay phones were already very long, so I started walking north asking anyone I saw with a cell phone if their phone was working. Some were, some weren’t, but no one would let me make my call.
Finally, I darted into a coffee shop that was empty except for a few of its workers. There was a man behind the counter. I screamed, “Can I use your phone?” In a daze, he motioned towards the back. I could only remember one number, and it was a friend who worked uptown. Amazingly I got through to him and simply yelled into the phone, “Billy, it’s Artie. Call my parents. I can’t remember their number. Van Why. In Millersville, or Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Tell them I’m okay. Okay?” I hung up.
I walked out of the coffee shop, which was about 10 blocks north of the towers. It was then that the south tower collapsed, sounding like yet another explosion. In frenzied confusion, everyone looked at one another, not knowing what was happening. In panic, we all just started running. I looked behind me and saw this huge wall of debris, dust and smoke rapidly moving toward me. “What in God's name was happening?” People were screaming, some crying hysterically. I kept running until I couldn't run anymore. Eventually, I slowed down, gasping for breath. I then began the long walk home, to midtown Manhattan, along with everyone else. In absolute silence.