9/11 Stories

Michael J. Wald


I was running a few minutes late for work. While there are some who are habitually late for work, I am not one of them. On a typical workday, I would arrive in my office between 8:50 and 9:00 a.m. The WTC is a large complex and is set back west of Church Street across a wide, open mall, looking east to west. From the street level, one must cross the mall, enter 1 WTC, descend an escalator, pass through the turnstile (w/ID), take an elevator to 78, take an elevator to 90, then enter the office. This process takes about 10 minutes, measured from the subway exit I use every day, which is west of Broadway on Dey St.

Tiff and I had been going through some issues during the past weeks. She was away in Brussells, Belgium on business, having left the previous Friday (9/7). I had stayed up until 12:00 a.m. the night before due to an extended conversation with Ethan and Martina about those issues. Its entirely conceivable that by staying up late another hour or so made me tired the next morning, which slowed me down getting ready and, thus, made me a few minutes late. Additionally, SMCS had only recently gone back to a formal business attire policy, after having enjoyed casual summer through the Labor Day weekend. This is another reason it took me a few extra minutes to leave the apartment. I also made the bed and washed the dishes, two chores that I sometime do or sometimes don’t do in the morning.

I then walked to the 28th St. station and got on the downtown #6 local train, as is normal. Although I have the choice at switching to the express train at 14th St., I rarely do this since the #6 is typically far less crowded. Thus, although the #6 is a few minutes slower, the comfort makes it more than worthwhile. As usual, I switched to the express train at the Brooklyn Bridge/City Hall stop and took it one stop to Fulton Street. I exited the train near the turnstiles and immediately noticed that there were people backed up and moving extra slowly up the stairs to the street level. As I made my way up the stairs, I was forced to stop several times in order to wait for the people ahead of me to move.

Within a minute or so, I exited onto the street level and immediately saw a huge throng of people crowding the sidewalks and middle of Dey Street. All attention was focused on 1 WTC. I looked up to see an enormous fire near the top of the building with black and gray smoke billowing out. My first impression was that there was “merely” a large building fire. Neither I nor the others around me had any idea that a plane had flown into the building. Based on a timeline I learned of later, I believe that I exited the subway on to Dey St. at approximately 8:50 - 8:55. Clearly, on a normal day, I would have either been at my desk or in my elevator bank, which is on the North side of the building. I later learned that at least one elevator plummeted to the ground after the first plane hit - and the passengers broke their legs.

Back on Dey Street, I heard a man, who I believed was Spanish, behind me crying. He had a Dutchboy type hair style, was fair skinned, and somewhat overweight. He was dressed in black and gray clothing and was carrying a black bag over his shoulder. I put my hand on his shoulder and told him everything was going to be alright. At this time, I wasn’t really clear as to why he was crying because all I had seen was a large fire. One would think that merely seeing a large fire would not be enough to send a grown man into tears. Then I turned back to see what he was look at, and began to see them. The people. One by one and spaced several seconds apart, I began to see people jumping and falling through the air from the parts of the building being ravaged by the fire. They were jumping from near the top of the building - probably in the 90’s. At this point, my attention was completely transfixed on this surreal scene. Although it was difficult to tell whether they were men or women, I believe that the people I saw falling were men. I witnessed 5 or 6 people falling to their deaths on the mall, but my view of the impacts was obscured by the large Atlas sculpture/fountain in the center of the mall area. People began screaming upon observing this scene. A few women turned and started walking away toward Broadway, covering their mouths and crying. During this time, the atmosphere began to turn tense. Before the bodies started falling, people were transfixed on the fire, but were calm. After the bodies started falling, the tension began to rise. There was still no knowledge that the fire had been caused by a plane.

Within a few minutes of witnessing the falling bodies, and with my eyes fixed on 1 WTC, an enormous fireball and explosion ripped through the northeast corner of 2 WTC. At this time, I was standing off the sidewalk on Dey St. facing square to 1 WTC. The explosion came slightly from my left and above. The sight of the explosion was followed nearly immediately by an enormous boom. This was a sound like I had never heard before, as loud as the loudest thunder and fireworks I had ever heard. The sound was accompanied by a giant shockwave that shook the ground and the buildings around us. The shockwave was followed by a wave of heat. I could see the orange flames erupting up into the air, while the lower-middle half of the explosion consisted of black smoke. The bottom of the explosion consisted of debris and tens of thousands of pieces of whole pain paper, which resembled confetti. I saw pieces of burning metal being ejected from the fireball and it somewhat resembled an erupting volcano.

Upon seeing the explosion, the entire crowd broke out into a full-fledged panic. What seemed like the entire crowd on Dey St., which was several thousand people, seemed to turn around toward Broadway simultaneously and begin running and screaming. It became a melee and a stampede, with people pushing and tripping over themselves and others. I perceived this to be an extremely dangerous situation. A woman and I had been standing next to each other at the time of the explosion. She seemed to be frozen and not knowing what to do and she looked at me. This woman was probably between 38 - 45 and attractive. She was probably Hispanic and was well dressed for work. I believe she was wearing a gray sweater and a black skirt. At this time, the explosion was still in the process of erupting and I was very concerned of being hit by falling debris or being trampled in the crowd. I put my arm around the woman and told her not to run with the crowd. I pulled us both down between two parked vehicles. The western most vehicle was a black SUV and the eastern vehicle was a white sedan. We crouched under the back bumper of the SUV together, clutching each other and putting our heads down. After some time like this, we perceived that much of the crowd had run away and there was no longer a stampede situation. We stood up and squeezed each other’s hands, my right and her left. She said thank you and we left each other. I never got her name.

At this point, I was still unaware that any planes had crashed into the buildings. I had just missed the first plane and was on the opposite side of 2 WTC when the second plane hit. I began to retreat a few yards up Dey St. in an easterly direction to Broadway. People were running in all different directions. Many were trying to use their cell phones. Some were carrying cameras. I walked to a jewelry store on the east side of Broadway and leaned against it, trying to stay out of the way of the crowds. At this point, the thought crossed my mind that lower Manhattan (or the USA) was under a military attack and was at war. I believed that the explosions had been caused by bombs or missiles. Because of this, I believed that most of the area I was in would also be bombed shortly. Thus, I decided to leave the area immediately and put out of my mind any idea of staying to assist and observe.

I began to make my way north up Broadway. I began to tell people to stay calm as I walked north. I did this a few times, but it didn’t seem to make sense and I stopped. I then asked a man who was standing still, leaning against a mailbox, what had happened. He told me that a plane had flown into 1 WTC and someone had got it on video and replayed it for him.

Another thought at this time for me was that there was complete chaos. I asked myself why there were no emergency personnel with bullhorns directing people where to go. Essentially, everyone was on their own. At about this time, it dawned on me that people must be watching this on TV and realize that I work in 1 WTC. I tried my cell phone a few times as I made it by City Hall, but it wasn’t working. I asked a few others carrying cells if theirs were working, but they weren’t. A police officer saw me holding my cell phone to my ear and asked me if it was working - it wasn’t.

I continued walking up Broadway, being careful to avoid the cars that seemed to be driving slowly between people. I also began to approach 26 Federal Plaza and became aware that it was a federal building and I should stay away from it. Somewhere near here, I stopped to buy a bottle of water from a street coffee cart ($1). I realized when I tried to drink that my hands were shaking. At about this point, I crossed to the west side of Broadway to get to the other side of the street from the Federal Plaza. I was concerned that this might be the next building to get attacked.

I then noticed a Hallmark card store and decided saw that it was somewhat empty. I decided to go in and ask to use a land line to call my family. The first person I saw was a man who I believe was from Middle Eastern descent. He told me that someone else was already using the phone for the same purpose. I saw a woman in tears telling someone that she was alright. She was crying. After awhile, I interrupted her and told her that I needed to tell my family that I was alive. She handed me the phone and I said thank you and God Bless You.

I then was able to dial my father’s phone number and got through on the very first try. It was an extremely emotional moment and, for the first time, after hearing my father’s reaction, I began to start to hold back tears. He told me it was the happiest moment of his life. We told each other that we loved each other. I asked him to call my mother and sister and told him I was going home.

I then exited the store and took a right on to Worth Street and asked a few people whether the subways were still running and was told that none were. I then took a left on to Centre Street. As I walked past the criminal court buildings and the police plaza, I saw many off-duty officers arriving in their cars. One of them had clearly run out of his house after simply throwing some clothes on. He was wearing socks and Birkenstocks on his feet.

I made my way to the Canal St. #6 stop and began waiting for the train. At this time, the moment began to come home to me and I began to consciously force myself to keep it together. This is a local train and the trip home, which is only about 10-15 minutes to the 28th Street stop, seemed like it was taking an eternity. The strange part about this trip was that it was very clear to me that most of the people did not realize what was happening on the street above. I had cleared the area so quickly that I was essentially the only person with first hand knowledge of what was going on. When I arrived at the 28th St. station, I tucked by bag under my arm like a football and ran all the way home.

Although I turned on the TV, I was watching it on mute because I was primarily concerned with getting in touch with my family. It was probably well after 10:00 a.m. when I finally got home and began making calls. Unfortunately, there was a lot of trouble making outgoing calls. I also had 3 messages on the machine - Moj and Eddie, Fred, and cousin Vincent from Seattle.

The next person I was able to get in touch with was Hilary. This was when I really felt like I could let go - in the comfort of my home - with no one watching. Although I don’t recall what was said exactly, I do remember telling her how much I love her and how I wanted to live my life differently from now on. We were both crying hard.

I believe that the next people that I was actually able to speak with were Mari Jo and Eddie. She immediately began crying, as did I, and I could hear Eddie crying also. Isabella could be heard in the background saying, “Mommy why are you crying.” The rest is history.

Michael J. Wald, age 33
New York City