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The Elevator Man's Tale
Family: Two children
Occupation: Elevator mechanic for Ace Elevator in the World Trade Center
Was in the south tower when the first plane hit.
Im from Montgomery. I work for
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I originally started down at the trade center in 1973 with Otis
Elevator when the towers were just about completed, and I was
transferred out of the trade center in 75. After that
I worked for Otis Elevator. I came back to the trade center
in 98, and up til September 11 was working as a
mechanic on the elevators.
On the morning of September 11 at about a quarter to nine, a
partner and I came out of a motor room and walked over to the
windows overlooking the Hudson River.
That was on the 43rd floor. And as we turned to walk away, thats
when the first plane hit and we heard the explosion.
We turned to look out, at least I did, turned and looked out
over the Hudson and at the other tower, which was nearby, which
overlapped B Tower. A Tower was hit first. Within a few seconds,
shards of the plane and pieces of the building started to impact
You could hear the explosion. You could feel it.
And naturally the pieces of the whatever, the wreckage or building
parts starting to impact B Tower started to create tremendous
I started to back away from the side of B Tower. The mechanic
I was with was there in 93, and he thought immediately
that that was an explosion or a bomb or something went off.
I remember looking down at the ground, seeing a shadow of a
plane, and I was about to turn to him and say, That plane
is flying low, and thats when we turned around,
thats when the plane impacted.
I made that statement that I thought it was an airplane at that
moment of impact, and he kind of put it off because he thought
it was a bomb, but I told him I thought it was an airplane because
now I remember seeing the shadow. Plus the fact that right after
the plane had hit A Tower, pieces of the plane coming down and
then suddenly tons of paper.
The sky was quite literally filled with paper, and the Hudson
River, the landscape and A Tower disappeared in eight and a
half by eleven sheets of paper. It was a waterfall of paper.
And we went to the windows before we left, and I looked down
on the top of this hotel, and I could see pieces of burning
parts of the plane. We immediately turned around and started
to go toward an escalator, and as we started to go up the escalator,
people were coming down not knowing. We were leaving that floor
because, by this time, I realized that we had to now to get
upstairs to get down we had to go up from 43 to 44 which was
the sky lobby, the second-zone sky lobby.
And we decided at that moment after that impact that wed
better get out of there. As we started to go up this escalator,
I started to tell people to evacuate, to get down out of the
building. Some people thought I was crazy, others started to
realize as they looked down at the bottom they saw people starting
to run up, come up that escalator very quickly. So a lot of
people did, in fact, evacuate that 43rd floor.
As we got into the sky lobby area, there were shuttle cars that
had come up from the first floor from the lobby. I started to
shut those down at that 44th floor. People in the local elevators
coming down from the floors above in the second zone, now there
were more people in fact coming down out of those elevators
than there were going up because usually its a very busy
time of the morning when people are coming up into the building.
A lot of people were coming down out of those local cars, some
of them were trying to get into the shuttle cars. I shut them
The shuttle cars were those cars that would run from a lobby
up to a zone. They had three zones in the building. They had
the first zone which ran from one to 42, then the second zone
started from 44 up to 76, and the third zone started from 78
up to 110.
They could hold, theoretically I remember reading this
years ago when I first got there they could hold up to
60 people, but there was no way they could put that many people
in. They were talking about, I think, load capacity. They could,
those cars themselves, could hold up to 12,000 pounds of weight.
The local cars were smaller cars. Now the shuttles were designed
to run at a high speed to get the people from the first floor
up to the sky lobbies, the designated sky lobbies. And then
once they disembarked the shuttle car, they can go to their
local bank of elevators. In other words, they would be on a
particular floor, they would take a group of six cars, and they
were smaller cars, naturally, but then they could go up to their
appropriate floors. At the time when I started to try to get
people to get out from the elevators down the staircase, I also
started to shut down some of the local cars that were taking
people down and take them out of service so there was no chance
of people getting stuck in a car.
We were in B Tower at the time A Tower was hit. B Tower had
suffered no real damage that it shut the building power down.
A lot of people wanted to take elevators down, and I stopped
Other people as well. A partner of mine was standing there,
we were doing this together. At the time, there was maybe within
a 10-minute time period when things started to quiet down on
the 44th-floor sky lobby. When people, in fact a lot of people,
came down from the second zone and headed down the staircases
from the 44th floor.
Thats when we decided to go down. And that may have been
within a minute, about a 15- to 20-minute period after that
impact of A Tower and before B Tower got hit.
When I got downstairs, I received calls on my radio from my
bosses. They wanted everyone to meet in the lobby of B Tower.
This is a plan that they had designed years before 93,
and when the bomb went off there, to get a certain area to meet,
to have all the personnel meet either outside the building proper
or within the building to meet and plan their next move. Basically
in 93 they got the people outside and then they decided
to set up a plan where certain teams were set up to go up and
help evacuate people.
At the moment, we were in B Tower. Not all personnel were there,
naturally, because this was within a 15- 20-minute period after
A Tower was impacted. We had at least maybe two-thirds of the
total personnel that were there close to 70 to 80 people
that work for Ace at that time. We had repair, maintenance and
monitorization people there. So there was a big crew of personnel.
In the lobby, some of the bosses were calling, they were taking
head count, they were trying to figure out who was there, who
was missing. They would come up with a name, they would call
him on the radio. And in most cases, nobody was answering.
Apparently, the radio system we had entailed a repeater that
was stationed someplace around the towers. I think it was on
the rooftop of 7 World Trade. And that was damaged, but some
people were receiving calls, some couldnt.
In the meantime, the bosses that were there in the lobby were
trying to take a head-count, trying to consolidate their different
groups, either repair or maintenance, trying to coordinate an
activity where everybody would be in a certain spot in the lobby.
I decided to walk over toward the south side of B Tower to look
out to see what kind of damage was outside the building.
And when I looked out, there was pieces of debris everywhere.
And all of the cars, just about all the cars parked across the
south, the other side of the street, on Liberty Street, near
a small Greek church, they were all on fire.
And there was only one person. I remember looking back and walking
down the middle of Liberty Street, looking down at all these
pieces of debris, Im assuming body parts, cause
I really didnt go outside at that moment, cause
we were trying, everybody was being held within the building,
in the lobby.
As I turned around to go back toward the core of the building
in the lobby, the second plane hit, and that shook the building.
We heard the explosion and within a matter of seconds after
that impact, I heard and as well as everybody else heard
this noise, this increasing sound of wind. And it was
getting louder and louder. It was like a bomb, not quite the
sound of a bomb coming down from a bomber. It was a sound of
wind increasing, a whistling sound, increasing in sound.
Im looking from the lobby up to a mezzanine area or the
second floor where they lined up all the people to go up to
the rooftop, and Im looking up expecting something, building
parts to be coming down, because I wasnt quite sure what
that noise was.
But I found out later, when the plane came through the building,
it cut the hoist ropes, the governor ropes, of (the) 6 and 7
cars, which was the observation cars.
Every night they would park those two cars up on the 107th floor.
At the time the plane impacted B Tower, the observation deck
wasnt open yet, which was another life-saving factor.
At the time it impacted the building, they hadnt opened
the observation deck.
Had they, there wouldve been many, maybe another 1,000,
2,000 people on the rooftop, because it was a clear day. It
was a beautiful day.
What we heard was 6 and 7 car free-falling from the 107th floor
and they impacted the basement at B-2 Level. And thats
the explosion that filled the lobby within a matter of two or
three seconds, engulfed the lobby in dust, smoke.
And apparently from what I talked to with other mechanics, they
saw the doors, the hatch doors blow off in the lobby level of
6 and 7 car.
So right after that explosion, we were ordered to leave the
There was a story that came out in USA Today that said we all
ran out like cowards. The reporter, Dennis Couchin, has been
advised as to what had happened and hes going to rewrite
his story. Im just putting this in right now because I
feel its necessary, because the men that were there in
93, most of them, a lot of them were still there.
I regret that we had to leave the building. This is something
I still feel a lot of heartache over. And theres not much
we couldve done. And there is nothing you could do.
I know a lot of the other trades had contingency plans as well,
and they were trying to get their personnel together. And there
was mass chaos, mass confusion all around.
I exited with one of my bosses, with another mechanic, on Church
Street. We went underneath on the concourse level where all
the shops were. And we came up on Church Street which was on
the east side of the complex. That was, Church Street was the
avenue that runs north and south, parallels Broadway. And we
came up outside, and both A Tower and B Tower are on fire.
You could see A Tower, the outside, the columns were glowing
red by that time, because that had been on fire for at least
a good 25 minutes by that time. B Tower, I could see tremendous
structural damage to the outside of the building. We stood on
the corner across the street from the towers.
There were about two or three bosses, I believe, trying to count
heads again, trying to get as many people together, calling
on the radio, trying to consolidate all the manpower as much
as they could, which was really almost an impossible job because
of the thousands of people that were coming out of the trade
center on the street. There was mass confusion. And we were
right on the perimeter of St. Pauls Church, and we started
up not Cortlandt Street, Fulton Street.
We were ordered to go from Church Street up to Broadway. We
stood there for about 20 minutes or so, and as we started to
go up another block, we were about a block and a half away when
B Tower finally came down. By the time we got that block and
a half up, thousands of people started running toward us. I
saw a little bit of B Tower coming down.
We started to go with the flow, go with the crowd, because it
was overwhelming, the number of people running back toward you.
We ended up down on the South Street Seaport Museum.
As much as we tried, there were quite a few people, mustve
been about 20 or 30 people from our group, Ace Elevator, in
the museum area.
There wasnt much we could do at that moment other than
watch the crowds and people covered with dust and whatever,
so we ended up going into PS 17 and sitting down. Everybody
had soda and some drinks, and a lot of the men decided to leave,
try to get out.
The interesting thing was we were on the end of Pier 17 overlooking
the East River. There was at least maybe 20, 30 tugboats sitting
near Pier 17, and it was incredible because it was almost like
Dunkirk when they came in and tried to get all the British soldiers
off France, the continent.
This is what the tugboats were coming in, because people were
trying to get off Manhattan Island, and you could see thousands
of people crossing the bridges, the Brooklyn Bridge. People
literally, quite literally, jumping over to get on to these
tugboats to get off Manhattan Island.
Some of the other workers that I had worked with, the mechanic
that was up on the 43rd floor, ended up going to Staten Island.
He lives in Jersey. He was telling me horror stories, people
leaping off the ferry. The end of the dock where the ferry boat
was pulling out, they would just run off trying to grab the
ferry boat, it was unbelievable. They actually stopped a few
times in the bay to pick people up in the bay, throw life preservers.
People were serious about getting off Manhattan. So it ended
up, the one boss, my boss, and another mechanic and I stayed.
We were the last of the group.
My boss decided he was going to go back to find the head of
the elevator division for the Port Authority, Joe Amatucio.
This was at maybe 11, 11:30, maybe 12, we decided to go back
toward the trade center.
From what my boss was telling me, he remembers Joe Amatucio
coming out of the building, but Im not sure if he had
talked to them or overheard them on the radio, but he was going
back into the complex to try to find some of his own people,
but he never made it out. He was one of the few that I know
There were a couple of people I knew that worked for the building.
You did a story on Carmen Griffen, one of the elevator operators,
I know her. So this was, she was lucky to get out, very lucky.
And some of the operators then, people in 50 car 50 car
was the car that ran the entire length of the building when
the planes came through. In B Tower, they cut the hoist ropes
on 50 car A and B there were two cars in each tower.
Basically the buildings were very similar in design, and as
far as their elevator structure, it was very similar. So you
had matching elevators in each tower. And 50 car, in each tower,
ran all floors from B6 up to 109. So that was, again, one of
the cars, like 6 and 7 car in A Tower, they ran up to the Windows
of the World. I cant imagine what it mustve been
like when the planes came through.
Well Im not sure about B Tower 6 and 7. They may hopefully
been just sitting there idle at that time, I hope. In A Tower,
Windows of the World was open. There were people up there. And
I think they opened 6 or 7 in the morning for breakfast, and
there were people, some people would line up coming out of the
hotel, Vista Hotel, theyd come into the lobby of A Tower,
and Im sure, Im sure that, you know, there mustve
been people on board.
Well youre talking seconds now. It could take you on an
average trip up, if you went non-stop at full speed, these cars,
these elevators, the shuttle cars were designed to run at 1,600
foot per minute. Im not sure how long it took to get up
to the 107th floor, full speed. I think it was less, little
less than a minute, little over a minute, I believe. But coming
down at that rate, youre free-falling and its dead
weight, so it came down like a bomb, and thats what it
And the noise, the wind noise we heard was, you have to picture
that there are two cars or cabs in a hoist length. And a hoist
weighs only so big, and its encapsulated by walls, so
as these two cars came, fell together, the air pressure underneath
would cause that sound that we heard.
And this is one of the problems they had in the early days down
there where they had two shuttles running side by side. They
had to get the dispatching set up. And during construction,
they hadnt quite gotten that system set up yet.
So every once in a while, theyd have two shuttles running
down side by side and scare the heck out of the people, you
know. It wasnt free-falling, but it made the wind noise,
made it sound that way. And the vibration and the pressure.
So I got out of the city the next day. I stayed in the city,
I stayed around, I waited, we went back, my boss and I walked
back toward the trade center. We got as far as Broadway.
The fire department now had set up a perimeter around the trade
center, a block away. He tried to cross at certain streets,
Fulton Street and Cortlandt Street. And he came back and we
went up to the other corner of St. Pauls Church which
is Vesey Street, which is on the north side and it borders the
north side of the trade center complex.
The firemen told us, Go ahead, if you want to kill yourselves,
And so the two of us went down and we got to Church Street.
I got as far as Church Street and Vesey Street. Im looking
at the northeast plaza, which was No. 5, which was totally engulfed
in flames, and it was only two trucks. One truck kept running
out of water pressure, the other truck was trying to fight a
fierce fire with one hose. You know, it was just incredible,
and the heat was intense and the smoke.
I had to put a handkerchief over my face just to block the smoke
from inhaling that. And my boss disappeared into the smoke.
He went south to try and find his friend.
It was, if you could envision that picture of right after they
fell, the big, you know the sides of B Tower laying in the middle
of Church Street, piercing the structure, then the street, it
So I stayed around there for at least another two hours hoping
that my boss would come back up that way, but he never did.
He ended up going south and I went north. I stayed up in midtown.
I knew a couple of job sites from my days working with Otis,
so I stayed up there. I stayed on one job site up there. And
then I went home the next day.
I look back at it sometimes. I think about the potential that
was there, and I worry. But I dont know why. Some of the
people I work with, they do have problems, did have problems.
Im working at a different job site now. But every once
in a while when I hear something bang in the building, I jump.
Its incredible, because it stays with you. And I dont
know how to explain it.
Its just, I, when I looked up at the towers, it was, what
I tell my friends was, I saw them go up and I saw them come
down. Because quite literally, I worked in the city in 68,
I worked in Wall Street. And I saw them going up in 73.
I took pictures from when the building was still under construction.
They still had a kangaroo crane, that was when I first got there.
They were just finishing off A Tower and they were finishing
off B Tower. So I was still there during the construction phase.
And I came back, it was kind of ironic coming back and then
being there the day they fell.
Im working, basically, working in a tall building now.
Youre riding in a horse, you gotta get back on if
you fall off type of deal.
I visited a friend on a job site up on 58th Street a couple
of months ago. It was the Time Warner AOL Building on Columbus
Circle, and they were taking up a load of steel and the steel
And I almost ran down the block because I was outside and they
was behind me and all of a sudden I heard that banging noise,
hearing that steel coming down that time.
And it spooked me, quite literally.
© 2002 Orange County Publications,
a division of Ottaway
Newspapers Inc., all rights reserved. An abridged version
of this transcript appeared in the Sept. 8, 2002, editions of
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