Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Jeff Benjamin 83rd Floor WTC North Tower

Contributed by:
Jeff Benjamin

Contributor's location on 9/11: 83rd Floor WTC North Tower
Contributed on: September 16, 2002

My name is Jeff Benjamin and I was visiting a client, Axcelera Specialty Risk, on the 83rd Floor of the North Tower when we observed an approaching aircraft (American Airlines Flt.11) from a distance of approx. 3-4 miles. At the time we initially spotted the plane, it appeared to be level with us. We could distinctly identify the American airlines insignia and my client commented that perhaps the plane had taken off from Kennedy and was experiencing mechanical problems. As the plane approached us it seemed to climb. I stood up from the conference table and walked over to the window assuming as everyone did that there was no imminent danger. As the plane came closer we could see that it was traveling at a high rate of speed and the sound of the engines intensified. Immediately before impact we could see images in the cockpit and the plane banked sharply. A split second later we heard an echoing shot, fell to the floor and observed a fireball followed by debris which struck the side of the building. At the same time you could feel the building sway every so slightly for a brief moment. We immediately retreated towards the main part of the office where we noticed a huge fireball shooting out of the elevator shaft which quickly disappeared. Fortunately, the glass door between our office and the elevator lobby remained intact as the drywall and ceiling tiles caught fire. The fire burned off leaving thick acrid black smoke some of which entered the office through the ceiling where some tiles had collapsed above the reception desk. We immediately went to the kitchenette in the office to locate hand towels and paper towels which we wet down in the sink to stuff under the door and to cover our mouths to prevent as much smoke as possible from entering our lungs. No one seemed to know for sure where the stairways were, and since the smoke was heavy in the elevator lobby, we decided to stay in the office for the time being. Almost as if on cue the phones began to ring. Relatives and co-workers called to provide assurance and to let us know they had contacted 911 operators and advised them there were people located on the 83rd floor that need to be rescued. I personally contacted a 911 operator and let them know our location. The operator stated we should remain in the office as they would provide our whereabouts to the firemen which were already in the building and on their way up. Shortly thereafter the phones stopped ringing. Minutes passed which seemed like hours. We closed the office doors located by the exterior windows as we were afraid some of the debris crashing against the side of the building could break some windows and physically located near the walls bordering the elevator lobby. It became eerily quiet as everyone seemed to pause in reflection. I specifically recall a woman, who entered our office from the elevator lobby immediately after impact, stating "If you think we are in bad shape you should see the South Tower". We had heard a large explosion but were not aware that it came from the South Tower. I proceeded to go to the far end of the office where I could see the South Tower. When I looked down I observed fire which totally engulfed one of the lower floors. It was the most frightening sight I had ever seen. Aprox. 30 minutes had passed when we decided to attempt to escape. We exited the office holding paper towels over our face to shield us from the smoke and began to walk slowly down the hall carefully avoiding smoldering drywall and ceiling panels that had fallen. We had walked only about 20 steps when we heard an explosion in the building and the lights went out. Immediately, everyone turned around and stumbled back into the office. We waited in panicked silence starring towards the lobby. No one spoke as we stood there clutching our possessions. Five minutes passed, and then miraculously, we saw the beam of a flashlight in the lobby. We all shouted as we watched the ray of light approach the glass office door. The door opened and a fireman appeared along with a building worker. They were very calm and advised us to leave everything behind as we would need both hands free to hold the railings in the stairwell as water was flowing down the stairs from the sprinklers on the upper floors. I led our group of eight as we began our escape. They directed us to the stairwell where another fireman held the door open. He advised me to proceed down to the 78 floor, exit the stairway and cross the floor to another stairway which we were to follow all the way down. Initially the smoke was heavy and there was a stream of water going down the stairs. The firemen advised the smoke would lessen as we went further down which it did. As we made our way down I don't recall meeting any other people for about 30 floors. Then we began to meet firemen going up as we were going down. I would estimate that we passed about 50 firemen. Though you could see the concern on their faces, there was an air of calm about them. They continually reassured us and advised us to take a brief rest if we need one. We encountered office workers carrying their injured colleagues down the stairs. One of my colleagues gave his nitroglycerin to someone who was suffering an apparent heart attack. As we proceeded further down we encountered firemen on each of the lower floors. They had broken into soda machines and were handing out drinks to ease our parched throats. As we approached the 10th floor, we heard a loud noise. I asked a fireman what it was. As I recall, he said the 65th floor collapsed. Shortly thereafter, a rush of dust came up the stairwell and stopped everyone in their tracks. The firemen on the floor motioned us out of the stairwell and into a hallway on the floor. They advised us they were opening up another stairway from which we could exit the building. Another five minutes passed as we waited in the cramped hallway. Finaaly, I heard a fireman behind me say the stairway we had been in was clear. I grabbed ahold of my client and we ran down the remaining floors to the main lobby. As we exited the stairwell and proceeded to pass the security area we heard what appeared to be an interior wall or elevator shaft collapse behind us. The main lobby was almost unrecognizable. Debris covered the walls and floor and all the windows were shattered. We exited through a window onto the street where we only saw a single policeman. He directed us to go under the covered walkway over Water Street where we ran into a group of firemen. they directed us to another policeman who told us to go towards the waterfront. We ran to the waterfront and tried in vain to call our families on cellphones that were offered to us. Within five minutes I looked up at the North Tower and noticed the antenna begin to lean. Soon the whole building began to implode. We ran up along the river but soon realized we were well away from the debris cloud. We boarded a ferry boat that had pulled up along the seawall and rode the boat back to the safety of Union Station in Hoboken where we were finally able to contact our families.

Cite as: Jeff Benjamin, Story #7639, The September 11 Digital Archive, 16 September 2002, .
Archival Information: 1280 words, 7100 characters
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