Wednesday, July 11, 2012

American Bureau of Shipping: Excerpt from Fighting to Live as the Towers Died

May 26, 2002, New York Times, 102 MINUTES: Last Words at the Trade Center; Fighting to Live as the Towers Died
This article was reported and written by Jim Dwyer, Eric Lipton, Kevin Flynn, James Glanz and Ford Fessenden, Alain Delaqueriere, Tom Torok,

North Tower, 91st Floor, American Bureau of Shipping, 1 hour 42 minutes to collapse

The impact came at 8:46:26 a.m. American Airlines Flight 11, a Boeing 767 measuring 156 feet from wingtip to wingtip and carrying 10,000 gallons of fuel, was moving at 470 miles an hour, federal investigators estimated. At that speed, it covered the final two blocks to the north tower in 1.2 seconds.

The plane ripped a path across floors 94 to 98, directly into the office of Marsh & McLennan Companies, shredding steel columns, wallboard, filing cabinets and computer-laden desks. Its fuel ignited and incinerated everything in its way. The plane's landing gear hurtled through the south side of the building, winding up on Rector Street, five blocks away.

Just three floors below the impact zone, not a thing budged in Steve McIntyre's office. Not the slate paperweight shaped like a sailing ship. Not the family snapshots propped up on a bookcase. Mr. McIntyre found himself in front of a computer that was still on.

Then came the whiplash.

A powerful shock wave quickly radiated up and down from the impact zone. The wave bounced from the top to the bottom of the tower, three or four seconds one way and then back, rocking the building like a huge boat in a storm.

"We got to get the hell out of here," yelled Greg Shark, an American Bureau of Shipping engineer and architect, who was bracing himself in the swaying while he stood outside Mr. McIntyre's office.

Somehow, they were alive. Only later would the two men realize the slender margin of their escape. In their accounts of hunting for a way out, they provide a survey of a border territory, an impregnable zone through which the people imprisoned above would never pass.

Mr. McIntyre, Mr. Shark and nine other employees, all uninjured, hustled out of the A.B.S. reception area in the northwest corner and turned left toward the elevators and stairways in the tower's core.

Mr. McIntyre recalls peering into a dim, shattered stairwell, billowing with smoke. He heard nothing but water cascading down the stairs, as if he had encountered a babbling brook on a mountain hike. The water almost certainly came from severed sprinkler pipes. Seeing and hearing no one else in the stinking gloom, he looked up.

The stairwell was blocked from above — not by fire or structural steel, but by huge pieces of the light gypsum drywall, often called Sheetrock, that had enclosed the stairwell to protect it. In huge hunks, the Sheetrock formed a great plug in the stairwell, sealing the passage from 92, the floor above. Going down the stairs, it made a slightly less formidable obstruction.

"This is no good," Mr. McIntyre would remember saying.

Mr. McIntyre could hardly have known it, but he stood at a critical boundary. Above him, across 19 floors, were 1,344 people, many of them alive, stunned, unhurt, calling for help. Not one would survive.

Below, across 90 floors, thousands of others were also alive, stunned, unhurt, calling for help. Nearly all of them lived.

Bad as this staircase was, the two other emergency exits were worse, Mr. McIntyre later said. So he went back to that first staircase, northwest of the building's center. He stepped inside and immediately slipped down two flights of grimy gypsum. Unhurt, he stood and noticed lights below. He remembers calling: "This way!" His A.B.S. colleagues joined the exodus from 91.

One floor above them, on the 92nd floor, employees of Carr Futures were doing exactly what the A.B.S. people had done: hunting for a way out.

They did not realize they were on the wrong side of the rubble.

On the 92nd floor, Damian Meehan scrambled to a phone at Carr Futures and dialed his brother Eugene, a firefighter in the Bronx. "It's really bad here — the elevators are gone," Mr. Meehan told him.

"Get to the front door, see if there's smoke there," Eugene Meehan recalled urging him. He heard his brother put the phone down, then followed the sounds drifting into his ear. Yelling. Commotion, but not panic.

A few minutes later, Damian Meehan returned and reported that the front entrance was filled with smoke.

"Get to the stairs," Eugene remembered advising him. "See where the smoke is coming from. Go the other way."

Then he heard Damian for the last time.

"He said, `We've got to go.' Or he said, `We're going,' " Eugene Meehan said. "I've been racking my brains to remember.

"I know he said, `We.' "

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