By: Bruce Packer
Some family members urged me to write about my experiences on 9/11. I wrote this a few days after that horrible event. It is pretty much as originally written though I’ve substituted full names with only the first letters of those names with the exception of my wife and children…
As suggested, I am putting together my timeline for the morning of the WTC attack. The times are estimated but should be close.
6:15am Wake up, get ready for work, prepare breakfast for kids
7:05am Take kids to Sara’s Pre-School
7:26am Get train to Hoboken
8:05am Arrive in Hoboken
8:15am Get PATH train to WTC
8:26am Arrive at WTC
8:35-8:40am Browse various items at The Children’s Place, a store in the Concourse at the WTC. Had a 30% coupon that we had forgotten to use over the weekend which expired on this day. On the way to the counter with a jacket for Ben, decided I’d call Moia during the day to confirm that he needs the jacket, confirm the size and see if Jeremy needs anything. Figured I could go back on my way home.
8:40am Leave WTC
8:42am Briefcase gets caught on a construction post across from WTC and rips almost in half and I have a passing thought that I hope this is not an indication of how my day will go.
8:47am Arrive at work – 5 Hanover Square
8:48am Plane hits North tower.
8:49am J, my officemate (we share a corner office with a decent view over Wall Street) goes to the office next door to ask the guy in that office if he knows anything about a ticker tape parade since papers start flying by our window.
8:50am They both enter my office to take a look and I arrive and join them.
8:51am We hear on the radio and see on CNN.com that an airplane has hit the WTC. A balcony on the building across the street is full of people wondering what is going on and watching paper, much of it burnt, flying through the air.
9:00am J and I decide to take a walk to see what is happening. Outside, we pick up some papers from the ground and recognize loss run exhibits that we actuaries use to examine loss details on any particular account. Many of the papers on the ground are partially burnt.
9:06am Plane hits south tower (we hear the loud, terrifying sound). I asked one of the runnersby what had happened and they told me about the plane. On our way back we heard a woman hysterically telling anyone that would listen about the second plane and about the terrible sights that she saw on the street near the WTC.
9:10am Return to office. Call family to say I’m okay. Listen to news on radio. Watch paper continue to fly outside.
9:55am Hear loud sound and smoke starts to approach our building. South tower has collapsed. Our building security has requested that nobody leave.
10:29am Hear another loud sound. J looks outside and urges me to look out the window immediately. At that moment I feel certain that a plane has hit the stock exchange and I will see it on Wall Street. Instead I see an incredible burst of smoke coming our way. Within minutes our office is pitch black. We typically keep the lights off in our office but I turn them on as it is like nighttime, though (I remember thinking) the darkness better captures the mood of our office. The blue sky continues to lurk above the dark cloud.
11am and onward Despite the fact that our building’s last request was to stay put, Giuliani has requested that anyone south of Canal St. walk uptown. I almost joined a group of people that was going to attempt to get to Staten Island and then one of them would have driven a few of us back to NJ. T (who I commute with every day and lives in Glen Rock) and I made it downstairs with them but the sight of people walking with shirts and/or towels over their faces made us think twice about going outside. We mutually agreed that the others were in panic mode which was not the best way to plan our exit. We went back upstairs and the others left.
There was still a group of 5 of us that would be trying to get to NJ. After some more time passed, I strongly suggested we heed Giuliani’s evacuation request. We deliberated downstairs on the steps near the doors for about 5-10 minutes. I was a strong advocate of starting our walk uptown while others weren’t necessarily in agreement. We had already decided to stick together whatever we did so we wouldn’t act until there was a consensus. One of my associates and I decided to go outside to ask the police what we should do. Armed with wet paper towels over our mouths we walked a few blocks and found some firemen. They suggested we walk toward the Brooklyn Bridge and maybe even cross into Brooklyn. As we started back to our building they suggested we not go back that way but we explained we had others waiting for us. When we returned, there continued to be discomfort with the idea of walking without a goal in mind. T was concerned as she has various conditions that would make it difficult to walk and difficult to breathe. As we sat there, someone finally told us that ferries had started to depart from Battery Park to Hoboken. We went to the ferry. Maybe it is around 12:15 at this point. After asking a number of people where we should go we found our way to the ferry. The ferry was actually a tugboat. Some group volunteered tugboats to cross people from points all across the island to Hoboken. We (me, T, and S) climbed a steep ladder to board the boat and then stood at the front of the tugboat for at least an hour before it finally departed. The others took a boat to another point in NJ. As we are leaving Manhattan I see the massive void where the WTC used to be covered with smoke. I start thinking about how my children will grow up in the post-WTC incident world which angers me to no end. They will not have any memory of what the world was like before this terrible day. I also continue to wonder about the people that I knew who worked in the towers. Upon arrival in Hoboken (maybe around 2) we were assisted off the boat as we had to be carried over a railing around the water and then stood in line to be showered. They gave out plastic bags for our briefcases and belongings. As I’m walking thru a shower they ask me to do a full 360. We are told that we are to stand in another line to be “tagged” and then off to triage. At this point we hear someone manning the boats yelling for everyone to “Run!”. Of course, everyone runs. Everyone (including me) is sure that we are being attacked yet again. People are tripping over the police tape and mayhem ensues once again. As people are running I am trying to walk relatively calmly and keep T and S in my sights as we wanted to try to stay together. When we are a distance away from the boats we hear various stories. There was an unattended package…there was a bomb scare called in…there was a small fire…I still don’t know what really happened. People start to file into the Hoboken train station. I feel extremely concerned as I would have preferred to be checked out before coming home. It is difficult not to think about the outside possibility that the terrorists might have released something in the air. My doubts are overridden with the incredible desire to just get home. We (T and I) go to the track for a train that is scheduled to arrive at the station and leave shortly. We hear an announcement about a train boarding a few tracks away and decide to get on. We sit there for about an hour and a half while they wait for it to fill up and then we go. By the time we left (around 4:15, I felt a little more certainty that there were no chemicals in the air as they would have stopped the trains from running by this time. We talk the whole way home but continue to avoid the subject of people we knew in the buildings. We are both too overwhelmed to even consider this at this point. I see police at most of the stops and notice a truck blocking entrance to a gov’t building in Paterson. Back to Glen Rock around 5. As we leave the train, Glen Rock fire volunteers greet us with water and ask how we are doing. I am extremely impressed by the gesture and will be giving to all of our local volunteers generously this year.
As it turns out, 3 people that used to work at my company are missing. I knew one of them pretty well (V), a second one I did not know but am pretty sure I worked with along the way and the third I did not know. I understand that V decided to try to take an elevator down. Some people asked him why he didn’t want to take the stairs but he was worried about smoke overcoming the stairwell. I believe that he was at the 78th floor elevator which is an express to the ground floor. Those who used the stairs did make it but apparently the elevator had stopped working by this time.
I also know at least one other person. In fact, I visited him and one of his associates last year at their WTC office around the 90th floor and they gave me a nice tour of the floor and showed me all of the great views. It struck me at the time how much they seemed to appreciate this view though they saw it every day. I don’t recall where we had lunch but he and his associate did join us for lunch. Luckily, his associate, who I dealt with most of the time did escape but unfortunately he did not. Apparently, he and his secretary were the fire marshals for the area and were therefore responsible to assure that everyone gets off the floor in case of emergency. My understanding is that everyone other than the two of them made it down. He apparently did call his wife as he was going down the stairwell but this was around the time that the building collapsed.
My friend T lost a very good friend as he worked at Cantor Fitzgerald.
I think that covers it and it is time to go to sleep.