Elevator Man's Tale
Family: Two children
Occupation: Elevator mechanic for Ace Elevator in the World Trade
Was in the south tower when the first plane hit.
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Iím from Montgomery. I work for Ace Elevator.
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 í75. After that I worked for
Otis Elevator. I came back to the trade center in í98, and up ítil
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, thatís
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 B
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 í93, 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, ďThat plane is flying low,Ē
and thatís when we turned around, thatís 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
And we decided at that moment after that impact that weíd 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 itís 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 down.
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 Ė I remember reading this years ago
when I first got there Ė 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 them.
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.
Thatís 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 í93, 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 í93 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 Ė 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 couldnít.
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, Iím assuming body parts, ícause I really didnít go
outside at that moment, ícause 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 Ė and as well as everybody else heard Ė 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.
Iím 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 Iím looking up expecting something, building parts to be coming
down, because I wasnít 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 wasnít
open yet, which was another life-saving factor. At the time it
impacted the building, they hadnít opened the observation deck.
Had they, there wouldíve been many, maybe another 1,000, 2,000
people on the rooftop, because it was a clear day. It was a
What we heard was 6 and 7 car free-falling from the 107th floor and
they impacted the basement at B-2 Level. And thatís 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
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 heís going to rewrite his story. Iím just
putting this in right now because I feel itís necessary, because the
men that were there in í93, most of them, a lot of them were still
I regret that we had to leave the building. This is something I
still feel a lot of heartache over. And thereís not much we couldíve
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.
Paulís Church, and we started up not Cortlandt Street, Fulton
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
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, mustíve been
about 20 or 30 people from our group, Ace Elevator, in the museum
There wasnít 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
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
From what my boss was telling me, he remembers Joe Amatucio coming
out of the building, but Iím 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 of.
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 Ė 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 Ė
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 canít imagine what it mustíve been like
when the planes came through.
Well Iím 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,
theyíd come into the lobby of A Tower, and Iím sure, Iím sure that,
you know, there mustíve been people on board.
Well youíre 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. Iím 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, youíre
free-falling and itís dead weight, so it came down like a bomb, and
thatís what it sounded like.
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 itís 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 hadnít
quite gotten that system set up yet.
So every once in a while, theyíd have two shuttles running down side
by side and scare the heck out of the people, you know. It wasnít
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. Paulís Church which is Vesey Street, which is on
the north side and it borders the north side of the trade center
The firemen told us, ďGo ahead, if you want to kill yourselves, go
And so the two of us went down and we got to Church Street. I got as
far as Church Street and Vesey Street. Iím 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
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 was
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 donít know why. Some of the people I work
with, they do have problems, did have problems.
Iím working at a different job site now. But every once in a while
when I hear something bang in the building, I jump.
Itís incredible, because it stays with you. And I donít know how to
Itís 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 í68, í69, í70.
I worked in Wall Street. And I saw them going up in í73. 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
Iím working, basically, working in a tall building now. Youíre
riding in a horse, you gottaí get back on if you fall off type of
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 shifted.
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 the Times
Herald-Record. *The Times Herald-Record is not affiliated with
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