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CHARLIE'S SIDE OF THE WORLD TRADE CENTER STORY/PART 1

 

My workday started out in a pretty typical fashion. I got to my desk that morning around 8:20 and started working at my computer. I fired up all the different applications I normally used and checked my on-line version of The Wall Street Journal to see what was happening in the business world. I also started thinking about what I wanted for lunch.

 

When did the day go from mundane to murderous? When I heard the first whoosh. It came from the ventilation ducts. Other sounds followed. A scratching of some kind on the windows. Then something that sounded like small pebbles being thrown against the windows. I decided to investigate. I turned to the window closest to my cubicle, the one overlooking New Jersey and the south side of the North Tower (WTC I). As I walked over to the window, I could see hundreds of thousands of blank pieces of photocopier paper floating by. It actually looked like a snow storm with large flakes of snow. At the window, I looked up and saw the North Tower on fire. There was a faint smell. It smelled something like jet fuel and grew stronger as time passed.

 

I went to another window. From there, I could see the east and south side of the North Tower as well as the plaza below. There was a band of fire circling WTC I. I remember thinking that there must have been some type of explosion. A deliberate act of terrorism did not occur to me. Then I went back to the window closest to my cubicle and stood on the heating/air conditioner vent. I got as close to the window as possible so I could see as much as I could. Vast numbers of photocopier paper were still floating out there. Looking down, I could see the top of the Marriot Hotel and there was debris on its roof. The flames around WTC I started looking pretty nasty. There was a lot of black smoke. It was about 8:50 a.m.

 

There were announcements on the PA system, asking people in WTC II, my building, to remain calm. We were told there had been an incident in WTC I, but WTC II was in no immediate danger. We were asked to let the people from the other building evacuate first. That made sense to me. If everybody evacuated, we would all get stuck in the bottleneck downstairs. I stayed put. But other people in my building didn't listen to the announcements. They left.

 

I was hoping that my wife, Catherine, was still home but there was no answer when I phoned there. Then I remembered an incident from last year. There had been an elevator accident on the other side of my building and my mother, who lives in Chicago, had found out about it and called to see if everything was alright. I hadn't even known about it until she called me. Thinking about that incident, I had the feeling she would be hearing about this one before long. Fortunately, this time I knew something had happened in the World Trade Center before CNN was broadcasting it to the world. So I called my mother in Chicago and told her I was okay. *No matter what you hear,* I said. *I'm okay. WTC I is on fire, but it's the other building. Not mine.* My mother listened to me, but she had no idea what I was talking about. I told her I didn't have the time to talk, because I had to try to reach Catherine. So she asked me to keep her posted and we hung up. I tried my wife's work phone number and got her voicemail. At that time, Catherine had a very long greeting on her voicemail at HarperCollins and it was always exasperating to have to wait to leave her a message.

 

The smell of fuel was getting quite strong now and people were beginning to head down the emergency stairs. I started to join them. I got to the emergency exit, but when I saw people flying down the stairs, I thought, *I don't need this right now.* It was the other building that was on fire. The people dashing down the stairs could easily get hurt in their rush and I didn't want to be one of them. I decided to wait.

 

Then I saw a man from the North Tower die. He jumped out a window and he was very calm. He looked about my age. Thinning hair on top. Wearing a long-sleeved casual dress shirt and beige dress pants not unlike the pair I had on. He jumped from above me. I was on the 68th floor, and he must have come from maybe the 85th floor, maybe higher. I watched him go all the way down. He looked to his left and right on the way down, and when he got close to the ground, he looked straight at it, then his head was a red explosion. Blood bloomed like an early fall flower. As far as I know, he was the first person to jump. He made it look so easy. Here was a man who might have been thinking about what he wanted for lunch just a few minutes ago. He had gone from routine decisions to life and death decisions in -- what? -- ten minutes? Ten seconds?