Kyle Crager - One Year Later
"I was there"
Morehead State alumnus, a WTC survivor, speaks at alma mater
By Mike James
Of The Daily Independent
MOREHEAD — A cushy office high over the streets of Manhattan, a view of the Statue of Liberty, a fast-track career — Kyle Crager thought he had it all.
That was Sept. 10, 2001. When he went to sleep late that night, two days into a marathon work session, his goal for the next day was to bulldoze his way through a mountain of work and, hopefully, to keep his promise to make it home to his wife and children in suburban New Jersey the next night.
It didn't work out quite the way he expected, because his office was on the 71st floor of the World Trade Center, and for a couple of hours the next morning, he didn't think he'd ever see his family again this side of the hereafter.
But the ordeal he endured that day changed his perspective on work and family and strengthened his already considerable Christian values.
Crager, a Morehead native and a graduate of Morehead State University, shared his experiences and his renewed faith with a rapt audience at the university Tuesday night.
An auditorium of college students who a few minutes before had been standing and clapping hands to the beat of rock music sat silent, except for a sniff or two when Crager's eyewitness account brought tears to their eyes.
Crager had been working in New York since late 1999 for a consulting company that contracted with the New York Port Authority to manage its payroll. As his responsibilities grew, so did his absorption with work, he said.
The Sunday before the attack, he went into Manhattan after church, worked all day and stayed in a hotel overnight. Then he did it all over again Monday.
Tuesday morning started like any other, he remembers: up early, a quick bagel for breakfast, and then to the office.
All he heard was a low, dull noise, and then he was struggling to stand up.
He felt the massive skyscraper surge to the south, then twist back upright.
"The only thing on my mind was 'This thing is going down,'" he said.
When he looked out a window toward the other tower, all he could see was falling debris, as if the trade center were in a giant snow globe, he said.
Crager rounded up as many of his co-workers as he could and started the long march to the street — 142 flights of stairs that took him 52 minutes to descend. He remembers thinking about his wife, his three sons and his family. Some of them were already paging him.
Other thoughts later struck him as comical — like his attempts to retie his necktie in case he walked in front of a television camera. He'd taken the tie off and used it over his mouth and nose to filter the choking fumes of jet fuel that permeated the atmosphere.
On the street, he paged his wife and relayed the message that he was OK. It was a message he soon was to worry had been premature, because minutes later the south tower fell and the pressure of the collapse knocked him to his knees.
Certain that he was about to die, he started praying for his wife and children and thinking of what he called "the blessings of my life."
"They were things that were small blessings, but at the time they were the biggest things in my life," he said.
About then the choking concrete dust cleared enough that he could struggle his way to safety. He made it home that night.
"We know how close I came to breaking that promise," he said.
Though he spent much of the next few days back in Manhattan, successfully reconstructing the payroll project he'd been working on — a reconstruction essential to hundreds of city workers getting their paychecks on time — in the long run his experience turned his focus back toward faith and family.
Over the past year, Crager has told his story over and over, especially to church groups. The retelling is more therapeutic than bothersome, he said.
He's not annoyed that so many chance acquaintances turn the conversation to Sept. 11.
Sharing the experience with others continues to expand his outlook on the disaster. "People feel close to it no matter where they were," he said.
The talk had a big impact on students because Crager was one of them so recently, said Cameron Combs, a junior from Whitesburg.
"It made me think different and not take everything for granted," he said.
Crager's focus on God's role in his ordeal impressed Nathan Bell, a senior from Columbus, Ohio.
"He didn't take any credit for himself. He gave all the credit to God," Bell said.
Just making it down the stairs to safety amazed T.J. Taylor, who attends Boyd County Middle School.
"I would have been scared to death," he said.