Steve Keith’s Story

Generations are sometimes asked, where were you when a specific historical event took place. For my grandparents it was December 7th, 1941 and the attack on Pearl Harbor. For my parents it was November 22, 1963 and the assassination of then President of the United States, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and for your generation the question will be asked, ‘where were you on September 11, 2001?’ When this question is asked of me I will be able to provide a first hand account of that day, because on that fateful day I was one of those individuals in the North Tower of World Trade Center.

At 8:40am, September 11, 2001, four coworkers and myself exited an elevator on the 71st floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center to begin a series of meetings.  At 8:45am a hijacked American Airlines airplane with ninety-two people onboard crashed into North Tower less than ten floors above where my team and I were standing. I would later learn that any person riding those elevators, that I had just exited five minutes prior, would perish that day. The impact of the aircraft caused the building to shift and ceilings to fall. There were the sounds of alarms, people screaming, and a temporary panic. Then a calm rushed over everyone in that building. At that very moment I became witness to the very worst humanity can offer and the very best that man is capable of offering. The thousands of people in that building did not put their safety first, they thought of others. I saw individuals helping the blind and their seeing eye dogs, witnessed people carrying those unable to walk, and I watched as people assisted the burn victims from the upper floors exchange their position in line so that those injured by the initial crash could get to safety first. In retrospect the decency we humans are capable of far outweighs the evil conjured by others.    

Immediately following the impact of the plane crash we began a slow descent down one hundred forty two flights of steps, a journey that would take me approximately one hour and eight minutes. During the early stages of our evacuation the North Tower experienced another series of violent shakes. This, I would later learn, was the impact of United Airlines Flight 175, another hijacked flight with sixty-five individuals onboard, crashing into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. As we approached the 30th floor we encountered those first heroes, the firemen of New York City Fire Department. These men were fully aware of what was transpiring outside, had embarked on a journey the total opposite of my fellow coworkers and mine. They were climbing 165 flights of steps, nearly two and one-half football fields in length, into the sky. Their mission was set; they were going to save lives. They knew that their lives were at stake, they were well aware of the danger, still they never hesitated. They climbed with one hundred pounds of gear strapped to their bodies. They carried oxygen tanks, ropes, hoses, and medical kits all in hopes of finding and helping others. They smiled, they reassured; they kept the calm, because without the calm, countless more lives would have been lost. This would be my only meeting with these men, because on this day I would walk from this building, they would stay and give their lives for others.

On the ground floor of the North Tower, thousands of individuals were directed through corridors to an underground mall. It is in this area that I witnessed many other heroes. Port Authority Police, World Trade Center Security, and New York City police officers guiding us to safety. These individuals again were aware of what was going on the outside, yet they kept the calm and stood their post knowing that their lives were at stake. They never faltered; they never failed.

At a few minutes before 10:00am I emerged from the World Trade Center Complex with two of my fellow coworkers. One had been injured on her climb down the many flights of steps. We had walked about thirty yards to an ambulance when the ground started shaking and we heard the screams of thousands. It was 10:05am and the South Tower of the World Trade Center had just collapsed. The silence and darkness that followed cannot be described with words. In the dust and debris I felt for open doorways for a place to breath, anywhere to escape the cloud of soot that was choking me and countless others. I wrapped my shirt around my face to act as a filter so I could breath and started my walk to safety. Along the way I gathered two older women and we found an opened door and entered. The light and air was something I would never take for granted again. It had been five minutes since I passed the base of the South Tower. Moments were the only thing that separated me from that fate which took so many lives.

September 11th, 2001 was a day that saw the loss of so many lives, approximately 3000 individuals perished between in New York, Washington D.C. and Somerset, Pennsylvania. That day also brought to light many heroes, the true meaning of caring, and what it means to be an American. That day also brought perspective as to what is really important. That as people we are not guaranteed a tomorrow, that we must tell friends and families our true feelings, that we must give of ourselves, and that life consist not of years, but of moments to be embraced, shared, and cherished.

Steve  Keith

WTC1 Survivor


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