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Survivors: ‘I’m grateful to be alive’

Utah natives in N.Y. share how close they came to death

SHARE Survivors: ‘I’m grateful to be alive’

Jonathan Hill had gotten off the E-train subway stop beneath the World Trade Center. He came up into the bright sunlight just before the sky seemed to begin raining automobiles.

"I looked up and all these huge hunks of metal coming down, big as cars, toward my head," said Hill, 30, a Provo native and graduate of Timpview High and Brigham Young University. Hill works in investment banking for Lehman Bros., in the World Financial Center, the first building west of the trade center.

No time to think. Just react.

"I ducked into the front of this shoeshine stand," said Hill, whose father, Ned Hill, is dean of the BYU Marriott School of Management.

One second later and two feet behind him, shrapnel struck a man in the head.

Hill dragged the man inside. The gash in his head was "about six inches long, half an inch wide and about that deep," Hill said.

"We crammed shoeshine rags into his head to stop the bleeding," Hill said.

After calling 911 and seeing the man placed into an ambulance 20 minutes later, Hill began walking 100 blocks uptown to his home at 63rd and Broadway — his clothes bloody from neck to toe but his body unscathed.

"It was like watching a science-fiction movie, something so big and so bad you can't imagine it," Hill said. "It's very difficult to comprehend how close I came to being killed. But I can say how grateful I am to be alive."

It was a sentiment shared by Brent Belnap, president of the New York, N.Y., stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 65th and Broadway. It encompasses all nine wards and two branches on the island of Manhattan.

He said the stake undertook a vigorous telephone tree checking on its 3,500 members.

After calls reached "about 80 percent of them," Belnap said, no deaths or injuries had been reported.

Belnap, 39, is an Ogden native, as is his wife, Lorinda. He earned his undergraduate degree from BYU and a law degree from Columbia University in New York.

"One minute I was looking up at the bluest fall day I've seen in a long time. The next minute I was looking at the blackest cloud I could imagine," said Brent Belnap, a vice president/senior counsel for Citibank, and who works on Wall Street, about a 10-minute walk from the World Trade Center.

Joining the exodus from the lower tip of Manhattan, he began walking north.

"Police were handing out surgical masks, and I grabbed one," Belnap said.

Passing New York University Downtown Hospital, he saw doctors and nurses out in the driveways, receiving patients — not waiting for them to get inside.

He saw a red-stained hand twitch beneath a blanket.

"Of all the moments today, that hand showing life moved me to tears," Belnap said.

The Brooklyn Bridge was an apocalyptic scene, he said, "Endless streams of people walking over to Brooklyn."

Another skirting the tragedy was David Buckner, 37, bishop in the Manhattan 8th Ward, who is an Ogden native and BYU law school graduate. He taught international relations at BYU from 1987-96 and now teaches at Columbia University.

Buckner was near the Triboro Bridge when he saw the second plane smash into the World Trade Center.

He told the taxi driver to take him home. Buckner and his wife, Jennifer, carrying their 2-year-old son Brandon, walked 20 blocks to pick up sons Joshua, 6, and Matthew, 4, from Public School No. 9.

They stopped in a Food Emporium for a gallon of milk.

"It took an hour and a half. The lines were backed up through every aisle," he said, noting a man behind him had "about 40" loaves of bread in his basket.

Automatic teller machine lines were "out the doors and down the block," he said.

Yet there was mostly an absence of panic as New Yorkers worked their way uptown, said New Yorker Matt McConkie, a BYU graduate from Colorado Springs, Colo., who works in the equities division of Goldman, Sachs & Co.

"It may have been the quietest day I've seen in New York City," he said.

Utahns in Washington, D.C., also came close to tragedy.

The chief spokesman for the Utah National Guard was walking from the Pentagon parking lot toward the south entrance stairs when he almost became a statistic.

"I heard the noise, felt the rumble," said Lt. Col. Craig V. Morgan. He was among a handful of Utah Guard officers in Arlington, Va., for routine business at the Pentagon when a plane crashed into that building.

A fireball rose from the huge building and papers flew into the air, he said. Heavy smoke poured from the building, and people were streaming out.

"They were coming out in an orderly manner," he said. While it wasn't as orderly as a school drill, "they weren't clawing their way all over one another."

All members of the Utah National Guard who were in the group were safe, he said. They were staying in a hotel close enough to the Pentagon that they could walk back.

For many, the distance between Utah and New York or Washington, D.C., was as close as family and friends.

After the unimaginable struck, West Valley city employee Melissa Schlangen was on the phone, checking on loved ones.

Schlangen's father, Larry Madden, it turns out, was sitting safely in his office in an untouched part of the Pentagon when the airliner crashed.

Etta Arch, 18, a Brigham Young University freshman, was awaiting word about her cousin, Mark Henshaw, a BYU graduate and intelligence officer in the Pentagon who hadn't been heard from since the crash.

LDS Hospital emergency room doctor Hank Duffy knows physician Alan Sokolow, who was working in the one of the World Trade Center Towers when disaster struck. Sokolow did his internships and residency with Duffy in Utah.

Duffy learned his friend had been helping victims of the first attack on one of the towers when the second plane hit. Sokolow apparently made it out alive, although it's not known if he is injured.

Contributing: Joe Bauman, Stephen Speckman, Jerry Spangler.

E-mail: gtwyman@desnews.com