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Survivors remember 9/11

The lights flickered in the New York Marriott World Trade Center where the National Association of Business Economists was holding a breakfast meeting Sept. 11, 2001.

The chandeliers jingled as the lights came back on and a huge explosion resonated through the hotel sandwiched between the 110-story Twin Towers. Most people thought it was a bomb. Being from Utah, Jan Crispin-Little thought, an earthquake, perhaps.

Crispin-Little, a University of Utah business and economic analyst, didn't panic as she joined others funneling single-file through a side door to the plaza. Necks craned skyward where smoke poured from the North Tower. Debris was everywhere. Something fell on a taxi, setting it on fire. Paper littered the ground along with, of all things, clothes and shoes.

Where did all these shoes come from? Where did all these clothes come from? she thought.

Standing and watching, Crispin-Little didn't know what was going on. Neither did anyone else. There were no police or firefighters in sight. And then she saw people jump and fall out of the burning building.

A woman in a maid's uniform screamed wildly each time a body fell from the sky. Her friend told her to stop because she was scaring everyone.

"At that point, the reality of the situation was clear to me," Crispin-Little said.

And then a second plane hit the South Tower. Police arrived to herd bystanders away. Alone, Crispin-Little, 46, shuffled down the sidewalk with the orderly crowd. She had no cell phone. No cash. No identification.

"I had absolutely nothing but the clothes on my back and a key to the Marriott Hotel that would soon be useless," she said.


The first thunderous explosion and hail of debris brought Achieve Global's morning meeting on workplace violence at the New York Marriott Financial Center to a halt.

Global account manager Tony Smith and his colleagues sprang to a window overlooking West Street. Glass, metal, paper, blood and body parts littered the ground. Is that a hand? A shoulder?

People, some hobbling or pressing handkerchiefs to bleeding wounds, wandered in a daze. Pedestrians tripped over human remains and screamed. Cars rolled over severed limbs, their drivers unaware.

Smith, 42, went weak in the knees.

"Every time I looked, it just got more horrific," he said. "It was so horrific it just didn't register."

The Centerville man and two others moved to a sixth-floor guest room to watch CNN, hoping to find out what had happened across the street. They were talking when a shadow passed the window, followed by the whining sounds of airplane engines.

The hotel shook a second time. Glass and metal and carnage again violently rained down outside. A sinking feeling came over Smith and the others: We're under attack. They decided to take the stairs to the ground floor. They weren't alone. Screaming and crying echoed off the walls in the stairwell amid the clatter of fleeing feet.

Achieve Global huddled in the lobby. Each of its nine employees — Smith being the only Utahn — had already concluded individually it was time to flee New York City. The five men and four women vowed to stick together.


Joyce Jensen asked her husband, Carl, to pinch her to make sure she wasn't dreaming.

Still on a high after seeing "Les Miserables" on Broadway the night before, the Midvale couple were ecstatic to be in New York City. The big city lights, the sounds, the sights completely enthralled them.

"The city had a pulse," Joyce said. "It had a strong, vibrant beat."

The Jensens arose early Tuesday at the Amsterdam Hotel in the heart of midtown Manhattan for a day of sightseeing on Gray Line tours.

Joyce had every stop mapped out — the United Nations, Wall Street, Battery Park, Ellis Island, Statue of Liberty. It was to be a time to bite into everything the Big Apple had to offer, starting at the World Trade Center.

They hurried down to the lobby for a continental breakfast intending to eat quickly and hit the streets. A longer-than-expected chat with a young North Carolina couple set them back a little.

On the walk downtown to buy Gray Line tickets — Joyce, 57, pushing 59-year-old Carl, who has multiple sclerosis, in his wheelchair — they passed a fire station. Firefighters were standing outside talking, sipping coffee. They greeted the Jensens warmly.

"We said good morning to all of them," Carl said.

As they arrived at the ticket office about one-half mile from the Twin Towers, a wave of people seemingly in a hurry engulfed them. None were smiling. Screaming sirens pierced the air. The friendly firefighters whizzed past. The Jensens shrugged it off as an everyday New York emergency.

Joyce left Carl on the street corner while she went inside to buy the bus tickets just after 9 a.m.

Waiting for the bus, they sensed something wrong. They overheard a Gray Line worker say into her radio, "Oh, my God, no. Oh, my God, no."

"What's going on?" Joyce asked.

A plane hit the World Trade Center. No, now there were two planes. There was talk of terrorists. Pandemonium ensued.

Adventurous, Carl wanted to go see what going on. Scared, Joyce began to cry. She returned to the ticket office for a refund. Initially rebuffed, she eventually received her $138 back. The time stamp on the receipt read 9:24 a.m.

"Have you ever been in a situation where there's no place to run?" she said. "I just wanted to get out of there. I just wanted to go home."


David Thatcher stood atop the World Trade Center on Monday with his parents, Sid and Linda, and sister, MaRea, visiting from Logan. They watched a thunder cloud move in over the Hudson River until it shut down the observation deck. Father and son watched the storm from inside, chatting about how long they thought the colossal towers would stand. David asked his father if he thought they would be around another hundred years. Sid replied yes.

Like the Jensens, the Thatchers planned to take in the sights Tuesday. They were quietly reading scriptures that morning when the telephone rang. They turned on the television. They peered outside.

Through the window of Thatcher's 19th-story apartment on Roosevelt Island, the family saw fire raging in the north and south towers. And later, they watched them fall.

"It was the most perfect example of physically watching something and still not believing it to be true," David Thatcher said.

Meantime, more incredible updates flashed across the TV screen throughout the morning: An airplane slams into the Pentagon. The White House evacuates. A portion of the Pentagon collapses. An airliner crashes in Pennsylvania.


Edie George and her colleagues at the Pentagon were huddled around a television watching the second plane crash. A military officer opened the door and yelled, "Get out of the building. A bomb has gone off downstairs."

As the former Weber State University administrator evacuated through the exit assigned in previous fire drills, she figured a militant domestic group was behind the bomb. PETA had splattered blood on the Pentagon grounds the day before.

Heavy black smoke filled the air outside. It smelled like a tire fire, and a crematorium. The odor made her nauseated. George learned terrorists were responsible for the mayhem in New York and Washington, D.C. There was talk of another plane headed for the Capitol. That made her indignant.

"Who would do a thing like that?" she thought.

Several generals in the crowd told people to go home. George did, vowing to return to work the next day.


As he was about to enter the Pentagon's south doors for a meeting, a loud, rumbling noise sent Lt. Col. Craig Morgan around to the west side to investigate. A fireball rose from the huge building and papers fluttered in the air. Two or three others were already there.

Glancing at the sheared light poles on the adjacent highway, the 31-year Utah National Guard veteran knew the devastation was the work of an airplane, not a bomb. He'd earlier talked to his wife on his cell phone about the astonishing events of the morning.

Heavy smoke poured from a gaping hole in the building, and people streamed outside. Trained as a paramedic, Morgan began treating broken bones and cuts. Blood stained his green Guard uniform and became sticky on his ungloved hands.

A man who had obviously lost the fingers on both hands shunned medical attention.

"He just kept going back in and bringing people out," Morgan said.

A portion of the building eventually gave way. People stopped coming outside.

Word spread about another inbound aircraft. Morgan helped carry people away from the Pentagon. Some took cover under freeway bridges and pedestrian tunnels.

An F-16 buzzed the Pentagon, eliciting not sighs of relief but a collective cheer.

"You could hear the roar of the crowd," Morgan said. "It was like Rin Tin Tin and the cavalry came."


From a mile away, 16-year-old George White watched the planes circle the Pentagon and black smoke grow over the site.

"So it is real," White thought as he ran for the parking lot with several other young staffers working on the floor of the U.S. Senate that morning.

He'd been watching on TV in the Senate cloak room since minutes after the first tower was hit, and the Olympus High School junior — 10 days into a school exchange that placed him at the U.S. Capitol as a Republican page for the country's senators — was aghast.

The first tower, a huge gash on the side, then a flash of the president cocking his head and hearing the news in a Florida school room.

In a strange exercise, White and the other pages still had to prepare senators' desk with calendars of business, letters and other memos they would never see that day. In between errands, a dozen 16-year-olds and some older staffers crowded around the TV, watching in horror.

Terrorists hit the second tower before their eyes. "That's when the mood changed," White said. "We were hoping it was an accident before. That's when we knew it was deliberate. It was just shock — there wasn't too much talking — we were in shock then."

It seemed like a movie. Actually, it seemed fake, he said.

Ten seconds later, a news anchor in D.C. reported the crash at the 583-acre Pentagon site.

Then the Capitol police began screaming. "Everyone get out! Get out!"

The implication was clear. They feared the Capitol would be the next target.

From the south side of the Capitol, White could see an Air Force AWACS plane with its huge satellite dish overhead and several other planes that could have all been hijacked and ready to crash for all he knew. Sirens from emergency vehicles were blaring everywhere. People were running. Others appeared stunned, searching for some kind of order or reason.

"Then it wasn't a movie. It wasn't fake at all. You could see that this really was happening."


The Thatchers' idle wondering the day before about the life span of the Twin Towers crumbled into dark reality before their eyes. They couldn't believe what they saw from their high-rise perch.

"It was the eeriest, eeriest feeling," Linda Thatcher said. "It was surreal."

But she never feared for her life. Her thoughts turned to the victims and their families. The Thatchers prayed for them, then and there.

"It is possible to have peace in the midst of all this confusion," she said.


The sea of hundreds of thousands of people fleeing the burning World Trade Center continued to move in an orderly manner — until the South Tower collapsed. Two blocks away, Crispin-Little watched the skyscraper fall.

"It was very odd," she said. "It almost happened in slow motion."

The architectural marvel gave way floor by floor, plummeting into the streets. The crowd, now angry as much as panicked, ran. A big ball of dust and smoke rolled down the street like a scene out a horror show. "It was like a bad movie, to be honest," she said.

Billowing smoke dimmed the morning sunlight. An acrid, chemical odor like that of a burned-up computer permeated the air. A fine ash covered Crispin-Little's business suit.

A jumble of thoughts raced through her mind. What did I do with that insurance policy? How am I going to let my husband know?

Overwhelmed, she stopped to cry.

A man, a Canadian computer consultant for Marsh & McLennan, befriended her and offered refuge in an apartment near Central Park. Momentary comfort.

But the sound of airplanes — fighter jets — overhead unnerved Crispin-Little again. Ours? Or theirs? A barrage of thoughts — some rational, others irrational — raced through her head a "gazillion miles a minute."

Her first inclination, should the planes start shooting, was to jump in the Hudson River. "I'd be safer there," she reasoned. But what about the suit? It would get wet, and it would shrink. And she had no other clothes to wear.


The Marriott Hotel staff where Smith and eight colleagues huddled decided it was time to evacuate. Smith had managed to run back to his room to grab his overnight bag and laptop and call his 13-year-old son at home in Centerville. The groggy teen didn't quite know what to make of the call.

The nine of them exited the building in a line like a wide-eyed kindergarten class on a field trip, a field trip to hell. Smith took the rear to make sure no one fell behind. They gingerly sidestepped human remains on the way out the door.

"It was absolutely like a war zone," Smith said.

Frantic police officers urged bewildered business people and tourists and gawkers the few blocks to Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan. Some were barefoot. A hysterical few were going against the wave, determined to reach the burning World Trade Center. Police were powerless to stop them. Still others were lined up at a bank of pay phones. Conversations Smith overheard were on the order of "guess where I am right now" as if the caller were at the Super Bowl or something.

"We were running for our lives," he said.

The group took refuge in the park behind the old Battery Fort, offering a perfect view of the Statue of Liberty standing tall in the harbor. Chirping birds, men walking dogs and women pushing strollers gave them temporary peace from the chaos.

They bought up all the bottled water they could carry. They kicked around ideas to get off the island. Some considered going back to the hotel for their belongings. Others argued they should stay put.

Suddenly, the conversation stopped. A rapid bang-bang-bang — perhaps 15 in all sounding like popping rivets — turned their eyes to the South Tower. To Smith, it looked like a dirty waterfall cascading to the ground with fragments glistening in the bright morning sun.

People were screaming, pushing, begging, crying, trying to escape from the erupting volcano that was the World Trade Center. Gray ash poured down from the darkened sky like a snowstorm. The fine particles stung the eyes of Smith and his Achieve Global colleagues. People wrapped Kleenex and T-shirts around their noses and mouths.

An odd sight caught Smith's eye. Despite the mayhem, several of dog walkers and stroller pushers seemed oblivious, as if out on a Sunday walk in the park.

Smith's group decided to break away from the increasingly unruly crowd and the huffing cloud. They hurdled fences and ran through a construction zone, Smith dragging his bags behind. They hid under the awning of a closed restaurant. Some people smashed the windows with chairs to get inside.

Not wanting to get trapped in the swell of fleeing bodies, the group moved again, this time to a railing at water's edge. People waved their arms to passing boats. A ferry on the Hudson veered from its route and headed toward the island. Achieve Global had positioned itself well. The boat's nose came to rest right in front of them.

About 100 people clambered aboard. As the ferry pushed off, Smith heard the second tower crumble to the ground. Another wave of ash barreled toward those left on shore. People on the ferry panicked, fearing the packed boat would sink. Some frantically searched for life jackets.

A few minutes later, a steward nonchalantly announced, "Next stop, Hoboken, New Jersey," as if the ferry were on a routine run.

Disoriented, disheveled and peppered with soot, the Achieve Global nine stumbled onto the Jersey shore like refugees.


Along with everyone else on the streets, the Jensens froze when they heard jets in the sky. The smoke was too thick to identify them. The smell of a burning garbage dump filled the air, only more pungent and vile.

An ashen-faced young man wearing backpack stood staring at the rising smoke. Joyce asked if he was OK. "I don't know," he replied.

They stood on the street corner together crying.

Farther down the street, a "dark, swarthy guy" approached them with what Joyce described as a "flippant" attitude. "Ha, they just got the Pentagon," he said.

"I thought, my heavens, the whole country is being attacked and I'm 3,000 miles from home," she said.

Deseret News graphicDNews graphicWorld Trade Center tragedyRequires Adobe Acrobat.

Continuing on Broadway toward the hotel, another man came running passed them. The Jensens turned to watch. He ran into the arms of a woman coming from the opposite direction. They embraced, and sobbed.

Joyce had to ask. The woman worked on a lower floor in the World Trade Center. The man was uptown on his day off. She called him on her cell as she fled the tower. The decided to walk until reaching each other.

The Amsterdam Hotel lobby was teeming with tourists and business people when the Jensens got back. They searched the crowd for the North Carolina couple, the one that had earlier delayed their trip the World Trade Center. They wanted to thank them for saving their lives. The couple were nowhere to be found. They thought about the friendly firefighters. They went to bed that night praying they would wake up the next day.


Within five minutes of evacuating the Capitol, White and the other young pages were ushered back to the basement of their dorm building — a three- or four-minute walk past the State Department and a handful of other important state buildings. "Any of those could have been a target."

Rumors were flying in the District of Columbia: a car bomb at the State Department; a man with a gun at the White House. "We didn't know what was true. That was the scariest part."

Deseret News graphicDNews graphicThe towers collapseRequires Adobe Acrobat.

Fighter jets above the Washington Mall roared between five or six commercial planes, protecting them, or waiting to shoot them out of the sky if hijacked.

From the basement, White called his parents back home in Holladay, who asked if he wanted to come home. White said no.

Then he and the other pages watched the Twin Towers fall. Thirty minutes later, the students were packed into cars and taken from the city. White isn't sure where they went. To a hotel somewhere. Someplace on the shore of Maryland.


Joyce and Carl Jensen woke up Wednesday morning, their dream trip to New York City now a nightmare. Jan Crispin-Little, too, arose, her life in shambles. They spent the next couple of days trying to figure out how to get home as did the Thatchers.

Tony Smith and his colleagues had made their way to Virginia. Using what little Spanish they knew, they convinced a tour bus driver to drive them from Hoboken to Somerset, N.J., where they had reserved rental cars Tuesday before fleeing the hotel.

Edie George showed up at the Pentagon for work. "I'm just a hard-nosed old lady," she said. "I'm not going to let anyone, let alone some weirdo, tell me what I can and can't do."

George White returned to the Capitol, though he didn't have to. The staff asked for volunteers. White raised his hand.

Lt. Col. Craig Morgan made his way back to the Pentagon, mostly to check on the people he was to have met with the day before. On his walk through the courtyard in the middle of the five-sided building he noticed a couple of rows of what he thought were beds where firefighters still trying to extinguish Tuesday's flames could rest. Upon closer inspection, he saw they were 20 or so white sheets covering bodies waiting for transport to a morgue. Some had already been removed, leaving an imprint in the soft grass and an indelible impression in his mind.


Postscript

Jan Crispin-Little undergoes counseling to deal with the trauma of the day she says in many ways ruined her life. She won't stay above the fifth floor in a hotel. She no longer uses underground parking. She looks for all the exits in a building with which she isn't familiar. She thought about having her Social Security number tattooed on her body.

Tony Smith initially didn't like to speak about his experience but found talking and writing about it helped him cope. He tried to get back to normal life as quickly as possible, attending a high school football game the day he arrived home and acting in a community theater production the next night. He did see a counselor arranged for by his company.

Joyce Jensen doesn't care to travel anymore. She doesn't care to fly anymore either, though she thinks that fear may pass. She appreciates and values her family more. Jensen made her husband cancel his plan to be an Olympic volunteer because she feared another attack. She stayed at home during the Games until getting the nerve to walk around Olympic Square the day before closing ceremonies.

Though she doesn't like it, Edie George finds herself suspicious of people of Middle Eastern descent. "I guess maybe I'll get over it or maybe I won't." She hesitates to get into a cab alone with a Middle Eastern looking driver. "I probably should not have anything to fear, but I do."

As a result of his experience, George White decided he wants to attend the U.S. Naval Academy. He spent a week at Navy camp this summer.

Lt. Col. Craig Morgan says he appreciates the little things in life more more, like a canyon breeze. "I know that sounds kind of silly, especially for an Army guy. It really does make you see the things you can change and things you can't."


Contributing: Lucinda Dillon

E-MAIL: romboy@desnews.com