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Remembering 9/11: “It was Horrible. There was No Escape.”

September 9th, 2009 at 11:16 pm | 6 Comments |

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Army Major Thane J. Thompson was in the reserves, working for Morgan Stanley on the 61st floor of WTC Tower II, at the time of the 9/11 attacks. In this second installment of a three part series, he recalls what it was like when the first tower collapsed.  Click here for part one and here for part three.

NewMajority thanks contributor Sean Linnane for forwarding this material to us from Stormbringer, where all three parts can be viewed in full.


Most people were fleeing the scene, some stunned people stood gawking, public service vehicles coming and going with lights and sirens: chaos. In army talk, I was moving towards the action. I was looking for emergency medical personnel and equipment, a triage point or casualty collection point. I was in the army 9 years ago as a Special Forces medic; even though I was out of practice, I thought I could do something to help with what must be many casualties. I could bandage someone, hold an IV bag or carry a stretcher. I saw a cop and asked where the Fire Department was setting up the triage point. He said they were setting up a control and triage point near West andVesey Street.

I wasn’t familiar with the street names in Lower Manhattan so I asked “which direction is that?” The cop pointed straight towards the Towers. He indicated that the triage point was on the other side of the WTC complex. I would have to walk around the tower complex. I was unfamiliar with the streets in this part of Manhattan but knew I was on the east side of the towers. I decided to skirt south around the complex keeping the towers to the right side as a landmark.

I paused on the sidewalk and looked at the towers. This was the first time I saw the damage: I was stunned.


The Twin Towers on fire

The Twin Towers on fire


How did one plane inflict the deep gashes in both buildings? Had it been a single plane? What was the second explosion that shook my building? Maybe the plane passed through Tower 1 and hit Tower 2? If so, why didn’t we feel the impact until we were on the 20th floor?

I couldn’t put it together: there was a second explosion, so why was the biggest hole on Tower 2 facing away from Tower 1? The mechanics of it were a puzzle. I said to myself, Heck, I got to get moving.

I walked through a narrow alleyway on the south side of the towers. It seemed strange that no one was in the alley. Near the end of the alley, sitting on the sidewalk was a large aircraft landing gear with four big tires, strange and out of place in the vacant alleyway. Obviously knocked off the aircraft when it hit the tower, it must have flown through the tower and over the buildings to land in the alley.

Coming out of the alley, I saw an emergency worker wearing a reflective vest. He had a beard, wore a Jewish yarmulke and carried a radio. I asked about the triage point location. He pointed to the north, said he was heading that way, and motioned for me to follow. We were on West Street walking north when a voice came over his radio. The voice was shouting urgently in Hebrew. We stopped and he looked up. I followed his gaze and saw people falling from Tower 2. He turned toward me and with a sorry look he said simply, “People are jumping.”

I looked closely at the gash and broken windows that bellowed dark smoke from Tower 2. I could see people sticking their heads out of several openings. I imagined them gasping for air against the smoke and trying to escape the heat from burning jet fuel.


A person jumps from the north tower of the WTC

A person jumps from the North Tower of the WTC


It was horrible; there was no escape. Two people popped out of the gash and fell. I watched a single man fall all the way to the ground. He didn’t flail or kick or wave his arms. He just fell with arms out all the way down. The absence of movement made his fall seem calm.


One person clings to the north tower, while others jump on 9/11

One person clings to the North Tower, while others jump on 9/11


After the man hit the ground the rescue worker and I started moving again in silence.

Moving north up West Street the man began talking in Hebrew over the radio. He was some kind of volunteer citizen’s emergency service member. He pointed to the command post in the mouth of an underground garage, I thanked him, and he continued north.

This was a command post not a triage point and I saw no paramedics. About eight fire chiefs in white shirts stood around a situation table with folded down legs facing the WTC. At the center of the table was a hand drawn map of the complex. There were eight or ten radios fastened around the edge of the table. Dismounted rescue squads waited for orders behind the situation table.

In the mouth of the underground parking garage, the squads had taken off their heavy gear while waiting for orders. Several rows of helmets, respirators, and fire axes lay on the driveway going down into the garage. The radios around the situation table probably corresponded to different rescue squads and notes on squad employment were kept on the map.

I walked up to a nearby chief and said “I was trained as an army medic and would like to help.” He told me to standby with the rescue squads and he’d hook me up with the paramedics when they showed up in a few minutes.

I stepped back and looked at the towers again. This command post was directly across from the towers. We were really close, too close. I had to tip my head way back to look up at the towers. With this movement, I really took in the situation.

Listening to the chiefs talking I was surprised to learn that there were two planes that hit the buildings, not one as I imagined. This realization started a palpable spiral of fear; a sort of paranoia set in: This was a coordinated attack. Such an attack would be an operation involving multiple terrorist teams. BASTARDS!

My mind began to spin with anxiety as I began to expect more attacks. Were they using this as a warm up? What’s next? I looked around for big trucks parked nearby. Will whoever planned this heap on more punishment and exploit their success?

My thoughts became irrational as I considered the possibilities. Maybe the planes were delivery mechanisms of biological or chemical weapons. The WTC was bombed before, maybe there were truck bombs coming as well. Terrorists might sucker in firemen and medical personnel, and then deliver another blow. How many hits are coming? What am I doing here?

Realizing my thoughts were getting panicky, I consciously got a grip on myself. I talked myself down by affirming my role and commitment. If more attacks come I’ll just do the best I can. I’m here to help.

I saw a ring of dust puff out all the way around the middle of Tower 2 followed by a crumbling sound. A shout went up amongst the firemen and a man yelled “IT’S COMING DOWN!”

The middle of Tower 2 buckled as the next floor collapsed and a terrible rumble began to grow. We were very close to the base of the tower and the visual effect of this collapsing mass was terrifying. Looking up we saw 110 stories of steel and concrete coming down on top of us. A RUN FOR YOUR LIVES jolt rippled through the men and a quick look to the right and left confirmed that the best shelter was the underground garage behind us.

We burst into a sprint for our lives. We ran down the ramp towards the garage. I was wearing my fancy Wall Street clothes with smooth soled wing tip shoes and could not have been wearing worse clothing for running for my life. A couple guys in front of me were still looking at the collapsing building and my army voice was on: “DON’T LOOK BACK, JUST RUN!”


The South Tower collapses

The South Tower collapses


Some guy in a suit with a starched white shirt tripped and went down, falling on firefighting equipment scattered on the ramp. I was hopping over oxygen tanks and fire axes; I tripped and fell on some gear. The guy in the suit was slow getting up. He was on his knees looking back at the falling tower. The noise was fierce and growing, and his face was white with fear. Dumb ass! I thought, He shouldn’t be looking back. “DON’T LOOK BACK, JUST RUN!”


People flee debris from the collapsed tower

People flee debris from the collapsed tower


The roar of the collapsing building grew and grew into a fearsome sound of pending death chasing us all. I scrambled to my feet. Don’t look back, get up and run. Run for all your worth! I thought.

I ran as fast and as hard as I could into the garage as far back as I could go while being chased by the ever increasing roar of the collapsing tower. Thick dust rushed in and quickly filled the garage.


People make their way amidst debris from the collapse of the WTC

People make their way amidst debris from the collapse of the WTC


We were alive, but trapped underground . . . buried under 110 stories of concrete, for all we knew . . .

. . so this is it, I thought, This is how it happens. This is how I’m going to die . . .

To be continued…

Recent Posts by Thane J. Thompson



6 Comments so far ↓

  • Remembering 9/11: “A Muffled Sound Like Distant Thunder”

    [...] part series, he recalls what it was like to be in the towers at the moment the planes hit.  Click here for part [...]

  • Remembering 9/11: “I Watched a Man Fall to the Ground” | Moving Trucks

    [...] posted here: Remembering 9/11: “I Watched a Man Fall to the Ground” Posted in Top Moving Trucks | Tags: action, army, army-talk, blow, bombs-coming, [...]

  • EscapeVelocity

    I wonder if people who work in highrises now keep parachutes handy?

  • Remembering 9/11: “This is How I’m Going to Die”

    [...] In this second installment of a three part series, he recalls what it was like when the first tower collapsed.  Click here for part one, and part two. [...]

  • Sheldon

    I only just watched 9/11 the falling man here in Australia, I feel i can add to the thoughts of people everywhere that are unsure of why people decided to jump and it may put some of those hurt by their decision to do so.
    I worked as a high rise window cleaner in Sydney on some of the tallest buildings we have the MLC Tower 68 floors AMP building 52 from memory and a building that used to be the Qantas building over 50 floors. I know these are no where as high as the world trade centre but I have stood on the very edge and look over the side with nothing between me and the drop on many occassions and I can honestly say from that height and as in the World trade centre nearly double that you can look and think I wonder if i could make it if i jumped. Theres this sense of unreality when you are so high I used to find the buildings under 20 floors more or a worry but on the high ones theres this feeling of “maybe” probably cause you cant make out people clearly etc who knows what gives you that sense. Im sure this was the feeling that went through their minds before they took the decision they did. So for anyone who feels like they took a decsion to end there suffering i can asure you from my experience of that same sensation it was more like they did it to try and save themselves. I dont know who reads this blog or where it actually is just thought I had to post my experience in the hope that someone might see it and feel that there loved one wasnt taking there life but actually trying to save themselves as strange as that may sound.
    Im sure im with everyone from over in Australia in saying our heart go out to all the victims and their families of the tragedy on this anniversary for the other day and every anniversary in the future……..sheldon

  • Remembering 9/11

    [...] Part 2: “It was Horrible. There was No Escape.” I looked closely at the gash and broken windows that bellowed dark smoke from Tower 2. I could see people sticking their heads out of several openings. It was horrible; there was no escape. Two people popped out of the gash and fell. I watched a single man fall all the way to the ground. He didn’t flail or kick or wave his arms. He just fell with arms out all the way down. The absence of movement made his fall seem calm. [...]