Eyewitness Account of
The following is Shawn P. Pearson's first-hand account of
the attack on the World Trade Center. It was forwarded to KRLD with
September 11th, 2001. 8:40
AM. It was the last actual 'time' I could relate to you, because
it's the last time I looked at my watch. It was a beautiful day.
I'll never forget the forecast: Sunny and pleasant. I was on the
ferry typing out a training manual for a client, when my little
alarm beeps that it's time to pack up and get ready for my daily
hike to the subway. Yes, that was at 8:40. The rest of this recount
is of a timeline that spanned hours but seemed
I finished packing up my laptop, headphones,
source material, what have you, and I zipped up my briefcase. I took
one last gulp of my now cold morning coffee, and saw something
rather odd as I lifted the cup to empty it. No plane should be
flying there... let alone a passenger airliner... let alone that
low. Clearly something unusual, I pointed this out to the passengers
next to me.
It was so close, I could see the air
trailing it shimmer from the heat of the engines. The plane was
blurry as it streaked away from us, heading through the no-fly zone
and over the city of Manhattan in a suicidal collision course for
the WTC. The passengers with me were as I... silent and in complete
shock. Then it struck.
The aircraft itself went into
the building before actually exploding. The ball of flame was
impossibly huge. Papers ballooned out in every direction. From my
current distance, the papers seemed to be the only casualty, but we
knew better. Everyone aboard the ferry in that moment knew something
terrible had happened. Many people had just been killed. The sound
struck us like deafening thunder without the initial 'clap'... loud,
even over the massive twin diesel engines of the
Cries of, "That plane just flew right into the
World Trade Center! -Which building was it? -Oh my god so many
people are working already!" Tears came unbidden to us all. Each of
us knew that on the plane alone would be at least a hundred
Stunned, we watched as papers glittered
through the air, covering at least a mile in the time it took us to
dock and depart the ferry. I picked one of the papers up. It was
stained with something black and wet, but not burned, not ripped,
not even wrinkled. It was a printout of a screen capture that was
taken from a Lotus Notes database.
I unlocked my
phone from its belt-clip and pressed the '1' key to dial home. "You
won't believe what just happened. An airliner just flew straight
into the World Trade Center." I said.
From my wife...
disbelief. Can't say I blame her; the vast majority of us never knew
such a thing could happen to us... here... The realization alone was
a shock well enough without the mass carnage thrown in for good
measure to ensure that all our lives had just significantly changed.
This Horror was not bigoted.
I told my wife I was
going up there, told her I loved her and to kiss the kids... but I
always say that. Not that I don't ever mean it, but it was
mechanical, like so many times before.
Why did I go?
I can't say for certain. The part of me that wants to be honest
would respond 'morbid curiosity', but the rational part of me is
demanding that I was a witness. It wouldn't be a large number of
people who saw it from our perspective. When you're in the thick
forest of the city, it is difficult to see that which is not right
next to you. Maybe someone had to shout out that it was no
accident... That plane was not out of
Hundreds of people gathered on each corner,
most crying, some screaming, perhaps all knowing someone inside.
Cars were stopped, doors open with their occupants standing one foot
out to see. The city stopped moving. Just think about
As I got closer, I transcended the city and
entered what I can only call a war zone. From clean, unaffected
streets, to streets strewn with glass and paper, to streets you
couldn't see for the debris; paper, glass, smoking steel, body
parts... but somehow, not much blood beyond what was on the parts
themselves. Limbs without bone, mostly unidentifiable, whole bodies.
As shocking at this seems, it was nothing when compared to what I
saw next: people who were trapped above the flames,
One group of jumpers will forever be etched
in my soul. Tears fall even as I write this, five days later. They
were holding hands. I could see them screaming, but heard nothing.
They fell together, but broke apart near the flames, only to fall
alone, denied their companionship. Another, apparently a woman, but
I was a long block away and cannot be certain, fell onto
street sign and was bisected silently. From what I could
tell, the sign was bloodless and undamaged. It just wobbled
I endured that horror, but was not prepared
for the next impact. I felt it before I heard it. I was nearly
thrown down. Then, that same rush of thunder... lacking the initial
'clap' which seems to be the only difference between the sound of a
huge passenger airliner striking a massive
actual thunder. That initial peal that signifies lightning arced
through the air.
The flames seemed to be directly
above me. I looked away quickly and ran. It was raining glass,
steel, paper and flame, and I felt like I was directly below it. I
was relatively safe, looking back. The debris must have flown
another block past where I was before it landed.
second impact had a different meaning to me than the first. The
first time, I thought of all the lives that were lost. This time I
thought I would be one of them. This time, I knew it was not only
intentional, but also prolonged... and I was in the line of fire. I
was treading the very target that was under
Screams erupted around me. Men (police?
firemen? business men like myself?) shouting, "RUN! GET AWAY FROM
HERE! NO! DON'T LOOK BACK!!! YOU HAVE TO RUN NOW! AND DON'T STOP,
YOU'LL DIE! GO! GO! GO!" and the like. It was at that moment I
panicked as I for the first time in my life feared I was truly about
to die. I'd like to give a detailed report on my rush from the heart
of the financial district to the docks, but aside from saying that I
ran like hell, choked heavily for breathing some unknown hot-as-hell
garbage, jumped over fallen people, was pelted by glass (stones,
steel fragments, or embers), stumbling more than once like every
woman in every horror movie ever made, while something hot was
biting the back of my legs, I can say nothing. Well, maybe that's
I traversed a 10-minute walk in what seemed
like an instant. That's when I learned that the first tower had
fallen. Fallen? It seemed impossible. (Of course, now I realize that
steel is as strong as peanut butter when it's hot, and I know that
jet fuel burns HOT. God bless the design that allowed the building
to fall in upon itself.)
I found that I couldn't
breathe at all when I stopped running. I gasped, coughed, and choked
until I vomited. Breathing came more easily then. That was the
second time I thought I was going to die.
need to be told when the second tower fell. I knew the feeling of
the ground and the sound all too well. It actually happened just
before I vomited, and the next wave of choking black... stuff was
fast approaching. We gathered at the bottom of John Street near the
fishery there. They were very gracious and had a hose running fresh
water out. I washed the caked
up garbage from my body. Hosing
myself from head to toe, ignoring the biting cold to get the itchy,
gritty, gray stuff off.
A giant of a man approached
me at that point. He saw me fall when my briefcase strap broke. He
asked if I was okay. Looking at my briefcase, I realized it didn't
just break it was severed. What happened to it, I can only guess,
but I shudder to think what would've happened to me had
not been there.
Summing up the end of my
involvement in the tragedy, I made it to the docks, boarded the
ferry, gulped down 3 bottles of water they were passing out, and
successfully contacted my mother. I also reached my wife, and my
company, so they knew I was okay... I was going home... and as I
passed the South Street Seaport where I'd been only hours before, I
The CEO of our company and two of
my closest friends in the company convinced me to go to the
hospital. A chest x-ray indicated I had inhalation injuries, but
since the treatment was oxygen anyway, I decided to go home and make
room for those less fortunate than myself.
seems rather extreme for someone outside ground zero, you need to
realize that thousands had the same, or very similar trials to go
through. This can just as easily be any of their stories. It was
that bad... It was that bad... It was that bad...
since I lived, and am writing this... I feel so fortunate. I'm among
the luckiest people who were that close to the disaster that day.
Minutes, perhaps seconds... feet, perhaps inches... were the
difference between being dead, and feeling pretty damned
As the days were going by, I'd remember more
and more details of my flight. Details that would wake me, shake me,
and deny me sleep. I can make any one of you puke with disgust. I
can make any one of you cry. However, no matter my effort or skill,
I can never make any one of you understand
what it was like
to be there.
I can only say god bless, and keep us
all. I'll never look at life the same way
Shawn P. Pearson