Eyewitness Account of 9-11-01

The following is Shawn P. Pearson's first-hand account of the attack on the World Trade Center. It was forwarded to KRLD with Shawn's permission.

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 seconds.

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 ferry.

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 people.

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 control.

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 that.

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, jumping.

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 a
street sign and was bisected silently. From what I could tell, the sign was bloodless and undamaged. It just wobbled slightly.

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
landmark and 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.

This 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 attack.

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 enough.

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.

I didn't 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 it
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 grieved somberly.

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.

If this 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...

Yet 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 lucky.

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 again.

Shawn P. Pearson
NDS Consultant

  
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