When we look at any frame of the horrifying footage caught of the collapsing Twin Towers on 9/11, it’s hard to imagine anyone coming out of it alive.
But numbers of people did, including one man by the name of Michael Wright.
Thirty-years-old at the time of the attack, Michael worked on the 81st floor of the World Trade Center as an account executive.
Describing the morning of September 11th as ‘as mundane as you can imagine,’ his Tuesday routine was usually to go out meeting clients and making sales calls. ‘I get to my office at a quarter to eight, eat a bran muffin, drink a cup of coffee, and get my head straight for the day,’ he recounted for Esquire in the months following the event.
Nothing seemed out of the ordinary.
I was actually in a good mood. A couple of us were yukking it up in the men’s room. We’d just started sharing the eighty-first floor of 1 World Trade Center with Bank of America, and they’d put up a sign telling everyone to keep the bathroom clean. “Look at this,” one of us said. “They move in and now they’re giving us shit.” It was about quarter to nine.
All of a sudden, there was the shift of an earthquake. People ask, “Did you hear a boom?” No. The way I can best describe it is that every joint in the building jolted. We all got knocked off balance. One guy burst out of a stall buttoning up his pants, saying, “What the fuck?” The flex caused the marble walls in the bathroom to crack.
Michael described the screaming. The frantic calls of coworkers, including one woman called Alicia who was stuck inside a toilet cubicle. With the help of two men, she was eventually let out.
I knew where the stairs were because a couple of guys from my office used to smoke butts there. I started screaming, “Out! Out! Out!” The managers were trying to keep people calm and orderly, and here I was screaming, “The stairs! The stairs!”
Some floors we’d cruise down; others we’d wait for ten minutes. People were speculating, “Was it a bomb?” But we were all getting out. I didn’t think I was going to die.
At the fortieth floor, we started coming in contact with firemen. They were saying, “C’mon, down you go! Don’t worry, it’s safe below.” Most of them were stone-faced. Looking back, there were some frightened firemen.
Despite keeping his cool during the descent to the ground floor, it was when he saw the first bodies that it dawned on Michael just how bad the situation was.
He remembered seeing ‘maybe fifty’ dead people around him, none of whom were intact. ‘I scanned for a second and then focused on the head of a young woman with some meat on it,’ he wrote. ‘I remember my hand coming up in front of my face to block the sight. Then I took off. As I ran, people were coming out of another stairwell. I stopped and said, “Don’t look outside! Don’t look outside!” The windows were stained with blood. Someone who’d jumped had fallen very close to the building.’
It was right at the bottom of the ground floor escalator that he heard the first crack.
How do you describe the sound of a 110-story building coming down directly above you? It sounded like what it was: a deafening tidal wave of building material coming down on my head. It appeared to be falling on the street directly where I was headed.
I turned to run back into the building. It was the instinctual thing to do. You’re thinking, If you stay outside, you’re running into it. If you go inside, it might not land there. So I turned and ran into the building, down into the mall, and that’s when it hit. I dove to the ground, screaming at the top of my lungs, “Oh, no! Oh, no! Jenny and Ben! Jenny and Ben!” It wasn’t a very creative response, but it was the only thing I could say. I was gonna die.
When it hit, the whole setting went black. His mouth, nose, ears and eyes were filled with debris like a ‘little kid packs a pail of sand at the beach.’
Refusing to become defeatist, Michael tore off his shirt and wrapped it around his mouth and nose – after vomiting up debris – and began crawling to the light, which in his situation seemed near impossible. ‘I saw a light go on,’ he said. ‘I can’t say I was happy, because I was horrified, but that light was hope.’
Michael had been buried under the remains along with a fireman, who aided him in breaking through a glass wall into a Borders bookstore.
Once out, he made a run for it.
I went along Vesey Street, using it as a guide. It started clearing up more and more. I was all disoriented. I saw a turned-over bagel cart, and I grabbed a couple of Snapples. I used one to rinse out my mouth and wash my face. I drank some of the other. Then I started running again. It was chaos.
Finding a pay phone, he called his brother studying at NYU to call his Jenny to pass on the news he’d gotten out alive.
After some intense work at a health center – doctors had to remove 147 fiberglass splinters from his eyes – brother Chris picked him up and took him back to his in order to pack so they could travel to Westchester, where his wife and family were based.
After an emotional reunion and break from work, Michael described to his new life. A life of claustrophobia and alteration.
I don’t wonder, Why me? Some people say, “You made it out; you’re destined for great things.” Great, I tell them. I made it out, now why not put a little pressure on me while you’re at it.
You can read the amazing story in its entirety right here.