The Response on the Ground

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The report says it's not clear why people were advised to stay in their offices. The commission couldn't ask the fire safety director about it, because he died when the tower collapsed. The order may have been meant to protect people from falling debris on the plaza outside. Also, a mass evacuation itself can be dangerous. The first time the World Trade Center was bombed, in 1993, many people were injured during the evacuation. So it made some sense to keep people in their offices. More puzzling, the commission found, is that people who got to the lobby were sent back up. Stanley Praimnath was an assistant vice president at a bank in Tower 2.

Stanley Praimnath, Assistant Vice President, Fuji Bank Limited. From government video of 9/11 commission hearings.
He told the commission's staffers, "As we were about to exit the building through the turnstile first, the security guard looks at me and says, 'Where are you guys going?'"

"I said, 'Well, I am going home.'"


"'I saw fireballs coming down.'"

"'No, your building is safe and secure. Go back to your office.'"

Praimnath went back up to his office. He picked up the phone. He looked out his window.

"I am looking to the direction of the Statue of Liberty," he recalled. "And I am looking at an airplane coming, eyelevel, eye contact, towards me, giant gray airplane. I am still seeing the letter 'U' on its tail, and the plane is bearing down on me. I dropped the phone and I screamed and I dove under my desk. It was the most ear-shattering sound ever. The plane just crashed into the building. The bottom wing sliced right through the office and it stuck in my office door twenty feet from where I am huddled under my desk."

The ceiling caved in, and part of the floor above Praimnath collapsed. He was trapped under a steel desk, "the only desk that stood firm, everything else [was] broken up. It looked like a demolition crew came and just knocked everything. Every wall was broken up. Computers were broken up - everything."

The plane slammed into the tower between the 77th and 85th floors, but the report says one stairway remained passable, from at least the 91st floor and perhaps from top to bottom. Above Stanley Praimnath's office, on the 84th floor, Brian Clark was still alive. By luck, he began to walk down the only passable stairway. Clark was a volunteer fire marshal for his firm, so he had a flashlight.

Brian Clark, Executive Vice President, Euro Brokers. From government video of 9/11 commission hearings.
"We descended only three floors," he said, "to the 81st floor, a group of seven of us, when we met a very heavy-set woman and she just emphatically told our group, 'Stop, stop! We have just come off a floor in flames and we've got to get above the flames and the smoke.' That's about all I heard of her conversation because I heard somebody inside the 81st floor banging on the wall and screaming, 'Help, help! I am buried. Is anyone there? Help, I can't breathe!'"

The voice Brian Clark heard calling for help was Stanley Praimnath's. He could see Clark's flashlight, and directed Clark to where he was trapped.

"Somehow I grabbed him under the arms, or around the neck, pulled him up and over this, and what, as I say later, I learned was a wall," Clark said. "I didn't know what it was at the time. And we fell in a heap on the floor."

Stanley Praimnath recalled the moment. "Brian put his hand around my neck and said, 'Come on, let's go home.'"

Praimnath is the only survivor known to have escaped from the impact zone.

Clark's workmates and the woman they met on the stair well chose to go up the stairs.

"And that day they all perished, unfortunately," said Clark, "but they were dealing with the information they had. None of us really had known what had happened or what was about to happen."

Clark and Praimnath headed down the stairs. On the way down, Clark paused to call 9-1-1.

He said, "I told them when they answered the phone… that I had passed somebody on the 44th floor, injured. They need to get a medic and a stretcher to this floor, and described the situation in brief. And the person then asked for my phone number, or something, and they said ... 'You gotta talk to one of my supervisors.' And suddenly I was on hold. And so I waited a considerable amount of time. Somebody else came back on the phone, I repeated the story. And then it happened again. I was on hold a second time and needed to repeat the story for a third time. But I told the third person that I am only telling you once. I am getting out of the building. Here are the details. Write it down, and do what you should do, and put the phone down. Stanley and I went back to the stairs, we continued all the way down to the plaza level."

Continued: part 3

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