The guy in the following story, Mike McQuade, is actually my first cousin, twice removed, though Ive only met him two or three times in my life. My father forwarded the story to me months after it was printed.
Survivor helps others before fleeing towers
Home News Tribune 9/14/01
Mike McQuade had no idea how much danger he was in.
McQuade, a Sayerville resident working on the 91st floor of the World Trade Center's north tower when it was attacked Tuesday, stopped along his way out of the building to help people trapped in elevators, get water for firemen and call his family. He finally left more than an hour after the plane hit, just minutes before the tower collapsed.
"To tell you the truth there was no time when I thought I was going to die. If I had thought that I would have been a mental case," McQuade said. "My biggest fear was leaving someone behind who I could have helped."
McQuade, 35, said many people inside didn't realize how severe the damage was, or that the towers were in danger of crumbling. He passed people who had decided to wait for rescuers and probably didn't escape. Others stopped to rest on landings. McQuade, an electrician, escaped with co-worker Anthony Vangeli.
"God had to be watching me because we both have 3 kids," McQuade said. "When we got out we looked at Tower 2 not there and thought, 'how could it be?' "
McQuade was on the side of the tower opposite the plane's point of impact.
"It sounded like a freight train and the whole building shook. A flame shot down the outside of the building - I didn't know what the hell it was."
The impact had blown the doors off of elevators and created small fires around the floor. McQuade and Vangeli waited for smoke to clear before starting down a flight of stairs.
"People were calm," McQuade said. They didn't know what had caused the impact and fire, and quietly went down stairs.
At the 82nd floor McQuade stopped to join a group helping trapped elevator passengers. The passengers sent the group away, but one man chose to stay behind, McQuade said.
He continued down the stairs, running into people he had met during his two years working on the World Trade Center's electricity. He passed an 87-year-old electrician who had worked at the tower when it was built, McQuade said.
"I'm not sure, but I have a feeling he didn't make it."
On the 52nd floor McQuade and Vangeli figured they were out of danger. They got water and called their families. His boss, who had seen the second plane hit, called McQuade's cellular phone.
"He said, 'Get the hell out of the building, what are you waiting for?' " McQuade said. He didn't take a direct route out, though. On the 44th floor he met a man looking for help and went back up six flights to aid more people stuck in elevators. He took a working elevator down to 44 and met firefighters on the 38th floor.
McQuade and Vangeli got them water and told them about the working elevator.
"It bothers me because I don't think they made it out," he said. When the firefighters told McQuade that a fireball had torn through the lobby, he feared for a co-worker who had gone for coffee minutes before the attack.
"My heart dropped and I said, 'she's dead.' "
At the ninth floor McQuade felt "a big suction and then there was an explosion - it must have been when Tower 2 went down." He overheard firefighters screaming for an evacuation. McQuade passed abandoned fire trucks and ambulances as he left the building. About 10 minutes after he left the tower, it collapsed.
McQuade took a ferry back to Sandy Hook where emergency personnel waited.
"You would think it was after D-Day with everything all covered in smoke, jets flying over; we thought it was a dream," he said. Relatives from all over New Jersey, including his daughters aged 10, 7 and 2, met McQuade at home. He heard from two co-workers who escaped unharmed.
At 7:30 Wednesday morning a phone call woke McQuade. It was the woman who had left for coffee.
"I was overwhelmed. We cried," he said.