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WTC 9 to paralyzed pal: 'You're coming with us'
Newark Star Ledger ^ | 10/16/01 | WAYNE WOOLLEY

Posted on 10/16/2001 8:27:08 AM PDT by Incorrigible




WTC 9 to paralyzed pal: 'You're coming with us'

10/16/01

BY WAYNE WOOLLEY
STAR-LEDGER STAFF

When the hijacked jet slammed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, John Abruzzo felt the building sway from his office on the 69th floor.

Abruzzo, a 41-year-old accountant for the Port Authority, knew it was bad. He also knew how vulnerable he was.

Abruzzo is a quadriplegic, and in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, it took a group of co- workers and emergency workers six hellish hours to carry him to safety.

This time, Abruzzo wheeled himself into the hallway in his motorized chair, and was unnerved to see no one. Then he saw the familiar, but frantic, faces of nine colleagues who were looking for him -- even as they told others to evacuate.

Peter Bitwinski, a co-worker who had helped Abruzzo escape in 1993, knew from the impact that this time was far more grave.

"The first one (in 1993) was this low-level rumbling," Bitwinski said. "This, this was like someone driving a monster truck at 400 mph into your house."

Bitwinski also knew something else: There was no way they were leaving Abruzzo behind.

"It was more or less a collective decision that they were going to bring me down one way or the other," Abruzzo said. "The evacuation procedure says (wheelchair- bound) people should wait for the firefighters, but there was no discussion of leaving me behind."

For the next 80 minutes and 69 floors, the group of 10 -- most of whom have worked together for 20 years -- stayed together, as nine carried the 250-pound Abruzzo to safety.

Somewhere near the 20th floor, firefighters coming up the stairs told the group they should leave Abruzzo behind.

"No way," said Tony Pecora, 36, of Fanwood. "John is coming with us."

The journey down began with a clumsy search for an evacuation chair, a rescue device that Abruzzo says looks like "a giant baby stroller." The Port Authority bought a number of the $1,000 chairs after the 1993 attack.

Without the evacuation chair, Abruzzo would have to be carried down the stairs in what would have been another six-hour ordeal.

"John, where's your chair?" Bitwinski asked. Abruzzo wasn't sure.

Bitwinski and Pecora started searching closets and storage areas. They found it behind a stack of boxes.

Ten minutes had passed since the impact. As they fumbled with the chair, the 69th floor was beginning to fill with smoke. Finally, they lifted Abruzzo's 6-foot-4 frame into the chair, which has wheels and sled skis for going down stairs.

The flight down began.

As they passed through the 50s and the 40s, the smoke began to thicken. At the 44th floor, Gerald Simpkins, 33, of Jersey City guided the group from Stairwell C to B.

"Less smoke, but a lot hotter," Simpkins said.

On that floor, the group came across a vending machine pried open by firefighters to provide drinks for the people fleeing the hot, smoky building.

They stopped to rest and have a quick drink. Abruzzo noticed that his colleagues' dress shirts were clinging to their bodies.

"I wasn't breaking a sweat and these guys were dripping," Abruzzo said.

They got moving again, joking in the face of terror, the way only people who have worked together for decades can.

They chided Abruzzo about his weight.

"Go on a diet before we have to do this again," someone said.

Anytime he shifted in the chair, they would grab and steady him.

"John, we don't mean to be touching you in any inappropriate ways," Phil Caffrey, 41, of Rutherford remembers saying.

All levity ended at the 21st floor, when the collapse of the South Tower announced itself with a rumbling that shook the stairwell and knocked out the lights.

Pecora and Caffrey heard the words "Two is down, Two is down" crackle from a fireman's radio, and urged everyone to move even faster.

At the 10th floor, the group was halted by firefighters, who checked lower floors to make sure the path was clear.

No one remembers how long they waited.

"It felt like a lifetime," Pecora said.

When firefighters gave the all clear, the group started moving again. Exhausted and hot, their lungs burning, they pushed to go even faster.

"We were practically carrying John by this point," said Mike Ambrosio, 41, of North Bergen.

The group finally hit the lobby, where they saw shards of glass, paper and furniture scattered everywhere. They moved toward the heavy glass entrance doors, the only thing separating them from the cooler outside air -- and safety.

The doors were jammed. After all that work, they were still trapped.

But a firefighter on the outside had seen the group carrying the big man in the chair across the lobby, and smashed a window to allow them to escape.

The group made it outside. Only then did they feel the burning in their arms, legs and backs -- the total muscular exhaustion -- from the strain of carrying a 250-pound man down 69 flights of stairs.

"We just dropped John," said Mike Curci, 40, of Edison.

It was then that someone looked skyward and realized that people were jumping from the towers -- and landing nearby.

"Let's keep moving north," someone said. The group started wheeling Abruzzo north on West Street.

They were five blocks away when the North Tower collapsed at 10:28 a.m. They had been outside for less than 10 minutes.

Ten minutes. The difference between life and death for Abruzzo and the nine people who saved his life while risking their own.

"If any of the things happened the way they did in 1993, we wouldn't have made it," Abruzzo said. "If the stairways had been more crowded, if we didn't have the evacuation chair, forget about it."

Everyone from the group made it home that night, except for Bitwinski, who stayed with Abruzzo at Beth Israel Medical Center while he was treated for smoke inhalation.

All but Abruzzo, who lives in Queens, have returned to work at makeshift offices in Jersey City.

Before he can go back, he needs a new wheelchair and a custom- made van to replace those buried at Ground Zero.

Meanwhile, Abruzzo -- who has been paralyzed since a diving accident on Rockaway Beach in 1974 -- has had time to think about friendship.

"I've talked to each of them individually. What do you say, 'Thanks'? What does that mean? I don't know what to say to each of them half of the time," Abruzzo said. "They saved my life. I'm here today because of those guys."

Abruzzo's colleagues say the word "hero" should be reserved for the firefighters and cops they passed on the way down.

"It comes down to this," Pecora said. "If you were in his shoes, you'd want somebody to help you."

Not for commercial use.  For educational and discussion purposes only.


TOPICS: News/Current Events
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1 posted on 10/16/2001 8:27:08 AM PDT by Incorrigible (nospam@please.com)
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To: Incorrigible
What else can you say - that story right there is what this country is all about - It brought tears to my eyes. Thanks for printing something uplifting in this mess of negative journalism.
2 posted on 10/16/2001 8:33:00 AM PDT by RonKY
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To: Incorrigible
Awesome.
3 posted on 10/16/2001 8:34:09 AM PDT by KC Burke
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To: Incorrigible
This story had me burst into tears as well. There are really no words to explain the total kindness this mans coworkers extended.
4 posted on 10/16/2001 8:36:38 AM PDT by alisasny
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To: Incorrigible
It's quite telling that this article did not appear in the NYT.
5 posted on 10/16/2001 8:36:43 AM PDT by freedomcrusader
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To: Incorrigible
Bitwinski; Pecora; Simpkins; Caffrey; Curci; Ambrosio, et al – just your average, everyday All-American heroes.

Great post.

6 posted on 10/16/2001 8:42:48 AM PDT by browardchad
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To: Incorrigible
Photo op for Hillary or Bill Clinton. At either of their excessively expensive NYC offices funded by us....
7 posted on 10/16/2001 8:43:43 AM PDT by prognostigaator
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To: Incorrigible
This is beautiful. Remember the days when it was assumed that New Yorkers were crass, rude people who didn't give a d*mn about anybody but themselves? Never again will this country see them as anything but the heroes that they are. ALL of them.
8 posted on 10/16/2001 8:46:51 AM PDT by Sunshine55
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To: Incorrigible
Wow. Awesome story!
9 posted on 10/16/2001 8:47:26 AM PDT by ecurbh
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To: ecurbh
Wow. Awesome story!

Dittos!
10 posted on 10/16/2001 8:50:17 AM PDT by dsmatuska
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To: Incorrigible
This gives me chills it's so inspiring, what a great group of people.
11 posted on 10/16/2001 8:51:32 AM PDT by MissAmericanPie
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To: Incorrigible
So, he's needs a new wheelchair and custom van so he can go back to work. That makes sense. Helloooo , United Way, where are you? And lets not forget the Red Cross. It's been over a month; what's taking so long? I think I'll send off some e-mail to ask that they help this man.
12 posted on 10/16/2001 8:51:51 AM PDT by Shannon
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To: Shannon
From what I've read about the Red Cross today right here in this forum, we'd be better off taking up a collection amongst us FReepers.
13 posted on 10/16/2001 8:56:24 AM PDT by Sunshine55
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To: Incorrigible
Real Heroes everyone of them.

Tony

14 posted on 10/16/2001 8:56:32 AM PDT by tonycavanagh
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To: Incorrigible
God bless these true American heroes.
15 posted on 10/16/2001 8:57:44 AM PDT by irish_lad
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To: RonKY
Couldn't quite add a coherant comment when I posted it myself.
16 posted on 10/16/2001 11:57:12 AM PDT by Incorrigible
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To: Incorrigible
Awesome story. Drying eyes...
17 posted on 10/16/2001 12:02:16 PM PDT by EaglesUpForever
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To: Incorrigible
True Americans. The best that this country has to offer, displayed right here, in this story.

Heroes? That's an understatement. Courage, Bravery, Friendship, Loyalty, and love of one's fellow man. It's all on display, right here folks.

18 posted on 10/16/2001 12:03:00 PM PDT by usconservative
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To: Shannon
United Way, where are you?

They'll say, "That's what insurance is for"

19 posted on 10/16/2001 12:30:49 PM PDT by Incorrigible
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To: Incorrigible
What an incredible story of courage and love. It brought tears to my eyes. Those people are heros. God bless them all.
20 posted on 10/16/2001 12:45:40 PM PDT by sugar_puddin
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To: Incorrigible
Here's what I ended up doing about this.
I decided not to risk an e-mail getting lost so I called United Way in NY. Remember the head of NY United Way, Ralph Dickerson, appeared on o'Reilly, so I called Ralph's office. Very nice lady helped me out and then put me in touch with the VP Agency Services Area, Elwonda Young.
I gave Elwonda all the info and at her request e-mailed her the article. She said they can't just give the $ for a new wheelchair and van to John Abruzzo, the man in the article, but they can find an agency to handle it and give the money to that agency. Fine. So, she's going to track down John Abruzzo and get him the help he needs. I'm smiling now.
21 posted on 10/16/2001 1:40:24 PM PDT by Shannon
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To: Shannon
Thank you!!
22 posted on 10/16/2001 1:45:48 PM PDT by Economist_MA
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To: Shannon
Wow! Nice going!
23 posted on 10/16/2001 1:47:55 PM PDT by Incorrigible
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To: Shannon
We're proud of you, Shannon! Good on you!
24 posted on 10/16/2001 1:55:31 PM PDT by exit82
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To: Incorrigible
"He who saves one life saves the world entire."
25 posted on 10/16/2001 1:56:51 PM PDT by HoweverComma
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To: Incorrigible
"Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friend" ...spoken by One who knows... To have the heroism in this bring you to tears is to be truly alive
26 posted on 10/16/2001 1:58:56 PM PDT by Congolese
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To: Incorrigible
Moving....thanks for the post. This story of courage illustrates the decency, loyalty and bravery of many human beings.
27 posted on 10/16/2001 2:04:08 PM PDT by Stand Watch Listen
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To: Congolese
I remembered the line from the Talmud first...

Both are appropriate.

These guys should have statues erected in their honor in every town square across the fruited plain.

28 posted on 10/16/2001 2:05:08 PM PDT by HoweverComma
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Bump for the night crowd
29 posted on 10/16/2001 6:44:44 PM PDT by Incorrigible
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To: Incorrigible
OK - I'll be the "prick" here....because this needs to be asked.......Why the hell did they have to search closets and shelves for the evacuation chair?

Being as this fella was a regular fulltimer, you'd kind of think, well....you know; like I said, somebody (moi) needed to ask this question.

30 posted on 10/16/2001 6:53:12 PM PDT by ErnBatavia
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To: Incorrigible
Thanks for sharing this article - it's very uplifting.
31 posted on 10/16/2001 6:59:33 PM PDT by Angelwood
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To: ErnBatavia
Why the hell did they have to search closets and shelves for the evacuation chair?

Probably the suposition that lighting never stikes twice. It was probably big and clunky and thus was moved around by the office manager alot.

32 posted on 10/17/2001 8:50:41 AM PDT by Incorrigible
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To: Incorrigible
A couple of times in the immediate past, I thought if God asked me if the world should be spared I would not be able to give a good answer as to why it should be. But since hearing about the 'average' unsung heroes whose tombstones are carved with "lets roll" and now again this morning after reading about the WTC 9, I have the answer: America is the birthplace of mortal angels; spare the world so that they may do Your work in every land.
33 posted on 10/17/2001 9:09:21 AM PDT by RWG
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To: Incorrigible
"Abruzzo's colleagues say the word "hero" should be reserved for the firefighters and cops they passed on the way down."

Hummmm, I would define hero as someone who unselfishly risks their life to help save the life of another. Under this definition, these 9 people are unquestionably "heros" and may God bless them.

34 posted on 10/17/2001 10:27:26 AM PDT by joebuck
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bttt
35 posted on 10/31/2001 4:13:57 PM PST by JMJ333
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To: JMJ333
Back to the top for more freeper readers.
36 posted on 10/31/2001 4:46:16 PM PST by WillaJohns
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To: Shannon
Thanks for your efforts. Please post progress reports!
37 posted on 10/31/2001 4:57:05 PM PST by buickmackane
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To: Incorrigible
bump to remember
38 posted on 10/31/2001 7:15:25 PM PST by fnord
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To: fnord
another bump to never forget that day.

Mrs Kus

39 posted on 10/31/2001 7:21:57 PM PST by cgk
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To: Incorrigible
There is hope for humanity. Awesome story.Just awesome.
40 posted on 10/31/2001 7:28:35 PM PST by My Favorite Headache
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To: Shannon
thanks for going the extra step. that puts you in the same class as the fellows that got him down. thank you.
41 posted on 10/31/2001 7:34:16 PM PST by scott91
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To: Incorrigible
JFK said, "I am a Berliner."

I say, "I am a New Yorker."

Although I don't live in New York and I never have, I feel that every American that loves this country was a victim of the 9-11 attack.

We are all victims of what happened to our fellow citizens in NYC. The terrorists will learn that you don't mess with our families, friends, and fellow citizens.

Again,"I am a New Yorker."

I will stand and fight with my fellow citizen. The terrorists will learn that you don't mess with America.

42 posted on 10/31/2001 7:50:15 PM PST by boycott
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To: Incorrigible
bump
43 posted on 10/31/2001 8:07:52 PM PST by Shooter 2.5
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To: Shooter 2.5
BTTT
44 posted on 11/02/2001 1:09:25 PM PST by optiguy
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To: All
Bump
45 posted on 03/20/2002 1:14:36 PM PST by Incorrigible
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To: Incorrigible; Pokey78
"I've talked to each of them individually. What do you say, 'Thanks'? What does that mean? I don't know what to say to each of them half of the time," Abruzzo said. "They saved my life. I'm here today because of those guys."

Abruzzo's colleagues say the word "hero" should be reserved for the firefighters and cops they passed on the way down.

Incorrigible, great article! Thanks so much for posting it! Pokey78, do you have a ping list that would appreciate this? I think it's wonderful.

46 posted on 03/20/2002 1:44:05 PM PST by Amelia
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To: Amelia; Howlin; Riley1992; Miss Marple; deport; Dane; sinkspur; steve; LarryLied; kattracks...
WOW! Thaks for the ping.

A Special ping!!

47 posted on 03/20/2002 1:50:27 PM PST by Pokey78
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To: Pokey78
Thanks, Pokey. I needed something inspiring!
48 posted on 03/20/2002 1:53:03 PM PST by Miss Marple
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To: Pokey78
Thx for the ping, pokey. I already knew about this incredible display of courage and loyalty.
49 posted on 03/20/2002 1:59:17 PM PST by beckett
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Comment #50 Removed by Moderator


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