WTC3: An Interview with Survivor Patrick Anderson

by Hammer. An Italian translation in available here.

On 9/11/2001, the last day of the annual NABE conference was scheduled to take place at World Trade Center 3, the hotel between the Twin Towers; the participants came from all over the USA and even from foreign countries.

Patrick Anderson, CEO of Michigan-based Anderson Economic Group, was in New York to attend the conference, and so became a witness to the most terrible terrorist attack in history. Anderson agreed to tell his story to Undicisettembre to keep the memory of what happened alive.

We offer to our readers the interview that Patrick Anderson, who we would like to thank for his kindness and willingness to help, gave us.

Undicisettembre: Can you give us a brief account of what you saw and experienced? What do you remember, generally speaking?

Patrick Anderson: I was in New York for a conference of economists. We had a group of people from around the country and the conference was held at the World Trade Center Marriott, the hotel in between the two giant towers. It was a skyscraper by itself, but obviously it was dwarfed by the Towers. We were a low budget convention, so had our meetings at one of the lower floors, and as far as I know everyone who was at our conference came out alive.

Anyway, the day before 9/11 I had a wonderful dinner with a friend of mine and I came back at about midnight. I remember thinking: “What a beautiful day and what a beautiful night”, lights were on and I was in New York City. I had also been to Little Italy on Saturday night, we walked down the streets and I really enjoyed the Italian-American culture there. Somehow I felt hungry and I though to myself: “How can you feel hungry after this big meal you had?”, but since it was New York City even if it was midnight I could go out to get something to eat. The morning after, normally, I would have gone to breakfast and then to work out on the top floor of World Trade Center 3, but since I ate at midnight I wasn't hungry so I went to work out first. And it was that decision that put me to the top floor before the plane hit, and down below after. If it had been the reverse, I probably wouldn't be having this conversation with you right now.

So I went up and I did a workout on the last floor, the 22nd, and I was having this beautiful view of New York and the harbor. I could hear people talking about what a beautiful day it was, it was just a gorgeous day: sunlight, the harbor, Statue of Liberty. New York City is just beautiful! I remember being up there, working out and then looking for the stairs because I said to myself: “Why should I look for an elevator while I'm trying to exercise?” But I couldn't find the stairs, so I took the elevator down at 8:30. So about 15 or 20 minutes before the plane hit I came down from the top floor.

I went in my room, I took a shower and all of a sudden the whole building moved. And there was this terrible sound like dozens of file cabinets full of china plates falling, that's what it sounded like. The whole building moved and I thought: “What could that possibly be?” I had a bad, bad feeling. I went and I looked outside and I saw that there were already dead bodies and cars that were smashed and there were things falling, like pieces of buildings. I looked down and I could not figure out why there was this burning debris on the ground, and I was trying to figure what had happened. I saw people on the ground looking up with their mouths open and they had this horror on their faces. I didn't know what it was, and if you think about it, before that day we had no history of planes flying into buildings, so my mind went to: 'Maybe there is a construction crane that fell, maybe something different happened.'” but I'd never have thought of a plane.

Then I started to get dressed, but I wasn't in a hurry because I didn't quite know what had happened. They made an announcement: “Please, stay in your room.” It actually made sense to me because I knew there were dead people outside and things were falling and it seemed safer to stay in your room. So I got dressed and I had this feeling of doom, something very, very bad. I called my house and I left this message saying: “Something bad happened, I don't know what. I'll call back later.” That was the last phone call I was able to make for hours, because after the South Tower came down no one was able to make phone calls for a while. It was maybe ten minutes to nine.

Someone came running screaming down the hallway: “Everybody out! Everybody out!” I remember looking out of the door and saying: “Everybody out? I thought it was 'Everybody in'!” I had this feeling like: “I have to go!”, I didn't even have my shoes on. I looked around the room and thought: “What here in this room is worth risking your life for?” because I had a laptop and I had bought presents. It was the only time in my life I've ever bought Christmas presents in September, they were already wrapped. I'm a man, so I don't usually buy Christmas presents that early!

I looked and I said again “I have to leave now, what here is worth risking my life to take?” because any second that I spent I was delaying my escape. I decided there was nothing in the room that I wanted to take, other than what I needed to just live on the street for the next 24 hours, if I needed to, so I took my wallet, my cell phone and my pocket knife.

So I started to put my shoes on and tie them and I felt a touch on my shoulder like from an angel and I thought: “That means I need to run right now”. So I ran out of the door with just one shoe on and I got down in the stairway and there were all these people coming down but no one knew what had happened, they were all confused.

People had reports of what had happened: “A small plane ran into the Tower”, “You mean a Cessna?”, “Yes, a Cessna ran into the Tower”. We were all going down the stairways, and we reached the second floor where there was a merging of people coming from the three buildings. There was a circular staircase going down, and I remember there was this lady who had a white suitcase, and she was hyperventilating. I though she was going to fall over dead, right there. I took the suitcase from her hand and I said: “Come on, let's just walk out of here, I'll carry this for you.” I didn't know how bad it was yet. When we arrived downstairs I gave her the suitcase back, and then I saw the scene. It was like the deck of the Titanic when it starts to sink. There were people dead, you knew people were dying because you saw things falling outside. There were firemen there who were yelling at us and telling to go south. Now I realize that they told us to go south because if we had gone north we would have been more likely to be hit by people falling or debris.

There was a very tall guy, and a woman fell over, right on the ground; the guy picked her right over his shoulder and yelled: “Gangway!” and carried her out, then he came back. I think I know who the guy was and he didn't make it out alive.

We all massed to get out at the south end, and there was this incredible scene, because things were falling, and when it was your turn to run you wouldn't know whether anything might hit you. When it was my turn to run, it was about six minutes to nine, I started running south but we still didn't know how bad it was, and I said to myself not to look back until I was some 25 yards away. Then I looked back and I saw this enormous hole in the World Trade Center with flames coming out. I said: “Oh my God, this is not a Cessna. This is a disaster. This is terrible.” Then I heard this sound and I looked up and it was the second plane, it was coming right over my head. I said: “How can that plane be right there? That plane will go right into the building!” I had this moment of horror that everyone else had when we realized they were trying to fly that plane into the building. That it was on purpose, that they were trying to murder all these people.

It was shocking, just the idea of trying to kill yourself and everyone on the plane and everyone in the building and everybody else around. The shock hit me and I went in full survival mode. I calculated that the building would fall over and if it fell over I'd be dead. There was nothing I could do from where I was. I decided I would turn right and I figured I had five seconds before the debris from the plane hitting the building hit the ground. I ran across West Highway. I counted in my head five seconds and I arrived at a garbage truck. I went under the truck, and underneath that truck there were two other guys, I think they were the people running the truck. The truck was on, the engine was on and we were huddled under the truck. Across the street debris was falling. I starting praying for myself and for the two other guys, I didn't know who they were. I prayed one whole “Our Father” and I remember saying: “God, save me and these other two guys too.”

Then I thought: “If the building had fallen I'd be dead now. So it hadn't fallen yet and I had better run.” I didn't know the building was going to fall, but I was convinced it was. So I got up and ran, and I got to the Plaza on the other side of the World Financial Center, and that's where I stopped. It was, like, five minutes after nine. And all this horror has occurred in less than twenty minutes. All the people coming out of the buildings and the subway tunnel gathered there, and they saw what you'd have seen on TV, except that it was right in front of us: buildings on fire, and the most awful thing was seeing people jumping down of it.

I was looking at this all and I said: “Oh, my God. The world has changed. This is a moment of evil that is hard to comprehend.”

Some of the Port Authority policemen said: “Come on, you have to get out of here.” and we did, because if the building had came down debris would have covered the whole area. So I started walking north and I remember, after walking a few blocks, that I heard this rumble and the first tower came down. It was just awful, because you knew all those people in that moment were dying. Right after that I was passing by Stuyvesant High School, and a security guard motioned for us to come inside, and I think that's how I missed the dust cloud. In the school it was senior picture day, and there were still people three or four blocks away from the World Trade Center having a picture taken. It was just surreal. I was a refugee, I wasn't covered with dust because I had escaped but I must have had shock on my face. I leaned against the wall and thought about how bad the world was, and that my family probably thought I was dead.

Then came the principal of the school and said “We are closing the school.” There were rumors that there were snipers and that there were bombs, and finally they decided to evacuate the school.

So we started walking North, and there was a sea of people walking, and all the buildings started emptying out the people. Folks were standing by, they would open the doors and turn on the radios, that's how we heard about the plane which ran into the Pentagon, and the one that went down in Pennsylvania.

People were comparing it with Pearl Harbor. It was a terrible moment. We kept walking to midtown, and I went into a building where there were other people who were working for a photographer's studio. No one said anything, I walked in and it was like I was a ghost. If you were coming from the World Trade Center you were like a ghost. I tried to call my house but phones were not working.

It was 14:15 when I got a phone which worked. I left a message from my mother to tell her I was alive. I didn't even know if my mother had an idea what was going on.

I called my office and my secretary said: “God laid it on my heart that you were alive, so I made arrangements for you.” She told me where to go, she told me to go to a friend's office.

He was there, he greeted me. There was a coworker of mine who was in the building, and I was supposed to meet him at nine. I didn't know if he was alive or not. Fortunately he was there, so we greeted each other. Then, eventually, I was able to talk to my wife, to tell her I was alive. She hadn't known if I was alive or dead for five hours. That was terrible.

After that my friend took me and my coworker to his house, out of the city, and we stayed there for three days. I remember we got on a train from Grand Central Station and went out and no one spoke.

We arrived in Rye, New York, that was where we were staying for the night. People would come out on the side of the streets, waiting for their loved ones to come back, and already some of them knew someone who wasn’t coming back. That was really tough to watch.

The next day I went for a walk in Rye, and I was barefoot, because I only had the shoes I had with me, and I almost had blisters from walking so much. I just had the clothes I was wearing, and I went to a store and bought some Birkenstocks, that I still have. I went to an optometrist and I bought some contact lenses, I also bought all that I needed to remain there for the rest of the week.

It was Friday when I found a car to rent, and I was able to get home, and I eventually saw my family. Since then I think about it every day, in particular I think about the people that sacrificed themselves, like the policemen and the firemen who were in the lobbies of the building to make sure everyone got out, and the building came down on them. I feel very indebted to them.

My coworker who was there with me and I, together with another friend, founded a memorial foundation that remembers people: "Michigan Remember 9/11". Even if Michigan is not close to New York, we had more than twenty people dead on that day, and we had a lot of volunteers who went there to help. Last year for the tenth anniversary we had a special ceremony at the State Capitol and I was able to speak about the courage of these people that saved us, and about the fact that the terrorists didn't win. They killed a lot of people, but they didn't win. We are still here, we didn't give up our values.

I hope it's something people around the world won't forget, and I'm happy that you in Italy are remembering that, and recording it for history, because I don't want people ten or twenty years from now to confuse what happened with something else. What happened is that these people thought they could make America or the Western World cower by killing people. They succeeded in killing people and that is terrible. But the Free World weren’t cowed: we fought back. We didn't give up, and reasserted what we believed in. And that makes me very happy.

Undicisettembre: There's a small detail in your story that I'd like to stress. You said you had a pocket knife with you. Since you went to New York from Michigan by plane, did you take your pocket knife with you on the plane?

Patrick Anderson: Yes, it was in my pocket. I used to be a boy scout, an eagle scout actually, so I still have that “be prepared” spirit, and I always bring with me my folding pocket knife. I also have it with me now, in my pocket. It's pretty small, like a pinky finger folded.

Undicisettembre: This is very interesting, because it shows that back in 2001 security on airplanes in the US wasn't as strict as it is now.

Patrick Anderson: I think back then the standard practice, if you had a hijacking, was not to try to fight with the hijackers, and that's what happened on the first three planes. On the contrary, the people on the fourth plane heard what had happened, and they said: “We are not going to die as part of a missile aimed at killing others. If we have to die, we'll die fighting.” So they fought back against the hijackers, but then they all died on the plane. And those are heroes too.

Undicisettembre: How did 9/11 affect your everyday life?

Patrick Anderson: It had affected every single day since then. There is not a day that goes by that I don't think about that. It has definitely changed me. It's a lot easier for me to be happy with friends, family and people I love. It's also easier for me to cherish things that are valuable and longstanding. It's easier for me to understand you should have values in your life, and that you should live to a moral code. You should have a reason, it's more than just having money and success. You should also value other people and the time you have with your kids, your family and your friends. And that means so much more than just having some money.

I'm not saying I'm a perfect individual, I wasn't then and I'm not now. But facing death that way is something - I'm not going to say that I'm thankful for it - but it's something that gave me a lesson I'm thankful for. I don't wish that experience on anyone, and I wish it never happened to the world, and to the USA, but people who were there gained a level of understanding about life, or at least they had a chance to.

Certainly I feel like I look at life in a better way now that I did before.

Undicisettembre: What do you think about conspiracy theories that claim 9/11 was an inside job?

Patrick Anderson: If you were there, you knew there's no conspiracy. We know exactly what happened: there was a group of terrorists that though they could twist Islam in a way to make people fly planes into buildings to kill the great Satan, or something like that. Osama bin Laden and his group were the head of that, and we know that. We know the names of the people who did it, where they are from. If you look back you understand it's a part of something that goes back to the bombing in the World Trade Center in 1993, and the attack on the USS Cole, and afterwards also the bombings in Madrid, and London. There are people who want to use terror and are willing to kill people, and somehow they think it's a glorious thing. They were the perpetrators of this.

Believing there were explosives is just ridiculous. America is a free country and I'm glad people can express their ideas, it doesn't mean I have to believe them.

Undicisettembre: Do you feel like the nation is still living in fear, or has it regained its standing in the world?

Patrick Anderson: There's definitely some fear about terrorism in the United States, and elsewhere too. But I don't feel like the USA ever lost their standing in the world. I think the rest of the world admired and felt sympathy for the USA, the same way as we feel sympathy when others face misfortune. America was challenged; 3000 people died in a few hours; buildings came down, and it was terrible. It exposed all the flaws in our security system, we allowed these people to train right in the United States. But America was not cowed, America stood tall and took on the terrorists.

You can of course question if we used the best strategy, and if we took the right decisions over the last ten years, but the biggest decision taken was to confront evil. Not give in. We did not say: “Okay, you are going to hold us hostage forever.” Once you do that, you give up God-given freedom. But you should never give it up, not to terrorists, not to despots, not to tyrants, not to laziness. You should never, never, never give up freedom.

Undicisettembre: Would you like to tell us something more about your organization “Michigan Remembers 9/11”?

Patrick Anderson: “Michigan Remembers 9/11” was started by me with one other survivor, and another of our friends here at Andersen Economic Group, and our goal is to remember people that died, and remember heroes. We have a website: michiganremembers.org

We also highlight events where people are remembering. With the money we received from donations, last year we were able to organize a number of events in and around Michigan. We did some this year too.

Anyway, as I said, we have a website where people can go to learn about our organization, and it's my hope that what we do, like what you do in Italy, will help people have an idea what that event meant at the time to the people that were there. It will be harder in the future for people to twist what happened because we are speaking frankly and simultaneously about what we did and why.

Nessun commento: