by Leonardo Salvaggio. An Italian translation is available here.
Undicisettembre offers its readers today the personal account of survivor Alan Lindquist who was in the South Tower when the first plane crashed into World Trade Center 1.
We would like to thank Alan Lindquist for his availability and kindness.
Undicisettembre: Can you give us a general account of what you saw and experienced on 9/11?
A buddy of mine named Giovanni came over to me and said “Let’s go grab a quick smoke.” In the towers there were three staging floors, meaning that there were elevators which would take you there without any interruptions or stop. So we got in an elevator at the 64th floor, changed elevator at the 48th floor and went all the way down. I had just walked outside and I heard a plane approaching very rapidly. Planes do fly over Manhattan, but this one was much louder. I looked up in the sky to look at the plane and then I looked at a guy walking across the street right in front of me and all of a sudden he said “Get the fuck inside” and motioned with his hand to get inside.
I don’t recall the sound of the plane impacting Tower 1; obviously I heard it, I just don’t remember it. So I was looking at the guy who motioned me to get inside and ten feet to the side of him a cross section of one of the jet engines fell in the street. There were flames coming off of it; I looked at it and said “What is that?” Debris was coming down and I remember two women screaming across the street, I looked at them and they started running. There was another woman walking and a window came down and hit her, she died from that impact immediately.
That moment I finally woke up and I thought “I might die right now, whatever it’s going on, I might die.” The debris was coming down too intensely so my instinct was to go back inside the tower. Everyone rushed towards the revolving door that I was nearest to, some guy’s leg got stuck in the turnstile and the door wouldn’t turn. For twenty or twenty five seconds I was the farthest guy out of the protection of the building, the door was not turning and I tried to say a prayer of absolution but I couldn’t formulate a prayer in my head, I just couldn’t.
I yelled at the guy in front of me “Turn that fucking door” even though he wasn’t in the door. I looked at the guy in front of me, who was taller than me, and thought “Focus on the guy’s neck and don’t look up”. Those twenty five seconds were like an eternity and after that time someone in the turnstile said “Everybody, stop pushing and back up, there’s a guy’s leg stuck and the door is not going to turn unless we get the guy’s leg unstuck.”
I convinced myself to take a six inches step backwards, it sounds so small but I can’t explain how hard it was. The door started turning, I got inside the building, I found the buddy I wanted to have a cigarette with, he and a few people from Morgan Stanley were gathered in a circle and he had a cellphone in his hand but he was shaking so intensely he was disturbing to look at. He said “We need to call back upstairs and see if everyone is okay, but what’s the number?” and than he said “We need to go back upstairs”
I had an aunt who had died of breast cancer five years before and I kind of felt her presence there and I felt the need to leave the building.
The Port Authority came over the PA system of the building and said “We had an emergency in Tower 1, we need to keep the area clear for EMS, please stay in your places of business.”. I told the group “Listen, whatever is going on Morgan Stanley has an evacuation policy, so let’s not go back upstairs. If anyone get separated, let’s meet in Midtown Manhattan.” We agreed on a place to meet and we made our way to the exits of Tower 2. It took about fifteen minutes to exit because it was obviously a very big building. At the center of the building there was the subway system but no one wanted to take it to get out of there.
There was an odor in the air, a strange smell that I can’t translate to my brain but it was a mixture of fire, jet fuel and this sort of things. I knew something was going on, I just didn’t know what.
I got to the exit and run about 75 yards, I turned around and started looking up at Tower 1: there were floors on fire, smoke coming out and papers coming down. As I was watching I saw an object coming down a lot quicker and I knew it was probably a person. Halfway down I could tell you it was a woman with a navy blue skirt and a white long sleeved shirt. I watched her all the way down and I saw the impact, she hit the ground and I couldn’t believe what I saw. I turned to walk away and to my right were two construction workers, the one farther away said “They are jumping out like flies”, I looked back up and out of one room they were just coming out. I said to myself “I’m not going to watch this”.
I turned again up the street and started walking. I was on the right side of the street and Giovanni was on the left side, he was still looking back at Tower 1. He was twenty feet in front of me and he turned flash white in a second, he yelled “RUN!”. I tried to run with my business shoes on, but I had no traction on my feet. The second plane impacted and I started tripping, maybe because of the sound of the impact, the whole way down the street I was tripping. There was a hot flash on the back of my neck. Your brain works so quickly in combat situations, and this was a war situation, and I thought it was a bomb. I fell while thinking this stuff, my hands hit the ground, I got back up and started running for maybe a mile and a half at full speed.
As I was maybe three hundred yards away from the Tower one of the wheels sections of one of the planes was on the corner of a street, there was a guy standing there who was keeping people away, he said “This is a crime scene, everyone stay away from this!”
Finally I had to stop and the dryness in my throat was such that I was dry into my stomach; I can’t explain this because it only happened once in my life, there was no liquid in my esophagus, I couldn’t catch my breath, it was very weird. I sat there for maybe five minutes with my hands on my knees trying to catch my breath. I finally caught it but I had to start running again, all the way out to the Interstate 495. I jumped in front of a taxi, made it stop and said “Take me to Midtown Manhattan”. He said “I’m going to Brooklyn” and I said “No, you are taking me to Midtown Manhattan right now.” So I went on the expressway and to my left I looked at the towers and I said to the guy “What’s happening to them? What’s going on?” and he goes “You don’t know? Two planes hit the Towers.” I said “I was working in there” and he said “You need to thank Allah right now.”
He drove me to Midtown and I was the first guy to arrive to the meeting place I discussed with my colleagues at Morgan Stanley. I went into a bar and ordered a shot of Jager, I was watching the TV, took the shot and my hands were shaking and I thought “Why am I drinking this? What’s wrong with me? Am I an alcoholic?” Then I looked at a table with three women and they were talking to each other as if it was a regular day and it was so strange I thought “What the fuck is going on today?”
Twenty minutes after that, my tower collapsed, which was the first tower to fall, and still none of the people I’ve been with were there and I thought “My God, everyone died!”.
After both tower collapsed I found out they survived, as pretty much everyone else from Morgan Stanley, who was the largest employer in the World Trade Center. We had an evacuation policy and the only people that died at Morgan Stanley were in the security and they volunteered to stay behind and help.
Undicisettembre: When did you go home?
Alan Lindquist: Later that night. We stayed out drinking basically the all day. That night a bomb sniffing dog positively reacted to a suspicious package at the Empire State Building at one of the top floors. I was watching the news - I had studied biochemistry and microbiology at university - and heard about that and I was so freaked out I said “Ok, listen, if that’s a biological or chemical weapon we’re dead.” and we were so close to it that out of the window I could see the Empire State Building.
I literally wanted to swim the river and get out of Manhattan but everyone convince me to settle down because maybe I was a little too drunk and scared. I was in Manhattan for about three days and then drove all the way to Phoenix that was my hometown.
Undicisettembre: When and how did you restart working after 9/11?
Alan Lindquist: Morgan Stanley was a wonderful employer, when you needed time they gave you time to gather yourself together, but eventually I left Morgan Stanely because I was a little too disturbed. It took me six months to stop medicating, I was drinking everyday till eventually I got in touch with a Vietnam veteran who ended up being my counselor and he told me I had to treat it as an event of power in my life because I would have said for the rest of my live “I’m a 9/11 survivor” and that made it a little bit more manageable for me.
Undicisettembre: How does 9/11 affect your everyday life even today?
Alan Lindquist: For me it has become a thing of power; it’s a gift in the sense that you understand that your days on this Earth are limited and you have no control on it. When you realize it, it gives you freedom in a sense. Each day is a gift, make the most of it as you would.
It still affects me because when we get close to 9/11 I still get nightmares. I don’t always cry or get emotional when I tell someone the story of 9/11, but sometimes I get stirred up and it becomes a little bit more crisp in my memory, as it did today.
Undicisettembre: What do you think of conspiracy theories according to which 9/11 was an inside job?
Alan Lindquist: These people are carpetbaggers, they are peddling to make money. The plain and simple explanation is what you saw on TV is what happened. Why the buildings collapsed is the trusses got so hot they folded in and like a deck of cards they fell down. It’s that simple.
Undicisettembre: How would you compare the crisis after 9/11 with the COVID-19 crisis the country is living now?
Alan Lindquist: There are similarities among any drastic events in how they affect the nation; but 9/11 unified anyone, not just in the United States but anyone in the world. In New York it was like every person was your friend or even family. On the contrary COVID is much more individualistic, people don’t want to be told what to do, countries do different things, so there’s no unification worldwide even if everyone is experiencing the same thing because everyone has a different opinion on how to handle it.
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