This collection of accounts of the north tower explosion is taken from a JREF forum post by Gravy/ Mark Roberts.
The explosion in the north tower elevator shafts, which damaged several floors, the lobby, and basement levels, was caused by jet fuel. Following are descriptions from several north tower survivors.
George Sleigh, a British-born naval architect, was on the phone in his 91st floor office when he heard the roar of jet engines. Looking out his window, he had time to think just three things: The wheels are up, the underbelly is white, and "man, that guy is low." An American Airlines Boeing 767 was hurtling toward him at 500 mph, loaded with 92 people and 15,000 gallons of jet fuel. The jet exploded into the 93rd through 98th floors of the World Trade Center's north tower with a force equal to 480,000 pounds of TNT. It was 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11.
The walls, the ceiling and bookshelves crumbled. Sleigh, 63, manager of technical consistency at the American Bureau of Shipping, crawled from the rubble. He looked up at exposed steel beams and the concrete underside of the 92nd floor. He didn't know it at the time, but that concrete floor was the bottom of a tomb for more than 1,300 people. Nobody survived on the floors above him. But on his floor and below, an amazing story unfolded: Nearly everyone lived.
The line between life and death that morning was as straight as a steel beam. Everyone on the 92nd floor died. Everyone on the 91st floor lived.
In the Management Office on the 88th floor, the scope of the catastrophe was more evident. John Griffin Jr. and Charlie Magee also thought at first that an electrical substation had blown up. The force of the explosion lifted furnishing into the air. One desk had flown up and landed five feet away. The falling debris and furnishings blocked access to the stairwells. The room began to fill with smoke. John, Charlie and others began to break out windows to get air into the room.
``The explosion on the 86th floor seemed to come from the inside out, rather than the outside in,'' said Mr. Gartenberg, 35, of Manhattan. ``That's why the core of the building is as damaged as it is. The fire door is blocked. It either closed from the force of the explosion or as a fire precaution. The elevators are completely blown out.'
Paul Neal: Almost immediately after the impact, somewhat bizarrely, I smelled an overwhelming stench of aviation fuel, Jet A1 gas, which I recognized because I'm a private pilot and I'm used to airfield environments. I recall smelling it and almost instantly dismissed it as being illogical and didn't have any place in the World Trade Center.
By the time they got to about the 50th floor, United Airlines Flight 175 had slammed into the south tower of the World Trade Center, something he wouldn't know about until later.
Instead, the smell of kerosene was getting stronger and soon he felt people bumping into him as Roselle, Frank and he continued downstairs. The problem was, the people bumping into him were going the wrong way. "I heard applause and was told they were firefighters," he said. "I clapped a few on the back, but I was scared for where they were going."
"I got off [the elevator], turned the corner and opened the door to the ladies' room. I said good morning to a lady sitting at a mirror when the whole building shook. I thought it was an earthquake. Then I heard those banging noises on the other side of the wall. It sounded like someone had cut the elevator cables. It just fell and fell and fell.
I began to cry. "Oh, my God, I just got off that elevator!" I said. "That could have been me." I prayed those other people had gotten off on the 48th floor before the elevator dropped. But I didn't have much time to be upset because the building shook again, this time even more violently. The lady at the mirror grabbed onto me and held on for dear life."
Veliz went down a staircase with a coworker to the concourse level. In the mall, they got onto an up-escalator as the South Tower collapsed, causing a rush of wind which knocked them down. In the pitch black, Veliz and her coworker followed someone carrying a flashlight:
"The flashlight led us into Borders bookstore, up an escalator and out to Church Street. There were explosions going off everywhere. I was convinced that there were bombs planted all over the place and someone was sitting at a control panel pushing detonator buttons. I was afraid to go down Church Street toward Broadway, but I had to do it. I ended up on Vesey Street. There was another explosion. And another. I didn't know where to run."
Note: Loose Change uses the "detonator buttons" quote as if Veliz was describing an event prior to the south tower collapsing, not after.
38th (and 43rd) Floor
On the 38th floor, Joe Shearin exited the elevator and began his walk down the hallway to meet with the tenant who had requested to see him. About 50 feet down the hallway, he heard a loud explosion and was lifted into the air. "I can't even tell you how far I traveled," he recalled. When he landed, people were already coming out of their offices into the hallway. "They were screaming, hollering," he said. "They were asking what they should do and where they should go". Joe directed them down the stairwells and out of the building.
What Joe first believed was that an equipment room on the 43rd floor, which had an electrical substation, had blown up. He proceeded up the 5 floors to that level. Upon reaching the 43rd floor, "there were patches of ceiling that was just down on the floor, water pipes were broken, water was gushing like a brook or river that was just running down the corridor of the machine room". He began yelling to see if anyone was in the room and received no reply.
38th Floor: stairwell blocked by debris
Sure, Livon Neil is one of the lucky ones. He was in the North Tower on September 11, but he survived. He was only on the 38th floor, and well out of there by the time it fell. But while Neil may have escaped unharmed, he is most certainly not unscathed.
After diving under his desk in response to what he thought was an earthquake, the 30-year-old systems analyst (who graduated with a bachelor of science in physiology and human biology in 1994 while attending New College) heard "screaming coming from the elevator shaft, like ladies screaming. And I saw dust coming out, smoke." He ran toward the stairs, only to hear more yelling from below. There seemed to be no way out for anybody. He huddled in the stairway for some 20 minutes, until a phalanx of firefighters – many of them soon to sacrifice their own lives – arrived and opened an exit for him and his group. "While I was coming out," Neil says softly, "it was like a war zone. I looked up and saw a person in mid-air. I looked to my right in the courtyard and there were body parts."
Jen Murawski: "At 8:46am, the 1st plane flew into the north tower, my building. My co-workers and I escaped by descending 30 flights of stairs through jet fuel fumes and water."
25th floor to Lobby
I remember this so clearly. It started as a rumble in our seats, and then grew into vibrations from the ceiling to the floor. It moved the building so much that our desk drawers popped open. We all stood up immediately, but couldn't move. The building was shaking from side to side, and we froze just to keep our balance. My vision was even affected. It was no different than watching some old movie that shook the camera to give the audience a sense of what was happening.
...I thought it was odd that no one was coming into our stairwell from other floors. I assumed that they found other stairwells. … 21, 20, 19 … I could smell something familiar. There it is, my first connection to the outside. I could smell something. What is it? It reminds me of something. Kerosene? It smells like the kerosene heaters my father had 20 years ago in the Poconos. (I never made the connection to jet fuel until later on.)
...Some said they saw bodies fall; some saw debris. 13, 12, Our Father, Hail Mary, 11, 10, "hold it." We hear someone say something about what was going on ahead of us. We keep going; 9, 8, 7, then again, "hold it."
That's when we heard, "there's water down here." Picture the scene. You can only see half a flight below you and half above. If you crane your neck into the center of the stairs, all you can see are dozens of hands. There is still no panic. We are using those ahead of us as scouts, listening to whatever we could. The smell of burning kerosene is getting stronger.
"There's water on 4." 6, 5, there it is. Water is seeping from the bottom of the stairwell door on 4, and beginning to flow down the steps. We get to 3 and it's cascading down the steps. By the time we reach 2, it's a few inches deep. We leave the stairwell onto the concourse. The view was war-like. When we came out of the emergency door, you could see burned debris all over the plaza. I didn't see anything falling, but I still remember the thumping sounds. It wasn't until I met up with a coworker that I realized the thumping was bodies falling.
When we got to 1, the elevator doors were blown out and blackened. These were our first images of what was happening. They led us out the Marriott Hotel lobby. On the floor to our right was a fireman with a woman who was blackened from head to toe, barely alive, if alive at all.
Graphic descriptions of injuries and fatalities follow.
Lobby & 3rd floor
Firefighter Peter Blaich
As we got to the third floor of the B stairway, we forced open an elevator door which was burnt on all three sides. The only thing that was remaining was the hoistway door. And inside the elevator were about I didnt recognize them initially, but a guy from 1 Truck said oh my God, those are people. They were pretty incinerated. And I remember the overpowering smell of kerosene. Thats when Lieutenant Foti said oh, thats the jet fuel. I remember it smelled like if youre camping and you drop a kerosene lamp.
The same thing happened to the elevators in the main lobby. They were basically blown out. I dont recall if I actually saw people in there.
What got me initially in the lobby was that as soon as we went in, all the windows were blown out, and there were one or two burning cars outside. And there were burn victims on the street there, walking around. We walked through this giant blown-out window into the lobby.
There was a lady there screaming that she didnt know how she got burnt. She was just in the lobby and then next thing she knew she was on fire. She was burnt bad. And somebody came over with a fire extinguisher and was putting water on her.
Thats the first thing that got me. That and in front of one of the big elevator banks in the lobby was a desk and I definitely made out one of the corpses to be a security guard because he had a security label on his jacket. Im assuming that maybe he was at a table still in a chair and almost completely incinerated, charred all over his body, definitely dead. And you could make out like a security tag on his jacket. And I remember seeing the table was melted, but he was still fused in the chair and that elevator bank was melted, so I imagine the jet fuel must have blown right down the elevator shaft and I guess caught the security guard at a table, I guess at some type of checkpoint.
Brian Reeves, a 34-year-old security guard, was nearly killed while making the rounds in the lobby of 1 World Trade Center on September 11. He started to run after hearing an explosion that he said sounded like a missile, but he was knocked down by a fireball that roared down the elevator shaft.
Reeves suffered third-degree burns to 40 percent of his body before he was able to pat out the flames. He was one of 20 critically-injured patients rushed to New York Presbyterian’s burn unit that day.
David Kravette, a managing director of Cantor Fitzgerald, the bond trading firm that occupied the upper floors of the North Tower and lost about 700 people, or more than two thirds of its 1,000 U.S.-based employees addressed what he saw in the lobby as the first plane hit. I have provided this quote from the Mercury News New York Bureau since it is the only reference I have seen to the free falling elevators and the fire ball at the lower levels of the tower.
``I saw a couple of elevators in free fall; you could hear them whizzing down and as they crashed, there was this huge explosion, like a fireball exploding out of the bank of elevators,'' Kravette said. ``People were engulfed in flames.''
As he waited for orders, Meldrum, the chauffeur (Fire engine driver), noticed that all windows in the high lobby were blown out. Glass and marble from busted walls littered the floors, crunched underfoot. He caught an occasional whiff of jet fuel, a smell like kerosene, wafting from elevator shafts. On the floor by the elevators he saw burned people.
Firefighter Joseph Casaliggi: We went into the lobby. The lobby actually looked like the plane hit the lobby. From what I understand, I was told afterwards, that a fireball shot down the elevator shaft and blew out all the windows in the lobby and blew out the elevator doors.
For those of you who may not know the story, she was entering the lobby of the North Tower of the World Trade Center when a fireball exploded from the elevator shaft. She and two others managed to run out of the building, all three of them on fire. A passerby across the street ran to them, reaching Lauren first, and put the flames out. He then put Lauren in an ambulance, so she was the first person evacuated. He certainly saved her life.
Mike Pecoraro: "When I walked out into the lobby, it was incredible," he recalled. "The whole lobby was soot and black, elevator doors were missing. The marble was missing off some of the walls. 20-foot section of marble, 20 by 10 foot sections of marble, gone from the walls".
The west windows were all gone. They were missing. These are tremendous windows. They were just gone. Broken glass everywhere, the revolving doors were all broken and their glass was gone. Every sprinkler head was going off. I am thinking to myself, how are these sprinkler heads going off? It takes a lot of heat to set off a sprinkler head. It never dawned on me that there was a giant fireball that came through the air of the lobby. I never knew that until later on. The jet fuel actually came down the elevator shaft, blew off all the (elevator) doors and flames rolled through the lobby. That explained all the burnt people and why everything was sooted in the lobby."
North tower lobby while south tower collapses:
Mike and Arti decided it was time to leave as well. They left the stairwell and re-entered the lobby. As they walked to the exit, they heard a roar and the floor began to shake.
"Banging so hard that we fell down on our knees," he said. "I'm looking south, at the building, Arti's looking at me, we locked eyes and he is screaming at the top of his lungs...I can barely hear this guy. He's screaming, "What the f? is that?", and I am screaming back at him, that I think it's another plane".
In reality, as the two were kneeling in the lobby of 1 World Trade Center, its sister building, 2 World Trade Center, was crashing down upon them.
"The building was just bouncing and bouncing, the floor was bouncing. I figured another plane already hit the building". Mike related. "I'm looking ahead and I see all the windows, either three story tall windows or four story tall windows, 10 feet wide; shatter. All of them broke at the same time. All the glass flew over my head. I'm looking up, on my knees, with my hands on the floor, and I saw all that glass. You're talking glass three inches thick, go right over our heads. I saw that some of the firemen who was standing on the perimeter (mezzanine) was blown right off the top. They just flew over the top. I can't put a number on it, maybe ten. Bunch of firemen were guarding doors there. They got blown off. Don't know where they went. I saw pieces of debris as big as cars go right over my head without stopping. Like a line drive right over my head," he said, raising his hand to indicate an approximate 4 foot level.
"I put my head down, put my hands over my head. I still had gloves in my hand. I put the gloves over my head and there was a wind that came through the revolving doors that blew me 100 feet to the far wall, right by the visitor's desk. The floor was covered with sheetrock (powdered) and water so it was like a soup. It was very slippery".
Concourse: this gives an idea of how large the towers were. The concourse was below the elevator lobby that was hit by the fireball.
I was in the World trade Center headed for a 9:30 meeting on the 72nd floor of Tower One. I was about 15 minutes from getting on the elevator. I was still on the concourse level (ground) when the the first plane hit. There was smoke, but people were calmly walking to the exits. We didn't know what happened. Out side was a kind of surreal atmosphere. Lots of debris. I saw the building on fire, big holes, and then ran for cover. When the second plane hit, I was just below and had just walked into the lobby of a building accross the street from the south side of Tower Two where the plane hit. The noise was incredible. There was a lot of panic in there. I thought I was going to be buried by a falling tower. I held on to the people next to me, they were praying.
Afterwards, I withdrew some money at the HSBC bank and took the escalator downstairs to the main concourse and joined an incredible throng of people. It was 8:45 am, and thousands were coming to work.
I stopped to get a paper and cut diagonally through the crowd, weaving and dodging my way towards the subway station. I had almost reached the Uptown 1 and 9 station when there was an enormous explosion. The building shook. I heard people say, "Oh, no." Some, not many, were screaming.
We all knew at that moment that we were under a terrorist attack. Most of us assumed it was a bomb.
I looked ahead past Banana Republic, past Citibank to the plaza outside. At that moment, there was a terrifying tidal wave of smoke filling the doorway. It began to shoot forward. The smoke had this enormous momentum that started to come towards us, as if it had a will of its own.
We ran. We ran together past the Coach store. We ran to get out of the path of this enormous wave of smoke. It was like we were being chased. All the people on the concourse ran. We turned right, heading toward the PATH trains.
As we ran, shop assistants were calling in doorways, "What happened? What happened?" But we were running so fast we couldn't answer them and they ran with us. Some people were crying; some people were screaming.
We moved as one body. No one pushed and no one shoved. We all had the same intention: to get out of the building.
My normal commute involves taking the PATH train from New Jersey to WTC in New York. I reached WTC around 8:57 am and as soon as the doors opened we were engulfed by some chemical that smelled like kerosene and smoke. Not realizing what had happened I walked up the escalator to the ground floor of the WTC where Police officers were directing all commuters to leave the building as soon as possible. Emerging outside of WTC, it looked like a bomb had exploded because there was debris everywhere, paper, fibre-glass insulation and numerous other office stationary material. In my mind I recalled the bombing from 1993 and thought this was something very similar.
Basement: level unknown
Construction worker Phillip Morelli, a 37-year-old Queens native, loved his seven years of working at the World Trade Center. When he heard the impact of the first airliner striking more than 90 floors above, he thought something big had tipped over in one of the other basement levels just above him.
He encountered smoke and screaming people when he made his way up to the underground parking lot, then started running over to the other tower, the way out from there. He arrived as the second airliner hit, sending the walls crashing down around him.
1st Sub-basement: Philipe David
felipe david, who had been standing in front of a freight elevator on sub level 1:
“That day I was in the basement in sub-level 1 sometime after 8:30am. Everything happened so fast, everything moved so fast. The building started shaking after I heard the explosion below, dust was flying everywhere and all of a sudden it got real hot."
1st Sub-basement: William Rodriguez
But since he was late, Rodriguez found himself checking into work in an office on sub-level 1 when the north tower was hit, seemingly out of harms way. However, the sound and concussion of a massive explosion in the sub-levels right below his feet changed that.
"When I heard the sound of the explosion, the floor beneath my feet vibrated, the walls started cracking and it everything started shaking," said Rodriguez, who was huddled together with at least 14 other people in the office.
Rodriguez said Anthony Saltamachia, supervisor for the American Maintenance Co., was one of the people in the room who stands ready to verify his story.
"Seconds after the first massive explosion below in the basement still rattled the floor, I hear another explosion from way above," said Rodriguez. "Although I was unaware at the time, this was the airplane hitting the tower, it occurred moments after the first explosion."
But before Rodriguez had time to think, co-worker Felipe David stormed into the basement office with severe burns on his face and arms, screaming for help and yelling "explosion! explosion! explosion!"
David had been in front of a nearby freight elevator on sub-level 1 about 400 feet from the office when fire burst out of the elevator shaft, causing his injuries.
"He was burned terribly," said Rodriguez. "The skin was hanging off his hands and arms. His injuries couldn’t have come from the airplane above, but only from a massive explosion below. I don’t care what the government says, what scientists say. I saw a man burned terribly from a fire that was caused from an explosion below.
"I know there were explosives placed below the trade center. I helped a man to safety who is living proof, living proof the government story is a lie and a cover-up.
Here’s how Rodriguez initially described the first sounds:
"We heard a loud rumble, then all of a sudden we heard another rumble like someone moving a whole lot of furniture," Rodriguez said. "and then the elevator opened and a man came into our office and all of his skin was off."
In the taped interview, (Salvatore) Giambanco told Gurisatti, the Colombian reporter:
"We heard the explosion and the smoke all of a sudden came from all over. There was an incredible force of wind that also swept everything away. I remember hearing a scream of a woman, but I couldn't see her. I had just gotten off the elevator and I was standing by it with another man but didn't know his name.
"The doors of the elevator were still open and, I don't know why we did, but we both jumped back in maybe because of the wind whipping everything around in the hallway. "Then, suddenly, the elevator doors closed in front of us and we started going down. It all of a sudden stopped and I could see through the cracks we were between B-2 and B-3. We were both screaming and afraid. I remember seeing through the slot of the elevator and seeing other people running and screaming.
"Then water started gushing in the elevator and I remember saying, 'God, please help us.' At that point, I was resigned to the fact I was going to die"
But like a miracle, Giambanco's plea to God was answered as all of a sudden he heard someone yelling from above, "How many people are down there?"
The miracle above turned out to be Rodriguez who had returned into the WTC after helping David to safety in order to help others after disobeying police orders to remain outside.
"I remember rushing past police, telling them to go to hell as I was going back to help my friends no matter what," recalls Rodriguez about his basement search for survivors before eventually only making his way to the 39th floor before being turned back in a desperate attempt to reach the top floors.
In the basement, Rodriguez managed to find a construction ladder, miraculously lowering it into the elevator after courageously entering the darkened shaft and opening the top hatch on the elevator where Giambanco and the other unidentified man now were standing thigh-deep in water from the broken or activated sprinkler system spewing water into the elevator shaft.
"I don't know he did it, but I felt him just pick me up and pull me out," said Giambanco about Rodriguez's rescue efforts. "I didn't know who he was then, but I do now and he definitely saved my life. If it wasn't for William Rodriguez, I wouldn't be here today."
"For me, William is like my brother. He single handedly saved my life."
In the 2002 taped statement, Sanchez recalls, at the same time Rodriguez and the others heard the explosion, being in a small sub-level 4 workshop with another man who he only knew by the name of Chino when, out of nowhere, the blast sounded as the two men were cutting a piece of metal.
“It sounded like a bomb and the lights went on and off,” said Sanchez in the tape recording. “We started to walk to the exit and a huge ball of fire went through the freight elevator. The hot air from the ball of fire dropped Chino to the floor and my hair got burned,” said Sanchez in the tape recording. “The room then got full of smoke and I remember saying out loud ‘I believe it was a bomb that blew up inside the building.’
Deep below the tower, Mike Pecoraro was suddenly interrupted in his grinding task by a shake on his shoulder from his co-worker. "Did you see that?" he was asked. Mike told him that he had seen nothing. "You didn't see the lights flicker?", his co-worker asked again. "No," Mike responded, but he knew immediately that if the lights had flickered, it could spell trouble. A power surge or interruption could play havoc with the building's equipment. If all the pumps trip out or pulse meters trip, it could make for a very long day bringing the entire center's equipment back on-line.
Mike told his co-worker to call upstairs to their Assistant Chief Engineer and find out if everything was all right. His co-worker made the call and reported back to Mike that he was told that the Assistant Chief did not know what happened but that the whole building seemed to shake and there was a loud explosion. They had been told to stay where they were and "sit tight" until the Assistant Chief got back to them. By this time, however, the room they were working in began to fill with a white smoke. "We smelled kerosene," Mike recalled, "I was thinking maybe a car fire was upstairs", referring to the parking garage located below grade in the tower but above the deep space where they were working.
The two decided to ascend the stairs to the C level, to a small machine shop where Vito Deleo and David Williams were supposed to be working. When the two arrived at the C level, they found the machine shop gone.
"There was nothing there but rubble, "Mike said. "We're talking about a 50 ton hydraulic press ? gone!" [Note: "50-tons" refers to the hydraulic capacity of the press, not to its weight. An average 50-ton press weighs about 650 lbs.] The two began yelling for their co-workers, but there was no answer. They saw a perfect line of smoke streaming through the air. "You could stand here," he said, "and two inches over you couldn't breathe. We couldn't see through the smoke so we started screaming." But there was still no answer.
The two made their way to the parking garage, but found that it, too, was gone. "There were no walls, there was rubble on the floor, and you can't see anything" he said.