It had actually happened. We had talked about it long ago and so it all made perfect sense. It was very early in the morning in Los Angeles when my mother called to tell me that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. I was shocked and told her that my coworkers and I had talked about the possibility. But we never really thought it would happen.
Working at the World Trade Center was a wonderful experience. Having moved from Houston to NYC in the fall of 1990, I was pleased to get a job at 2 World Trade Center working for Dean Witter. The commute was easy for me. From my apartment in midtown Manhattan, it was a quick walk to the 1/9 subway stop. Then a 30-minute train ride after which I would disembark at the basement train station of 2 WTC. Although the building was about 20 years old, the WTC had the feel of an ultra-modern office complex.
Once in the building, getting to the 62nd floor would take some effort. There were escalators to the first set of elevators that whisked you to the 44th floor. My recollection about 44 is a café located there that would often serve as a good lunch option for those of us working in the building. I switched elevator banks on 44 and continued up to 62.
During my first few days there, I was a bit leery about working up so high. Even though I don’t have any problem with heights, this was a bit more than that. But once I was there, everything felt fine. All of the exterior walls were glass which accorded us a clear view of New York harbor, the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and far into New Jersey. You could see weather patterns forming in the distance. Simply put, the views were spectacular.
One of the more nerve-wracking things being on such a high floor is that during high winds the building would sway. And not a little. It would sway a lot. It was noticeable enough that we would comment on it as we worked and a walk down the hallway could lead to vertigo. But you knew the building was designed to do that and you had to have faith in the engineers.
My strongest memory given what ultimately happened was one particular occasion when we were working in a large conference room. Looking out the tall windows, we could see airplanes flying below our floor. That is how high up we were... planes were flying lower than our offices! These were not commercial airplanes, but rather small planes used for sightseeing or personal aircrafts. I don’t believe commercial planes were allowed to fly as close to the NYC skyline as were these small planes.
On this one day, my cohorts and I were sifting through stacks of paperwork and watching the planes flying below, when we started to ponder... what if a plane were to fly into our conference room? Then all of our work would be blown into the world and we could start anew. Just idle chit-chat to pass the time as we worked. Little did we know.
My job at Dean Witter was enjoyable and I worked with some very nice, smart, talented people. The things I learned during my time there was extremely valuable to me. But I made a decision to leave in mid-February 1993 to take another job. About one week later, the first terrorist attack on the WTC occurred. My family, not knowing that I had switched jobs, was calling me out of concern even before I knew the attack had happened. Up on the 62nd floor my former co-workers were being evacuated through the stairwells. One of them was very pregnant at the time. Watching the TV news coverage about the attack, they were some of the ones who were shown with their faces covered with soot.
That first terrorist attack in 1993 was poorly planned. Six people lost their lives because of the attack that day, which was bad enough but far fewer than the thousands the terrorists had envisioned. But that 1993 attack would ultimately save hundreds of lives during the second attack in 2001.
Back to my apartment in Los Angeles, I assured my mother that the plane strike into the tower was most certainly an accident, thinking of the scenario we had discussed way back then. Of course, after the second tower was attacked there was no remaining doubt as to what was happening.
At Dean Witter, after the first plane hit the 1 WTC building, many inside of 2 WTC, including my friends on the 62nd floor, started to evacuate. The security guards tried to stop them and told them that the incident on the other tower would not affect our building. But having lived through the first attack in 1993, they and many others continued past the guards and disregarded 911 operator instructions telling them to stay put. They made their way safely outside of the building. Because of their decisions to act that morning, the number of deaths in 2 WTC numbered fewer than half of those suffered in the first building attack.
While I was (and am) relieved that everyone in my old group survived the attacks, the sorrow for that day will never go away. My joy of airplanes and of flying in general is completely gone. But from the devastation, buildings and lives have been rebuilt. I am proud of the resolve and resiliency of our nation and our economy, and that in the end our way of life has triumphed.
Johnny McNally is Grimes County’s Best Dressed Businessman advocating for Grimes County.