9/11 Survivor Shares Story of Escape with Students

Earl Johnson, a survivor of the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, spoke to students at Saint Mary's on Sept. 9In honor of the victims of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Saint Mary's Republican Club invited Earl Johnson, a survivor of the attack on the World Trade Center, to speak on Sept. 9.

Describing his escape from the 51st floor of the North Tower, Johnson emphasized the goodness of strangers who reached out that day.

"One of the most amazing things I would probably have the chance to witness was people, strangers, just reached out," Johnson told an audience of more than 100 people at the Soda Center. "You saw fear born in people and then you saw the best in people push that fear back, and that is not something you can see every day."

Johnson and colleagues in his electrical software company were preparing for a presentation in the World Trade Center on the morning of Sept. 11, 2001 when two airplanes smashed into the towers and destroyed them, killing more than 2,700 people.

"All of a sudden there was an explosion and a shaking of the building that literally picked me off the floor and threw me into the white board," Johnson said.

Without any conversation, Johnson and his coworkers began exiting the building. Another explosion occurred while they were in the stairwell, sending a shockwave through the building's concrete walls. As jet fuel fumes began filling the air, people removed their clothing and used it as masks.

"You could hear people breathing and I remember distinctly telling myself, ‘Don't slip in here, because you need to make it all the way down and if you twist your ankle, it will be very difficult,'" Johnson said.

A New York City firefighter heading up the stairwell to rescue people trapped in the building assured Johnson and others around him that they would make it out alive.

"This was the genesis of hope that we were going to get out and that was the essence of the gift they gave on that day," said Johnson.

Sacrifices made by emergency personnel in the World Trade Center rescue effort still remain with Johnson, who after 9/11 worked as a volunteer fire commissioner.

"Where do we get people like that?" Johnson asked. "The same places we would get these people to serve in our armed forces for our country. All across the country, there are people willing to stand up and sacrifice their lives."

He urged the audience to always remember what happened on Sept. 11.

"Have you forgotten how it felt that day to see your homeland under fire and her people blown away? Have you forgotten when those towers fell, we had neighbors still inside going through a living hell? I was one of the very lucky ones."

Several members of the audience were affected by Johnson's story of survival.

"I thought the best line of the talk was when he said that how during 9/11 he saw the best of mankind meeting the most evil part of mankind," said SMC Republicans President Scott Cullinane. "You contrast the evil of the terrorists versus the first responders and the sacrifice they made. I don't know how you can't be moved by that."

--Waioli Shannon '09

Office of College Communications

Photos by Gorbachev Lingad '10