Jonathan Judd: 'I just got lucky'
Rescuers, strangers aid attorney's escape
Judd said he was thinking of his baby Jordana -- pictured here on September 15, four days after the attacks and 7 weeks after her birth -- when he fled the World Trade Center.
The following story is one in a series of profiles based on interviews from "Tower Stories," an independent project showcasing first-hand accounts from those directly and indirectly affected by the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States.
(CNN) -- About 12 minutes before 9 a.m., Jonathan Judd was waiting patiently on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center's north tower for an elevator to take him to his office seven floors up.
He boarded an elevator and the car stopped on the 83rd floor, meaning he'd have a few more seconds to wait.
A few seconds later, after the doors opened, the three elevator banks across the corridor from Judd exploded.
"It looked like a fireball. The doors blew off those elevators," he recalled. "There was a 50 percent chance I would have been on that side. You take whichever elevator comes first. I just got lucky."
Judd, a litigation attorney at Ohrenstein and Brown, scrambled into an insurance office on the 83rd floor as the fire continued to blaze by the elevators. A man in the office said he saw an American Airlines jet, Flight 11, "fly directly at the building" a handful of stories up -- leaving few doubts that the World Trade Center had been intentionally attacked, Judd said.
The group tried to reach the emergency exit, but the dark hallways and enveloping smoke forced them back to the office.
"There was no place to go. We were waiting for help. Horrible," said Judd. "Smoke was really pouring in. We were just trying to keep each other calm, trying to figure out what to do if help didn't come. At one point, I was ... shaking uncontrollably."
About a half-hour later, their saviors came -- a New York City firefighter and a Port Authority police officer. Following their flashlight beams, Judd and the others waded through puddles created by the sprinkler system and methodically made their way down the stairs.
"One guy kept putting his arm around me. He kept saying, "Are you OK? Are you OK?" recalled Judd, who later learned the man's name was Fred Eichler. "I told him, 'I just had a baby, so I'm freaked out.' He was incredibly nice."
About 30 floors down, a group of firefighters passed Judd, giving him encouragement that if they could get up, he could get down. The pace and air pressure changed around the 20th floor.
"We heard a loud explosion, a whoosh of air," he said. "You could feel and taste in the air ... all this soot."
Judd and those around him didn't know it, but they were hearing and tasting the effects of the south tower's collapse.
Heavy smoke stalled the exodus on the fifth floor. But after a futile attempt to find another way out, they went down the stairwell in which they'd started to the lobby, which Judd described as a "disaster area."
"Marble broken, glass broken, unrecognizable piles," Judd recounted. "I was wondering how in the world that happened, because if the plane hit the 90th floor, how did the lobby end up looking like this? It looked like a bomb."
With debris falling outside and large beams wavering overhead, Judd followed firefighters' insistent instructions -- "Run! Run! Run!" -- and bolted out a broken window onto the street.
"The (debris on the ground) was six inches thick with white, powdery dust, glass, anything you could imagine," he said. He ran into a restaurant to call his wife, then walked back to the street just in time to see the north tower collapse -- five minutes after he'd left it.
"People started to stampede, like a Godzilla movie, running uptown," said Judd, who feared the building could fall in any direction. "It looked like 'Night of the Living Dead,' zombies walking uptown, all in shock."
Judd found his father at the school where his dad worked about 20 blocks away from the World Trade Center and found himself talking on the phone with concerned friends and relatives for the next six days. He said he is still coming to grips with the deaths of nearly 3,000 people on that late summer day -- especially the rescue workers on the ground, the firefighters in the stairwells and lobbies, the parents who left behind their children and AnnMarie Riccoboni and Valerie Murray, co-workers who died in the attack.
"I have a brand new baby, and I'm very happy to be here to take care of her," Judd, now 38, said. "But I feel so bad for all these other people who had new babies -- now, with no one to care for them."
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