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CNN LIVE EVENT/SPECIAL

News Conference with Port Authority Policeman Who Survived WTC Disaster

Aired January 17, 2002 - 10:34   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
DARYN KAGAN, CNN ANCHOR: We're expecting to hear a survivor's story today from a man who lived through the World Trade Center attacks. Port Authority policeman Sergeant John McLoughlin will be released from the hospital today. He's expected to hold a news conference. When that happens, we will bring it to you live.

Meanwhile, let's get more information about what's happening at the World Trade Center.

And for that, let's bring in our Michael Okwu, who is standing by the New York bureau. You're not actually at the news conference, but I'm sure you'll be listening in with us with great interest since you covered much of that story.

MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, Daryn. It's an unbelievable story. And we expect to hear more of that unbelievable story later this morning. He truly is a survivor, the last person rescued alive from the World Trade Center. Port Authority sergeant John McLoughlin was trapped for 22 hours in a tiny crawl space, 50 feet beneath the rubble. He was twisted in a ball, pinned basically under a pile of concrete with another Port Authority police officer. Now they kept each other awake until rescuers heard their screams, and then it took eight hours for the rescuers to painstakingly pull the rubble around them away by hand.

You will probably see Sergeant McLoughlin in wheelchair today. Miraculously, he didn't break any bones, but he had to undergo 20 surgeries to repair and remove heavily damaged tissues in his legs and his pelvis. Doctors even put him in a medicated coma for 3-4 weeks because he was in so much pain. He can walk for only a few minutes every day. Doctors expect him to make a full recovery with the help of more physical therapy. He's going to be a patient, essentially an outpatient.

I think we have graphic of the latest numbers from the World Trade Center, some 2,889 people died, 37 were from the Port Authority police. Some 3 percent of their total force -- I guess we don't have the graphic.

One more thing...

KAGAN: There you go. OKWU: There's the graphic. You can see, essentially, the breakdown there. You can see 2,889 people died in the World Trade Center. One more thing about Sergeant McLoughlin. He is 48 years old. He's a husband and a father of four. And he's a 21-year-old veteran of the police force. And in 1991, during the first attack on the World Trade Center, you should know, Daryn, he apparently threw himself in a gaping hole to shield others from the impact of the blast.

KAGAN: So even before this, he was a hero.

OKWU: That's right, even before this, he was a hero. And we should mention another hero, there was another police officer I told you of the Port Authority, which as you know, in this story has been a really unsung part of this entire story. We've heard about the firefighters. We've heard about the police officers from the New York City Police Department who were put their lives on the line that day, and about seven of them died.

KAGAN: Michael, I just want to interrupt you, because we are putting the picture up. We an see Sergeant McLoughlin wheeling his way into the news conference, and it looks like he has one of his kids going for a free ride there, on his lap.

OKWU: There she is. Having a free ride, and apparently we are told, again, that in some days after, possibly some weeks after, with the help of physical therapy, he will be able to carry his daughter, not only carry around on wheelchair.

KAGAN: I think the doctors are speaking, so why don't we go ahead and listen in and we'll talk afterwards.

DR. JOHN PELLICONE, HELEN HAYES HOSPITAL: Good morning.

At the time of his rescue from the September 11th disaster, Sergeant McLoughlin was transported to Bellevue hospital. At the time, he was diagnosed with severe crush injuries to the muscle, skin and soft tissues of both legs. Fortunately, he had suffered no significant bone or spinal cord injuries. During his time at Bellevue, he underwent multiple plastic surgery procedures in an attempt to correct and heal these crush injuries. His course there was complicated by kidney failure and temporary respiratory failure, requiring time on a respirator machine.

His medical issues requiring the kidneys and lungs fortunately resolved, and he was moved to Helen Hayes Hospital on November 29th for ongoing rehabilitation. At the time of arrival here, he was barely able to sit up right at the edge of the bed, having become so significantly deconditioned and weakened by his stay in the critical care units.

Here at Helen Hayes Hospital under the care of Dr. Ino Carono (ph) and her team of therapists and nurses, Sergeant McLoughlin embarked upon a rigorous program on occupational therapy in an attempt to return him to normal function. I'm happy to say that now, as he's about to go home, he's able to walk our hallways with a walker. Both his kidney function and lung function have returned to normal, and the plans now for his after care are to return to Helen Hayes very special program known as our "day hospital."

And clearly is considered one of our major successes. Bear in mind that success such as this is not accomplished without the extremely hard work on the part of the patient, and Sergeant McLoughlin has certainly been an excellent rehab patient and candidate.

I'll turn it over now to deputy chief Karen.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you, doctor.

Since September 11th, our department had many sad and rough days, but nothing compared or was similar to what John had to go through, and I would like to take this opportunity to tell John that he has always been in all of our hearts and our prayers and I have to tell you today it is indeed an honor for me to be here today to represent all the members of the Port Authority police, to see one of our heroes going home.

And I also would like to take this opportunity to thank Helen Hays Hospital, its staff, his doctors to make all this possible.

Thank you.

QUESTION: Who is the lucky person of your left?

JOHN MCLOUGHLIN, PORT AUTHORITY POLICE: Can you hold this?

This is my daughter, Erin.

Can you say hi, Erin?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Hello.

QUESTION: Sergeant, what are your first thoughts coming out knowing this is the day you go home?

MCLOUGHLIN: I'm looking forward to it. After 4 1/2 months being hospitalized, getting back into the real world is a good opportunity for me. It's time I have to started a advancing, and the only way I can do that is to start doing things with my family, and I've already got my schedule for tonight, tomorrow night, and I'll find out later on what the weekend has planned. But I'm jumping in with both feet, and getting back into what I did before I was injured. Tonight's Boy Scouts. Tomorrow night is dinner with wife and myself. And start enjoying my family, again.

QUESTION: What is your ultimate goal, sergeant?

MCLOUGHLIN: Ultimate goal is to be walking as I used to when I get myself back to work and walking back into my precinct. That's my ultimate goal at this point.

Very good. As I said, 4 1/2 months in the hospital is -- I've received the best of care, the best of care from Bellevue Hospital and from Helen Hayes. I wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for the doctors and nurses at Bellevue. I wouldn't have the capability to walk with a walker and at least having some release from the wheelchair if it wasn't for the staff from Helen Hayes here. But it's time to move on, and I'm looking forward to getting back to as much 100 percent function as I can. [

Family, family. I have four children, John, Caitlyn, Steven, and Erin. My wife, Donna. That's what kept me going.

QUESTION: Sergeant, can you tell us briefly what happened to you, when you were...

MCLOUGHLIN: Myself and my team were in the process of getting protective equipment together, helmets, self-contained breathing and apparatus for our team and for other members of the department. When I found out after I came conscious that it was building two collapsing, end up pinning three in my time, Willow Meadow (ph) and Dominick Bazulo (ph), and two of my team, Antonio Rodriguez (ph) and Chris Amarizo (ph) didn't make it. We were trapped, and then the collapse of building one shortly after more seriously pinned Willow Meadow, myself and ultimately ended up killing Dominick Bazulo, and ended up remaining under the debris, I'm guessing about 30 feet below in kind of this small cave for about 20 or 22 hours before they were able to pull me out.

QUESTION: You mentioned that your family kept you going through the process during the 4 1/2 month stay. (INAUDIBLE) What kept you going through that period of time until rescuers were able to (INAUDIBLE)...

MCLOUGHLIN: The same thing. All I thought about was my family, and I had to make it out for them. And I'm not saying that there weren't certain points of sheer desperation, and I think at -- before they came down and found us and started digging us out that there was a point of acceptance of dying where I was buried. Once the rescuers started, even though it took them eight hours to get me out, my hopes started soaring. I knew I was getting out of there.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) What is most important thing that you look forward to now?

MCLOUGHLIN: At this point it's just doing -- I haven't seen any of my children's games since school started. I've missed all that. You know, I've missed there activities. I've missed their concerts. I want to get back to all that. I want to be back doing things with my family, with my kids, and I think there will be a lot more special now than they were before. I appreciate all things much more now than I kid before. And, again, my wife needs some time and -- to be pampered a little bit, going out to dinner and, you know. She's had a hard time doing all this, too, and she's always -- she's there for me all the time.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE) out of this entire experience is there something that you learned, or something that you can tell somebody for the future must to take to challenge. What would you say? MCLOUGHLIN: You have in-depth questions here. The only thing you can tell anybody is, don't give up, there's always hope, there's always hope. Something comes along. I was -- how did we survive the collapse of two buildings on top of us? How did a former Marine from Connecticut find us in the debris field? How did the rescue workers dig us out by hand and not cause additional collapse on top of us? How did the doctors at Bellevue perform what I consider miracles and operations to save my legs and allow me to walk again? There's hope. There's always something there that's coming along to help you. So not to give up.

QUESTION: Sergeant, from what I understand, where you were in relation to what was tower one, and was it clear there was about to be a collapse, and what did you do to try to shield yourself from the collapse?

MCLOUGHLIN: We were on the concourse level of the Trade Center, which is where the stores were, and we are approximately right between building one and building two, almost perfectly between the two of them, the two towers. We happened to be near a freight elevator entrance that went down to the B-1 subgrade. When I saw the destruction and the wall of debris coming out us from the lobby of building two, it was such a -- it was just this brown churning wall just moving straight towards us. I knew if we stayed there, there was no hope, because of the size of it. My only guess was -- split-second guess -- was make it down the hallway by the freight elevator and make the left-hand turn and getting around that bend would hopefully divert the debris field that was coming at us. I didn't realize- that the building was coming down. I thought it was a car bomb that blew the lobby through and was coming out. I had no idea that entire building was coming down.

QUESTION: With your experience in '93 and what you saw, what was going on (INAUDIBLE)...

MCLOUGHLIN: This was -- initially, when I first got there and the first plane had hit when we got there in tower one. At that point, I thought it was much more severe than what happened to us in '93, and we hadn't even seen the -- basically the start of what was happening at that point, and I already knew this was much more severe than what happened in '93, because the amount of damage I could see was happening up in the upper levels of tower one.

QUESTION: Sergeant, the day when you were trapped (INAUDIBLE), were you conscious the whole time?

MCLOUGHLIN: I was conscious the whole time. I was pinned from my hips down to my feet. My helmet was caught in debris, so I couldn't move my head. I was on my side. I thought it was initial. I thought we had this big open space, and I found out later, it was about the size of a person's body. It was the extent of the opening that came down from the top of the debris field through the little cave that we were in. It was very tight.

Officer Meadow, who was with me, he was above me and to my side. He was closer to the opening. He heard Staff Sergeant Kern's (ph) calling, and he yelled out to him, and then both of us started yelling, and he was able to follow the voices until he found the opening to the hole.

We were able to speak to each other the whole time.

QUESTION: What did you say?

MCLOUGHLIN: We talked about families. He had a -- his wife was expecting a second child, talked about that. We talked about our -- about what was happening around us. Other issues were coming upon us throughout the night, with fire coming on the hole we were trapped in, and ammunitions exploding, that we thought there was a gun fight going on outside. That occupied a good part of our attention when we thought when the fire started coming in on us.

We had no idea the extent. No idea. We -- the two explosions, which were the collapse of building one and two, we thought were car bombs. We didn't realize it was the buildings coming down.

QUESTION: What were the rescuers (INAUDIBLE)? When you first saw them they saw you, what did they say? And what did you say to them?

MCLOUGHLIN: They just -- they called down to find out how I was, whether I was conscious or not, and they assured me they would get us out. I asked them, I said, "Please don't take my legs." I was worried about them having to take my legs off in order to get me out, and they were very clear that they would get me out intact. And they were there for, like I said, eight hours, and at certain points had to climb on top of me to dig out the debris on my lower legs and move out by hand, while they laying across the top of me. That's how tight the space was in there. To me, they're the heroes. This was not an easy rescue. The space was so tight that that has to be playing on minds as they try to rescue. They had to worry about collapse on top of them and taking us all out. They're truly heroes, that they had the courage to just keep on going and not give up on me, and spend all those hours digging which hand to get me out.

Obviously, I -- you know, to put it gently, annoying, aggravate me. But I don't give much thought to them or about them. I watch the news programs, and I can't let them -- because if I think about them, it takes me to a negative place, and an aggravated place, and I don't want to be there. I don't have the time for that. I want to be positive, and I want to look to toward to the future. So that's how I deal with them.

I was unconscious for about a month and a half, and then I was in intensive care for a period of time after that. When I realized the extent of the surgical procedure that were done to my legs -- I don't know whether doctor's expectations were, but I think from the start I expected myself to walk again. I wasn't taking anything else. I intended to walk right from the start -- from the time I realized what was done to my legs.

I'll leave out where I live. I'm 48 years old. Erin is four. John is nine. Caitlyn is 11. Steven is 15. Donna, do you want to give you age?

(LAUGHTER)

QUESTION: What's the first thing you want to do when you get home?

MCLOUGHLIN: I don't know. I think just soaking up being in my house, just soaking that up. Donna probably has my favorite meal for tonight, my eggplant parmesean that she makes. It's just -- just being there is more than enough.

What's so funny?

There's a microphone right here.

DONNA MCLOUGHLIN: Really, like I said, very thankful, and looking forward to getting back to normal, or finding a new normal.

D. MCLOUGHLIN: My family made it very easy for me to be there for him, and my friends, the doctors, everybody (INAUDIBLE). I'm very thankful to everybody. We have a long list.

Well, I try not to think about it as much, or else I get too upset.

QUESTION: When you heard your husband talking about the first thing, did you accept the fact that he might not make it out of that hole? (INAUDIBLE)

D. MCLOUGHLIN: Well, I know him, and I know that he's very determined, and I know that I never thought that even when they told me he was missing, I still didn't think anything about that. I said he'll be OK. I know. Because I know him. He's so determined, and so prepared, and he's a real Boy Scout.

MCLOUGHLIN: Aaron is E-R-I-N. John -- J-O-H-N. Caitlyn -- C-A- I-T-L-I-N. And Steven -- S-T-E-V-E-N.

I received letters and calls from all over the United States. Very touching, very thoughtful letters sent to me. We had -- I received an Afghan (ph) from a woman in Pennsylvania made up of each squares, and made by somebody from a different state, and then they set all the squares together and then attached it into one big Afghan, a red, white and blue with yellow ribbons on it. There was some wonderful things that people did, and the letters from the schoolchildren, I would get whole classes that would send a package with letters from each of the children in the classrooms. Many of them were very touching.

QUESTION: (INAUDIBLE). When you think about all the people, the rescuers, what goes through your mind?

MCLOUGHLIN: A lot of sadness. I lost a lot of good friends that day -- classmates from my academy days, people I worked with for many years that I was very close to. It's very hard. I still get -- I see the names and I see the pictures. It upsets me a lot. So I can only guess -- I mean, we lost 37 officers that day -- how severe it is for other departments and families to deal with all this. I don't deal with it very well, I'll say that much. I don't deal with it well. It's very hard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Any other questions?

MCLOUGHLIN: Thank you very much.

Thank you.

(APPLAUSE)

KAGAN: Well-deserved applause for Port Authority policemen John McLoughlin. You've been hearing his story live here on CNN. He was crushed beneath the rubble of World Trade Center. He was on the concourse level between building one and two on September 11th. He was rescued 24 hours later, and had an incredible comeback. He had severe crush injuries, kidney failure, lung failure. He will be OK. Four long months in the hospital. He's being released today. He still has more rehab ahead of him. Doctors say looks like he will make it. The sergeant sharing with us really looks forward to getting back to his real world and that means Boy Scout meetings, and taking his wife to dinner tomorrow night, and also his ultimate goal walking back into precinct at Port Authority.

We wish him well. John McLoughlin, survivor of the World Trade Center.

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