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9/11: What Really Happened

Aired September 11, 2002 - 10:57   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: We have focused a lot this morning, understandably, given where we've been so far, on those who perished on the 11th. And so this in some way seems like the rarest of all 9/11 stories, it's a story of a survivor.
Before we get to it, I'm going to do this again, but I think it's for the last time because I think it's the last time we're going to show these pictures today. This piece includes pictures of planes hitting towers and perhaps towers collapsing. We know how sensitive you are to those pictures, and in fact, we are as well. We are trying to be very careful in how we use them and where we use them. And in any time we do use them, we'll give you plenty of notice because, understandably, this is -- this stuff is very hard to watch.

So having said the long disclaimer, this is the best of all stories we can offer on a day like today. It is the story of someone who made it out alive.

Here's CNN's Michael Okwu.


MICHAEL OKWU, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Stanley Praimneth (ph) and Brian Clark had never seen the World Trade Center site from this vantage point. They are alive to see it because their paths crossed at just the right moment. Their ordeal began the way everybody else's did.

BRIAN CLARK, WTC SURVIVOR: I normally arrive 7:15 in the morning, 84th floor of the south tower. I did so that day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Pick up my raisin bagel and coffee, make my way to the 81st floor -- nothing unusual.

OKWU: By the time the morning was over, they would owe their lives to each other and would be two of only four people above the 78th floor in the south tower who would survive.

CLARK: There was just this tremendous boom that I heard and a -- and a bit of a shudder, more from a shock wave than anything else. And I spun around and where I normally see the Hudson River and the world financial center below me was nothing but a fireball like right against my glass. Just complete flames, swirling.

OKWU: Three floors below, Praimneth, the loan officer with Fuji Bank, was with a co-worker. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We ran down the hallway from the south end of the south tower, took the elevator. We went down to the ground floor. A security guard asked us where you guys going? Well, I saw fireballs coming down, I'm getting out of here. No, your building is secured. It is safe. Eventually I got back in that elevator.

OKWU: On the 84th floor Clark heard the all-clear on the P.A. system as he consoled a female co-worker who had been watching people jump off the north tower.

CLARK: And I walked her out of the -- out of our east side trading floor. And I really do think it's that walk, Susan coming to me and me walking her to the ladies room all the way over to the west side of the tower, that probably saved my life.

OKWU: In minutes, the second plane would fly into view, careening towards the southeastern section of the south tower.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just happened to raise my head, watching toward the Statue of liberty. And as I watched, I saw this giant aircraft, big gray plane, it's coming in slow motion towards me, eye level, eye contact, and I just froze.

OKWU: Again, Praimneth was on the 81st floor, Clark on the 84th. The plane would plow through floors between 78 and 84 before exploding.

CLARK: There was this concussion and our walls, you know, ripped at odd angles, door frames fell out of the wall, the ceiling just collapsed, speakers, lighting, cables, air conditioning ducts. The ceiling just emptied if you like. The building just swayed one way and just kept going, yards, yards further. When's it's going to stop? Further, and then it finally stopped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm shuddering and I'm trembling and I'm crying, Lord, don't leave me to die. And I realize I'm covered with debris when I try to get up. Peeking through the rubble, all I could see was the plane wing wedged at my office door 20 feet from where I was.

OKWU: What looked like the wing could have been the tail. In any case, Praimneth remembers watching it glow like an ember.

Back on the 84th floor where he was a fire warden, Clark grabbed his flashlight. Unaware of the devastation below him, he and six other co-workers raced towards the exits. If they had chosen stairwells B or C, they would have eventually been blocked by debris. By sheer chance they chose A, the only one that could have led them to safety.

CLARK: We met a very heavyset woman coming from below. Stop, stop, you can't go down. We've just come off a floor in flames and there's smoke, and we've got to get above it. We've got to climb higher. All of a sudden I heard this banging on the wall and this voice, strange voice, crying in the darkness, I'm somewhere on the 81st floor. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I'm screaming, I'm right here. This is Stan from the loans department, don't leave me to die.

CLARK: And I clicked on my -- well I guess I had my flashlight on. When I put it on and I shine it around the floor.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And this person is saying behind the wall, knock where you are and I'll know.

CLARK: When I shone the light a little clearer through the hole where he was, I could see this very animated face through an opening, but there was something immovable between us.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Brian said, jump. And I said I can't jump. He said if you jump over this wall, I'm going to grab you. And as I jumped, I grabbed and I held onto this wall.

CLARK: And I jumped and reached over and somehow grabbed onto something under the armpit, I don't know what it was, and pulled this body over the top, and we fell in a heap on the floor.

OKWU: Both men now had open wounds on their hands.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Brian took my hand, my right hand, and he held out his left hand, and he rubbed it like this together, and he said from today, you're my blood brother.

OKWU: A little more than five minutes had passed since the plane hit. The group Clark had descended the stairwell with had changed direction and retreated to higher floors. Only one of them would survive.

OKWU (on camera): Did you ever debate going back upstairs?

CLARK: When we got to the stairs, I just turned down. I wanted to test what was below.

OKWU (voice-over): The two men made a slippery descent down the wet stairs. Occasional cracks in the walls exposed flames within.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And Brian is telling me take your time. Take your time. There's no hurry. And I'm, like, no, we've got to go. We've got to hurry.

OKWU: Four minutes after getting out, they heard it.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was like steel bending and creaking. It made this -- I can't explain the sound, but it's like -- it was an eerie sound.

CLARK: And we heard this boom, boom, boom.

OKWU: As the tower collapsed, Stanley Praimneth and Brian Clark were watching from less than a 100 yards away, just before they ran, two of the very last people to get out alive.

Michael Okwu, CNN, New York.





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