Sue Frederick, senior v.p. atTheBeast, escaped from the company's 80th floor offices in the World Trade Center. This is her story
When the plane struck the building it felt exactly like an earthquake. The only advanced sound was a large windful swoosh. At first we had no idea if it was a bomb or the building had been struck. The mayor was correct when he talks about the toughness of New Yorkers. It was amazing how calm, supportive and helpful everyone was throughout the day.
Our personnel immediately headed for the stairs as smoke began filtering quickly down. One wall outside our company had been pushed in so far it was impassable. The only stairway open got us as far as the 77th floor when we came up against a door that was jammed shut.
We were invited into another company's offices on that floor while they sorted out an alternative route. We went into a conference room and turned on the TV. We learned our building had been struck by a plane but it was not announced at this point that it was a terrorist attack. As we watched TV the building shook again and what we thought was debris from our own building began striking the windows of the conference room so we immediately left. We know now that this was building number two being hit by the second airplane.
Within five to 10 minutes someone had found another way out and we began our trek down the stairs. We had to walk through a hallway at this point where the ceiling was being hosed down by an employee from the company we had taken refuge in. This is what I mean by the spirit of New Yorkers. It is because of their initiative that we got out. The calm of the people around us as we walked down was amazing. People who had been hurt or were having a problem getting down were being assisted at every point. When congestion slowed us to a stop no one shoved or made a scene we respectfully waited until we could move again.
We finally got out of the smoke when we hit the 35th floor. It felt great to breathe fresh air and lifted everyone's spirits. We also started running into building personnel. Around the 27th floor we ran into firefighters climbing up. I can't imagine what it must have been like to walk up that many flights with all the gear they had. They looked so winded at that point. I doubt that they made it out before the building collapsed and my prayers and thoughts are with them and their families now.
By the 7th floor, the stairwells were flooding with water from what we assumed were the firefighting efforts. We were feeling buoyant when we hit 3 and thought we're almost out of here. It had taken us a little over an hour to get this far. But the adventure it seems was far from over. At that point, as we learned later, building 2 collapsed and hit our building. Once again it felt like a bomb had gone off as the building shook again and there was this tremendous whoosh of air that almost knocked us off our feet. At that point the lights went out. There was so much debris that our way out was blocked. I remember thinking there is no way I walked down 77 flights to die 3 floors from safety. We climbed back up to 4 where a firefighter punched a hole in the wall to get us out. We made a human chain hanging on to the person in front and behind as we made our way out into the 4th floor rotunda in the dark. We got our first glimpse of what looked like a war zone.
We walked through ankle deep dust and out through a doorway to the outside plaza in front of the U.S. Customs' building. As we were led to a stairwell to street level we climbed over girders and moved around office furniture and layers of office papers, twisted metal, broken glass and other debris. By now we were wet and covered in this ash. People all looked like their hair had turned pre-maturely gray. We were told to walk quickly up the street. Within minutes (we now know it was no more than four ) we heard a rumble, turned to see our tower begin to collapse and a large cloud of black moving up the street. We ran.