As we approach the 20th anniversary of the most devastating terrorist attack on American soil, we are reminded of the string of tragedies that occurred that day. Four hijacked planes. Two imploding skyscrapers. The home of the most powerful army on earth went up in flames.
Nearly 3,000 people died that day in plane crashes, collapsing buildings and desperate leaps from burning buildings. Still, such disasters tend to leave only a few people standing out as unlikely survivors.
Of the two collapses, the South Tower’s was more stunning simply because it occurred first. Never had a building that gigantic completely come down, so most thought they had far longer to escape than the scant 56 minutes between impact and implosion.
So as he approached the South Tower’s ground level, Ron DiFrancesco figured the worst was over. Less than an hour before, the Euro Brokers executive was in his 84th Floor office when United Airlines Flight 175 slashed threw at an intentional tilt to cause maximum damage. The plane’s cabin and fuselage struck below him; the right wing sliced through the floors directly above.
DiFrancesco was trapped; he couldn’t ascend or descend without flames and smoke. Finally, using sheered off sheetrock as a shield, he plowed his way through intense heat downward until he heard a voice. It was a firefighter, who guided DiFrancesco below the impact zone.
By the time he reached street level, a rescue worker was ordering everyone to exit via the basement; the plaza had too much debris (including, horribly, jumpers). DiFrancesco was nearly done descending at 9:59am. The building was collapsing.
DiFrancesco turned, saw a huge fireball… and blacked out. He woke up in a hospital, with burns over most of his body and his contact lenses melted in his eyes. He is the last known person to leave the South Tower.