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.
In the North Tower, no one at or above the impact zone of American Airlines Flight 11 survived. The plane irrevocably blocked all elevators and staircases, sealing the fates of some 1,400 people on floors 93 and above.
In the South Tower, only 18 people survived at or above where United Airlines Flight 175 slammed through floors 78-84. Among the most fortunate was Stanley Praimnath, an employee at Fuji Bank on the 81st Floor.
For starters, Praimnath’s salvation should have been far less miraculous. After the first plane hit the opposite building, he had descended to the South Tower lobby where – in a scenario that unfortunately cost many others their lives, including Praimnath’s boss, Kenichiro Tanaka – a security guard assured him the building was secure. So Praimnath returned to his office. A few moments later, he was on the phone when he glanced at a familiar object on the horizon: the Statue of Liberty.
“And that,” he said, “was when the plane caught my eye.”
Seconds later, Praimnath dove under his desk as the jet smashed through walls, brought down the ceiling and annihilated every desk – except his. So close was his call that a piece of the plane’s wing was wedged in his office door.
Praimnath came to buried in rubble. Eventually a stranger, Brian Clark, heard Praimnath’s desperate cries and freed him from the debris – an ordeal that involved hurling himself over a smoldering office partition.