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.
Josephine Harris tops the list because an entire group of firefighters see her as their guardian angel.
A Port Authority bookkeeper, Harris began evacuating her 73rd Floor office after the first plane struck 20 stories above. However, Harris had an injured leg from a car accident, making progress slow and painful.
Meanwhile, Ladder Company Captain Jay Jonas had led his crew up 27 floors of the North Tower when he felt an earth-shattering rumble. An FDNY radio report confirmed his fears: the South Tower had collapsed; time to go. The team ran down seven flights of stairs…
… right into Josephine Harris. They couldn’t leave her. The descent slowed to one arduous step at a time.
By the 4th Floor, Harris was in such pain she told the firefighters to leave and save themselves. They refused and, while waiting for her to regain some strength, the rumbling returned – only this time from directly overhead. They ducked, covered and prayed as the booms of pancaking floors drew ever nearer. And then it stopped.
It was part miracle, part mathematics. The rubble from a 110-story building exceeded four stories, and the staircase’s central location left pockets of life for evacuees – including precisely where the group was.
“It was a freak of timing,” said Jonas. “We know the people below us didn’t fare well. Above, to my knowledge, none got out. God gave us the strength and courage to save her, and unknowingly, we were saving ourselves.”