September 11th was supposed to be Jim Gartenberg’s last day working at the World Trade Center. His employer, commercial real estate firm Julien J. Studley Inc., had transferred him to its Midtown Manhattan offices. In fact Gartenberg, 35, was cleaning out his desk on the 86th Floor of the North Tower when American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into it at 8:46am.
The plane struck floors 93-99 – several stories about Gartenberg’s office. However, the impact left piles of debris that, per a phone call Gartenberg made to Midtown office colleague Margaret Luberda, blocked his exit. Soon, fire compounded the problem. “There’s a fire,” he said to his pregnant wife, Jill. “I love you, tell Nicole” – the couple’s two-year-old daughter – “I don’t know if I’m going to be OK.”
Remarkably, Gartenberg’s next call was to ABC News, who carried the conversation live on air. Calmly explaining where he was, what happened and who he was with, his composure during the two-minute conversation was heroic. In fact, Gartenberg doesn’t discernibly panic even after learning that, unbeknownst to him, not one but two plane crashes had occurred – one in each building.
Instead, Gartenberg sought to comfort the thousands of family members with unaccounted-for loved ones. “I want to tell anybody who has a family member in the building that the situation is under control. Please… take it easy.”
This wasn’t ignorance or denial. Next, Gartenberg called his Midtown colleague again: “Margaret, I didn’t want to tell them how bad it was,” he replied. “I didn’t want to worry the other families.” Gartenberg perished.