Saturday, June 04, 2005

A Survivor's Story--The Last Man Out of the WTC South Tower

Image hosted by Photobucket.comOn September 11, 2001, Ron DiFrancesco, a Canadian employee with Euro Brokers, was at work at his desk on the 84th of the World Trade Center's South Tower. After seeing the North Tower hit by what he assumed had been a small, errant Cessna-type airplane, he, and many, many others, heeded the announcement from a Port Authority official (the PA administered the WTC) that there was no reason to leave the South Tower and "please return to your work areas."

The first part of the story that tells how he became the last person to leave the South Tower before its collapse 56 minutes later, can be found here in today's edition of the Ottawa Citizen. Part 2 will conclude the story in tomorrow's paper.

As I read the story, two details hit me:

First, the many images of other, shadowy, nameless people trying to make life and death decisions as to whether to go up the stairs or down the stairs, the little incidents of bravery and self-sacrifice as strangers pulled one another out from collapsed walls and helped older or overweight people through the smoke. Knowing that only four people survived who were higher than the floors where the plane struck turns these living, breathing, shadowy people appear like living ghosts, the walking dead, the damned, the doomed.

As an aside, the images conjured by the telling of DiFrancesco's story, bear a striking, almost uncanny resemblance to the 1972 disaster movie, Poseidon Adventure, which also concerned people making the same sort of life and death decisions in the midst of chaos and crisis.

Second....and this makes me ponder what is at the very core of "human nature".....are the implications that arise from these paragraphs from the article:

Loaded with fuel, Flight 11 tracked low over midtown Manhattan and slammed into the north face of Tower One, between floors 94 and 98. It was 8.46 a.m. Ron DiFrancesco saw a "huge flash" outside his office windows as sound boomed across the trading floor. The lights flickered overhead.....

Mr. DiFrancesco joined a clutch of people at the bank of windows. They watched as fire and grey-black smoke poured from the North Tower. People leaned out windows, waving desperately for help. Those around him speculated that a small aircraft, possibly a Cessna, had crashed into the North Tower. Mr. DiFrancesco discounted the possibility of terrorism. It must have been pilot error, he said..........

Mr. DiFrancesco called his wife, Mary....Although never surprised to hear from him, Mary was shocked by Ron's news: The North Tower had been hit by an airplane. "But it was Tower One that was hit. I'm in Tower Two," he reassured her.

Ron described the scene he had witnessed from the windows of Euro Brokers. People had started to leap from windows to escape the flames. "It's horrible," he said.

Mary turned on the television to watch events unfold as she phoned Ron's family to assure them he was safe.

Mr. DiFrancesco, meanwhile, tried to return his attention to the financial numbers that scrolled down two screens on his desk....

I cannot understand how someone watching a disaster of such an unprecedented scale (with the obvious massive loss of human life) taking place right outside their office window; seeing people "waving desperately for help" and "leap(ing) from windows to escape the flames" could then go back to their desk and begin processing numbers to increase the value of someone's investment portfolio!

My God! Is this how ordinary German citizens so readily acquiesced to the abuse, arrest, deportation and annihilation of 6 million Jews and 3 million others? Is there some sort of psychological mechanism that shuts down our capacity for empathy when we are confronted by something incomprehensibly horrid?

Is there something in this that tells us anything about the nature of sin? of the instinct for self-preservation? of our human ability to enter into a state of "denial?"

Yet, as the story proceeds, we see these same, dumbfounded office workers acting heroically after their own tower is hit only a short time later. Strangers pull strangers from the rubble; men act selflessly in assisting those who are injured or less able to climb up or down emergency stairs.

Clearly, human beings do indeed fall short of the glory of God. To be sure, we are capable of great love and sacrifice for others. Yet we are also fully capable of turning our backs on the suffering of others, isolating ourselves in our own little bubble-worlds and committing our entire life's labor to things of no lasting significance whatsoever.

And, as Ron DiFrancesco's story so poignantly reveals, we are capable of switching from one to the other in a moment's time.

UPDATE: Apparently Part 2 of this article has been placed in the "Suscribers Only" area of the Ottowa Citizen's on-line site. Nuts!