Dan Donovan: Zandy’s email saved my life

By September 10, 2021 No Comments

My day started out meeting my friend Keith Delmar that morning at his house a couple of blocks from my house. At that point in time, I would meet him most mornings to get a ride to the Staten Island Ferry with him and his brother Chris. I remember boarding the Ferry and we both commented on how beautiful the weather was. The weather was perfect. Clear blue skies and 70 degrees (Fahrenheit). We both joked and  said we should ditch work and go on a road trip somewhere. After the ferry we both hopped on the 1/9 train line. I got off the stop at the World Trade Center  and he continued on to Midtown West where his office was located.

Then I went to my desk located at 1 World Trade Center on the 14th floor. At the time I was working for Instinet Corporation. It is a financial institution that was part of Reuters – now it is part of Nomura. This was my first job out of college. I had started there the previous year, in the summer of 2000.

The day started out like any other day. My friend Vanessa Sierra came over to my desk and asked if I wanted to go grab breakfast. We would usually go to one of the places in the mall area that was on the ground floor of the World Trade Center, or we would go up to the Port Authority Cafeteria that was located on the 45th floor (it was a great cafeteria). That morning I had just received an email from my college friend Zandy, so I told Vanessa to give me a minute. I wanted to respond to Zandy’s email first before we went to breakfast. The weekend prior I had run into her at our friends Kris and Jen’s wedding in Long Island. We all knew each other from college. I hadn’t seen Zandy in a couple of years so that weekend we had exchanged emails to keep in touch. She was living in Vermont. That morning she decided to email me to say hello. She also asked me where I working again. She said that she knew I had told her over the weekend but she couldn’t remember. So then I typed out that I work for a company called Instinet and it’s located in building 1 of the World Trade Center. Then I wrote that it is the same building that had gotten bombed back in 1993. Then, right before I was going to hit send, I stood up at my desk to stretch and yawn. Right at that moment right after I wrote that I heard the deepest, loudest, boom/ blast sound I had ever heard in my life and the building was furiously shaking back and forth. I remember looking up and seeing the ceiling bending. I also remember the door to the server room blowing off the hinges and some smoke coming out of the door. I’m not sure why that happened, but I guess it had something to do with the pressure from the impact of the plane hitting the building.

Unfortunately, I never got to hit send on that email to Zandy. However, I will be forever grateful for Zandy’s email. If I had not received that email I would have definitely been in an elevator heading to breakfast with Vanessa. I’m not sure how that would have turned out, since I heard reports of fireballs blasting down some of the elevator shafts from the pressure of the plane’s impact.

After the explosion, everyone I worked with was very confused. At first, a lot of us thought that it was a bomb on the ground floor, or a small plane accidentally hit the building. I remember thinking that there was a fire house right across the street, and that they would be right on the scene and take care of everything. I was always under the impression and believed that the World Trade Center buildings would never collapse, because they never fell in 1993. Then we decided we’d better try and exit.

We started to head down the stairs, but they were quite crowded and packed with people. There was also some slight smoke coming up the stairs. I suspect it was from fireballs that had gone down the elevator shafts.  At that point, people were using their shirts to cover their mouths from the smoke. The line of people trying to vacate was very slow so we decided to try and get in the doors to the 9th floor to try and wait it out.

Unfortunately when we opened that door, the floor was full of black smoke so we closed the door. We could not descend anymore because of the high traffic in the stairwell. Then we decided to turn around and go back up to the 13th floor because we knew that floor was clear of smoke. All the other floors between 13 and 9 were locked.

Once we’re back on the 13th floor, I find out that it’s a commercial plane in the top of the building. Someone had gone online and found out. As I was looking at the window, I noticed a lot of liquid coming down the outside of the windows. I’m pretty sure it was jet fuel from the plane. I could be wrong but I’m not sure what else it would be.

Then all of a sudden we hear another loud explosion and feel another impact just as loud and forceful as when the first plane hit. My co-worker Caleb yelled to me that he was looking out the window and had just watched a plane intentionally fly into Tower 2. He said we are definitely under attack and we need to get out of there. We stepped back out into the hall just as a bunch of firemen showed up asking us why we were still there. We then told them that the stairway was so crowded we couldn’t leave. They then directed us to another stairwell we never knew existed. Thank God for those Firemen. They were great. That stairwell was completely empty with nobody in it. We proceeded to walk down the stairs. It was reminiscent of walking down a river. There was a ton of water coming down the stairs as we were walking down. Then we finally were able to exit the stairwell by the main quad area.

My first instinct was to exit the building into the main quad area. But I saw police officers blocking the doors to that exit, and telling everyone not to exit through there. He was directing them to continue on, to the exits by Century 21 Department Store on Church Street. I was confused as to why they were sending us out that way so then I looked out the doors to the quad area. That is when I realized why they were sending us to Church Street. The whole quad area looked like a war zone. There were little fires everywhere as well as victims’ body parts. Arms, legs, torsos – across the whole quad. Think of a gruesome war movie scene and multiply it by 100. That’s what the scene looked like. I obviously didn’t look long , but long enough to see what was out there. I then continued to exit the way the police officers had directed us.

It was very surreal. It was a very quiet and eerie walk out of the building. Nobody was running and nobody was yelling. It was very quiet and calm. I think everyone was in shock.

As I exited the building I heard people standing around saying that people were jumping from the buildings. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I also had no idea why people were standing around and watching that. I briefly looked up at Tower 2, to try and figure out what floors the plane had hit. I had a friend Patrick Aranyos that I had become friends with a couple of summers prior, and I knew he worked on the 84th floor for Eurobrokers. When I saw where the plane had hit I knew there was a good chance he didn’t survive. Unfortunately I was correct. None of his remains were ever found. He was a ton of fun, and an all-around great person. We had become fast friends. He went to Boston College with my friend John, who I grew up with; we all rented a beach house together the summer of ‘99.

My next move was to get away from the tall buildings. The first place I thought of was the South Street Seaport, which is not that far of a walk  from the WTC. All the buildings around there are low and there are parts that are pretty wide open. Once I got there I reconnected with my co-workers Vanessa, Sonali and  Christina. None of our cell phones were working so we decided to walk to the school (P.S. 97) my mother was working at on Houston St, by the FDR Drive. We decided to go there because we decided that we did not want to walk over any bridges or take any ferries, because we thought they would be the next targets the terrorists would attack.

As we approached the Brooklyn Bridge we heard another loud crash. What we heard was Tower 2 collapsing. Tower 2 fell approximately 15 minutes after I exited Tower 1. Tower 1 was hit first, but was the second tower to fall.

One we arrived at the school it was great to see my mom and her co-workers. We were all obviously happy and relieved to see each other. Earlier our co-worker Caleb had told us to go to his apartment, on Ave B and 10th street in  Alphabet City. So we left the school and all walked to Caleb’s apt. We were still not too far from the WTC but it was truly another world there that day. People were sitting in restaurants eating like everything was kind of normal. Everyone knew nothing was normal, but I guess people decided to hit restaurants to relieve a bit of stress. The vibe was definitely not normal. There were also many people in Alphabet City sitting on sidewalks with their TV’s on watching the coverage of what unfolded that day. Cell phones were not working at all that morning.

Finally I was also able to get through to my father, and he had already known I was okay because he got through on a landline to the school my mother worked at. My mom’s co-worker, Nilsa, had told him I was okay. He was working in Jersey City, directly across the water from the WTC and saw everything. Nilsa’s husband got through to my sister in Albany from his home phone. My sister had woken up to her roommate asking her if she knew anyone in the WTC because planes had just flown into them.

Once we got to Caleb’s we decided to go to a restaurant on Ave A and 9th Street for lunch. After that we went back to Caleb’s place and stayed there the remainder of the day, watching news coverage of all the horrific events that had happened that day. My crew that day were my co-workers – Vanessa, Christina, Sonali, Jordan, Caleb – and my Mom. Nobody wanted to leave because we were afraid of more attacks on transportation.

Around 10:30 pm my Mom and I decided to head back home to Staten Island. We started walking in search of an Express Bus or a way to get to the Ferry. When we get to the intersection of Bowery and East Houston Street, I hear someone yelling my name. I look over and it’s my friend Brendan Blomquist from my neighborhood. He was a cop at the time. I couldn’t believe it was him. He said he was so happy to see me because I was one of the people he was told to look out for from our neighborhood. He asked me about his best friend Jason Defazio, who worked for Cantor Fitzgerald. He asked if I thought he could have gotten out. Cantor was located on the  top floors of Tower 1. I told him that, and then I had to tell him I was sorry, but that I doubted he would have been able to get out. Unfortunately, Jason didn’t survive, and Jason had just gotten married to his wife, Michelle, two months before 9/11. Michelle is also a neighborhood person who is also great. It was absolutely terrible.

After our brief conversation, Brendan got me and my mom on a bus back to Staten Island. It was great to run in to Brendan that day. He really hooked us up. The bus ride back to Staten Island was dead silence and there were no cars on the road. I got home and finally had decent cell phone service. I had over 40 new voicemails. It was pretty crazy. Luckily, I was able to change my voicemail at some point in the day to say I was okay.

I was back in the office at our Disaster Recovery Site that Thursday, September 13th. Our Disaster Recovery Site was in Jersey City. Whoever was in charge of our backup site did an amazing job. We sat at our computers and everything was exactly like our computers in the WTC. All the same exact information. It was seamless. Every day while we were working there, they would bring in chefs to cook breakfast for us, and they would have professional massages available in the conference rooms. It was pretty crazy. Wild times. We were literally sitting in Jersey City working, looking out the window across the water watching the WTC site on fire, two days later. That fire lasted a long time. I was very, very lucky that day. Can’t believe it was 20 years ago.