“..heard a huge explosion..”, “..it looked like a war zone..”, “..no one expected the building to collapse…” – George Sleigh, North Tower survivor
source: News Messenger May 18, 2010
When George Sleigh walked into the North Tower of the World Trade Center at 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, it was a picturesque day.
“It was a beautiful morning, a crisp … morning,” he said. “The sun was coming up behind the World Trade Center, which at that time dominated the view of New York.”
Two hours later, he had to make his way down 90 flights of steps after a plane hit each tower in a terrorist attack. He made his way down to the concourse level.
“As I stepped outside the stairwell, the devastation was incredible,” he said. “It looked like a war zone.”
Then the South Tower collapsed.
Sleigh, of Hudson, was lucky to survive. He shared the story Thursday at Clyde High School, in an event sponsored by the Sandusky County Republican Women.
“How often do we get to meet someone that is a part of our history?” asked Peg Rettig, president of the group.
Sleigh was working as an architect for American Bureau of Shipping, which had an office on the 91st floor of the North Tower. He had made his 45-minute commute into town, and by 7:30 that morning had settled into his office. He said he was sitting at a 90-degree angle from the window, talking to his secretary, when he heard a loud roar.
He said he turned to the window and saw the underbelly of a large passenger jet as it slammed into the building. The jet was American Airlines Flight 11, which had been hijacked by al-Qaida terrorists and flown into the tower in a suicide attack. The plane hit the building 25 feet above Sleigh’s office.
Sleigh said when the plane struck, he dropped to the ground, covered his head and prayed to God to save him.
When he eventually looked up, he was amazed to find there was no fire, no smoke, no smell of jet fuel and the windows in his office were all still intact. (Yet the lobby windows, 90 stories down were blown out….-Nor Cal )
“No one thought the building would collapse,” he said.
He knew he had to get out as quickly as possible. He made his way to the first of three emergency stairwells, only to find it was blocked with debris. At the second stairwell, the door couldn’t be forced open. Finally, at the third stairwell, the door opened and he was able to begin the long descent.
Before leaving, he looked up and saw that the entrance to the stairwell from the floor above was blocked, leaving no way of escape for those in the floors above. Sleigh would later learn that no one above the 91st floor survived.
As he made his way through the bottom floor, he heard a huge explosion, which he later learned (or was taught – Nor Cal ) was the South Tower collapsing.
“There was debris flying horizontally. The glass caught up with me and threw me across the floor,” he said. “The lights went out, and the room was covered in a huge cloud of dust.
“For the second time, I called up to God to save me. In His mercy and grace, He did.”
Everything became very, very quiet, and he noticed that one single bulb was still shining. He made his way to the light and called out for other survivors. Two men made their way to the light, and they stood there together alone for quite some time, unable to find their way out.
“A man eventually heard us and guided us out,” Sleigh said. “Who he was, I don’t know. Maybe an emergency worker, maybe a Port Authority worker, maybe a guardian angel, I don’t know.”
Sleigh said he is often asked if he has nightmares about the attack. He doesn’t.
“Not a day goes by that I don’t think about it, but I’ve never had a nightmare,” he said. “That’s because of God’s goodness to me.
“We need to remember this. It can happen again. We just hope and pray that God keeps us. There were so many cars that were parked in parking lots that nobody came back to claim. We need to know God and trust in Him.”