A survivor of 9/11 describes her descent and escape from Tower One, and the collapse of the twin towers. Wendy Lanski describes herself as a wife, daughter, friend, a senior manager, a music lover and, after 9/11, she can, unfortunately, add terrorism survivor to the labels that identify her.
Humanity: I know its hard, but can you describe that morning, before anything happened? What do you remember about that morning?
Ms. Lanski: It was a beautiful sunny day. I was 31 years old. I went to my office on the 29th floor of Tower One, the North Tower, at around 8:00 a.m. I worked for Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield, and I was preparing for a standing meeting that I had every Tuesday.
Humanity: Where were you when the first plane hit the building?
Ms. Lanski: When the first plane hit, I was at my desk and felt a tremendous thud, and my building swayed slightly. I had no idea what it was, but I instinctively headed towards the stairwell. I saw debris falling as I glanced towards the window.
Humanity: How did you get out?
Ms. Lanski: As I began my descent down 29 flights of stairs, I heard rumors that a small sightseeing plane had hit my building. The stairs were very crowded as each floor emptied out into the space.
About halfway down, I smelled fuel and asked one of the firemen who were passing me as he climbed up the stairs what was happening. He told me a jet hit the building. I did not suspect terrorism and assumed it was just a tragic accident. When I got to the lobby of the building, everything changed.
Unbeknownst to me, the second Tower had already been hit. We were told to cover our heads as we exited the building and not to look up. I looked up and saw things no one should ever see—flying panes of glass and people jumping out of the windows of the World Trade Center.
Humanity: What happened to you over the next 24 hours?
Ms. Lanski: A stranger out in the street in front of the building offered her apartment for several of us to rest and call our families. At no point did I anticipate the collapse of the Towers.
About 20 minutes later, a sound that I could never adequately explain, began—it was like a locomotive and the loudest thunder, and it was accompanied by alarm. As we ran out of the apartment and into the street, we could see nothing—it was like a blizzard.
As the South Tower came down, I was running for my life, hoping that I was heading towards Battery Park City—where I hoped I could be rescued. I was caught in the debris of both Towers but miraculously was rescued by ferry and taken to Jersey City, where ambulances were waiting. Although I lost my shoes along the way, I was unharmed except for having breathing difficulty. I was treated at the ER and released around 9:00 p.m.
9/12 was a day of discovery as I learned of the extreme losses of the day, including that of my dear friend Abraham Zelmanowitz, who stayed with his friend, Ed Beyea, who was awaiting special assistance as he was in a wheelchair. I worked from home within a few days to have some sense of normalcy, but a part of me was gone forever.
Humanity: What, if anything, have you taken away from this horrible experience? Did it change you?
Ms. Lanski: 9/11 has changed me in many ways. I stayed at my company for five more years and then moved on but stayed in the same industry. I still love my wonderful NYC. However, 9/11 has made me feel broken, damaged. It has also made me grateful and compelled to do good in the world. I have connected with many terrorism survivors throughout the world and have volunteered at the Memorial and to educate many about 9/11 and keep the memories alive of those who were silenced.
Ms. Lanski volunteers at the Tribute Museum, an organization that offers factual information about the events of 9/11 through various means, including “Person-to-Person History” involving survivors and first responders who were there. She is also a part of several efforts to partner with the Muslim community to combat the hate and misinformation since 9/11 toward the Muslim community.