As one of only two people who survived 9/11 by surfing down the Twin Towers collapse, Pasquale Buzzelli has a mixture of survivor’s guilt and gratefulness.
“Here I am given this gift, and I wanted to make the most of it,” he told 60 Minutes Australia. At the same time, he struggles to make sense of why he survived and others didn’t.
Perhaps it was a mixture of luck, divine intervention, and quick wits to pick a place to weather the collapse: curled up in the corner of a stairwell against two concrete walls.
Buzzelli was on the 22nd floor of the North Tower when he rode a small patch of concrete flooring down another 18 stories, suffering just a broken leg and ankle.
Two airplanes hit New York’s Twin Towers in a terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, causing 2,996 deaths. The first plane slammed into the South Tower, which collapsed at 9:59 a.m. The North Tower followed 28 minutes later.
Buzzelli arrived to work with the Port Authority on the 64th floor like any other day. The first sense of trouble was while riding the elevator, which dropped several feet before he got to his office. Once he got to his desk, Buzzelli called his wife, Louise.
“I said, ‘Don’t be alarmed, I’m OK, everything’s fine, just, can you put the television on, and tell me what you see,’ and she goes, ‘Oh my god,’ she goes, ‘A plane hit your building,’” Buzzelli told 60 Minutes.
At first, Buzzelli thought he wasn’t in danger because the crash was above him. But then he had a “very weird feeling, so surreal. And now we knew we could die,” he told the Sun newspaper in 2012.
He called Louise again, who said: “Why are you still there? And why are you calling me? Leave!”
Buzzelli grabbed his briefcase, a flashlight, and some wet towels, then fled down the stairwell. Along the way, he encountered firefighters walking up. They told him to keep going.
By the time he reached the 22nd floor, the building had started to shake and rumble. Buzzelli told 60 Minutes that he dove into a corner and got into a fetal position.
“I felt the wall that I was laying next to just crack, and the floor give away, and I stayed tucked in the fetal position with my eyes closed.
“I felt this, this wind rush, as I was falling and, you know, this abrasive, sandblaster type feeling, and I just stayed tucked in, I was being knocked around. I saw, you know, a few flashes of light from being knocked in the head. I just remember saying, you know, ‘I can’t believe this is how, my God, I can’t believe this is how I’m gonna die.’
“Uh, you know, I thought about my wife, my unborn child … and, you know, I said, ‘Please, just God, please take care of them, and make it a quick death,’” Buzzelli said.
In his survival, Buzzelli said he has a second chance at life and wants to be the best person he can be. But he also is devastated over the loss of life.
“I lost 14 colleagues who were with me when the tower collapsed. They were the last people I saw, then they were gone,” he told the Sun. “They were the victims, and I was the survivor. So I had a sense of guilt. I just wanted to pretend it didn’t happen.”