February 26, 1993 was a Friday. The day was gray with flurries in the air. I was in my last semester at Montclair State College doing an internship with Metro Traffic Control. The offices were in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center. I want to say we were on the 21st floor, but it may have been the 22nd floor. That is the one detail I tend to forget.
One of the main producers was on vacation, and I was doing my first week as a regular producer (apparently I was the first intern to be allowed to do this). Ed from NYNEX, one of the regional phone companies that later became part of Verizon, was in the office working on our phone system. Our supervisor was in his office, while Tina Lang was in the restroom. My relief, Melissa Exelberth, was running about 15 minutes late, but was finally there. The time was 12:17 p.m. That is the exact time that the building shook violently, almost knocking me to the floor.
The first thought that went through my head was that another transfer had exploded. That was a common thing for some reason. Some power was on, much of it was off. Ed the phone guy looked at me and said, "Hey kid, does that look normal to you?"
I looked out the window and saw thick, heavy black smoke pouring out of the Vista Hotel, (WTC 3) with people flooding out of the emergency exits toward Tobin Plaza. I just looked at him and said no. That is when I finally realized something serious had happened. I grabbed a portable scanner, batteries from the office next door and then proceeded with Tina and Melissa (our supervisor had already left to see what happened) to the stairs.
The walk down the stairs took awhile. Some levels had light, others did not. The lower we went, the thicker the smoke became. The three of us held on to each other so that we would not get separated in the dark. Finally, we were able to exit the stairs on the upper level walkway of the lobby.
People were scrambling all over the place. We decided to head down to the main floor so that we could exit out to Liberty Street. As we came off the stairs, I looked back into the mall and saw two officers dragging a severely injured man toward the street. That is when the panic finally set in for me, and we just fled out the doors.
We crossed the street to the pay phones (I may have forced my way to the front) so that we could start calling our stations. Little did I know this is how I would get my first full-time job in this business.
There have been so many things in my life that I have forgotten over the last 20 years. Yet, every detail of that morning into afternoon has stuck in my head. The one I always come back to is that if Melissa had not been late that day, I would have been standing on the PATH platform at the time of the explosion. Thank God she was late.
As I like to do each year, I like to remind everyone that six innocent people died that day - John DiGiovanni, Robert Kirkpatrick, Stephen Knapp, Bill Macko, Wilfredo Mercado and Monica Smith.
Get Eyewitness News Delivered