Rescued from Twin Towers, Survivor's Guilt 10 Years Later

Ten years later, meets with firefighters who saved him

By Andrew Siff
|  Thursday, Sep 8, 2011  |  Updated 4:58 PM EDT
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Pasquale Buzzelli was rescued from the twin towers on 9/11, and 10 years later still feels lucky to be able to come home and see his daughter. Andrew Siff reports.

NBC New York

Pasquale Buzzelli was rescued from the twin towers on 9/11, and 10 years later still feels lucky to be able to come home and see his daughter. Andrew Siff reports.

Thousands of people went into the twin towers on Sept. 11 nearly 10 years ago, and Pasquale Buzzelli was one of the lucky few who made it out, surviving the collapse of the north tower before he was rescued by firefighters.

When the first plane hit the north tower at about 8:46 a.m., Buzzelli was in an elevator, going up.

"I felt the elevator shake violently and actually drop," he recalled, in an interview with NBC New York.

Buzzelli, an engineer with the Port Authority, was on his way to his 64th floor office. He called his wife, who was seven months pregnant with their daughter, and tried to sound as calm as possible.

"I said 'Louise, don't be alarmed, I'm ok,'" he said.

Buzzelli got out of the elevator around the 44th floor, and started taking the stairs.

At home, his wife couldn't relax. The smoky fire she watched on her TV screeen soon became the most horrifying image she could imagine.

And then the tower collapsed.

"I just prayed that he wouldn't suffer," said Louise Buzzelli.

She was convinced he was dead. So was he.

"I curled up right in the corner in the fetal position and I thought, 'there must be something heavy falling down through the stairs,'" he said.

As the tower around him collapsed, Stairwell B became an unexpected harbor. But Buzzelli didn't know it yet.

"I remember saying 'I can't believe this is how I'm going to die. This is how it's going to end. Please God, take care of my wife, my unborn child,'" he recalled.

But somehow, Buzzelli's cascade from about the 22nd floor ended with him perched atop a crumbled pile of debris, very much alive.

"He was trapped," said Fire Lt. Mike Lyons. "He was isolated on a slab of concrete, 4- by 6 feet. In any of four directions he had a long way to go down."

Lyons and a team of other firefighters couldn't believe that in a sea of wreckage they'd discovered a survivor.

"It was amazing," said firefighter Michael Morabito. "Especially the way he was sitting. The sky was blue and he was just untouched in all that destruction."

The first responders crafted a harness out of rope. They draped the sling around Buzzelli and lowered him to the ground.

He was treated at St. Vincent's for a broken ankle before he was allowed to go home to his wife and friends in Bergen County. 

"Every day is a gift," said his wife.

But the next 10 years weren't easy. The Buzzellis have grappled with the reality that thousands died and he didn't.

"A little bit of survivor's guilt," said Buzzelli. "I should be happy, this tastes better -- and then you feel guilty about surviving. You think about the dads that didn't see their daughters being born."

What's helped, said Louise Buzzelli, is that daughter Hope, now nearly 10, has become friends with other children of 9/11.

The Buzzellis' younger daughter, Mia, is 6. The family has even written a book called "We All Fall Down," inspired by the children's game Ring Around the Rosie, and has a website about their story: http://911survivor.com.

Hope, an aspiring artist, drew the book's cover. "I think it's a picture of peace and freedom, almost," she said. "There are kids in red and white and blue holding hands, kind of like a symbol of peace in a way."

As for having a father present when the events of 9/11 nearly made that impossible, Hope Buzzelli had this observation:

"To me it's kind of sad and happy. I feel bad for everyone else that lost important people in their life, but I'm happy my Dad is alive."

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