The two World Trade Center window washers whose crippled scaffold dangled for nearly two hours 68 stories above ground said initial panic quickly shifted to calm as they waited for rescue.
Speaking about their harrowing experience Friday, Juan Lizama and Juan Lopez said fear raced through their heads as one side of the scaffold dropped Wednesday, but training kicked in as they came to a halt and waited for first responders to come to their rescue.
They were stuck after a cable on their scaffold suddenly loosened, plunging it into an almost vertical position outside the 104-floor tower, the largest in the Western Hemisphere.
"I'm just happy to be alive, that's just as much as I can say," Lopez said.
"When the scaffold stopped, I called my wife to say, "Something happened ... I'm OK, everything's safe" Lizama said.
Firefighters eventually used diamond cutters to saw through a triple-layered window and pull the men to safety. Lizama and Lopez were examined at a hospital and released. They both thanked the firefighters who came to their rescue.
The dramatic rescue came a little more than a week after the building officially opened and was followed by New Yorkers on the ground and many others watching on live TV around the world.
The workers' union, Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ, said it makes sure workers follow rigorous safety protocols. Lopez and Lizama both underwent about 800 hours of training before working at the World Trade Center, and both were continually drilled on proper techniques and protocols to ensure their safety as well as that of anyone on the ground below.
"We'd been prepared for any incident like that," Lopez said. He added, "We knew everybody beneath us was safe and it was just a matter of time (before we would be rescued)."
Lizama, who has been a unionized window cleaner for 14 years, said he'd head back to work at the World Trade Center tomorrow, while Lopez said the experience had him contemplating a job on the ground.
Officials haven't determined what caused the cable problem, and it was unclear whether anything about the design of the 1,776-foot skyscraper complicates working on the window-washing scaffolds.
The building's owner, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, said it was suspending window cleaning there while investigating what happened.