From the archives: Man in 9/11 dust photo

A photographer snapped a photo of Edward Fine walking away from the twin towers, covered in dust and debris, holding a cloth over his mouth

This Sept. 11, 2001, file photo, shows Edward Fine covering his mouth as he walks through the debris after the collapse of one of the World Trade Center Towers in New York.
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This story was originally published 10 years after the attacks.

The black leather Cole Haan shoes, the leather briefcase, and the gray suit are like relics in a museum in Edward Fine’s closet.

"These are the shoes I wore that day," he says. "The suit is the same, just clean of course."

Fine has saved everything he was wearing on Sept. 11, 2001, when a photographer snapped a photo of him walking away from the twin towers, covered in dust and debris, holding a cloth over his mouth. The photograph later became an iconic image from the day of the attacks.

"I didn't want anyone to take my picture,” Fine says now. “I didn't stop and pose for that picture and I had no idea that the picture had been taken."

The photo ended up on the cover of Fortune magazine, with the headline “Up From the Ashes.”  And with that, Fine became a face of that historic day.

Sitting in the backyard of his Watchung, New Jersey, home, Fine was able to recount the day with incredible detail.

“Ten years is etched in my memory. It was absolutely awful but this event is etched in my memory and will be etched in my memory for as long as I live, every little detail of it," he says.

Fine did not work at the World Trade Center; the investment consultant was merely visiting because he had an appointment in the north tower, which was hit first and collapsed last.

He was on the 87th floor, waiting for an elevator to go downstairs, when the plane hit. He remembers the long descent down the 87 flights of stairs, with hundreds of others. As he walked briskly away from the towers, he was still thinking about how he would get to his next appointment when the south tower collapsed.

"I looked back and I saw a massive cloud of debris rushing up the block, and the EMT worker yelled at me to get down," Fine says. “Moments later you could feel the hot debris pouring over your body, it felt like warm ash."

"When I finally stood up, I opened my eyes and they stung, but I could also see nothing, just darkness," he says.

The now-famous photograph was taken when he rose from the ground, from under several feet of debris.  Fine was limping away because his knees hurt from walking down so many stairs.

He believed he survived for a reason. 

Since walking away from the worst terrorist attack in American history, Fine has found a new passion.

For the past decade he's been working for Unilife, a company that manufactures single-use syringes, to help protect health care workers from unnecessary needle stick injuries.

And when he's not working, he spends time with his granddaughter, focusing on the important things in his life.

“No matter how dark the day, tomorrow's coming and we're going to make tomorrow a better day than today," he says.

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