What’s a hero? Is it someone bestowed with superhuman powers dressed in a superhero suit, who swoops in when there’s trouble and saves the day?
The answer is of course no… Far from it!
It’s ordinary people faced with extraordinary circumstances making exceptional decisions, decisions they are not expected to make.
On the fateful day of Tuesday, September the 11th, 2001, when the first passenger jet struck the North Tower of the iconic twin towers of the World Trade Center, the first responders were on the scene in minutes.
Together they saved a massive 25,000 lives at least. We salute their incredible heroism and courage.
Just as important it is to remember their sacrifices and seek to be inspired by their contributions, it is equally important to remember and be inspired by some of the civilian heroes who made extraordinary decisions while faced with great difficulties.
This is why, today we have an article honoring and offering tribute to the 9/11 civilian heroes of the 88th floor who acted as citizen first responders inside the tower and made their own extraordinary contributions to humanity, never to be forgotten!
In an interview for the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Dianne DeFontes talks about her incredible experiences on the 89th floor of the North Tower.
On the morning of September 11, she was settling down and getting ready for work.
Suddenly, there was a massive explosion that knocked her out of her seat.
As the smoke started filling into the office and the survivors of the 89th floor discovered the emergency stairwells were badly damaged in the explosion and that they were trapped, panic and despair set in.
Suddenly, as Dianne recalls, a man wearing a yellow hardhat and a flashlight pried open the jammed door using a crowbar and addressed the group, “We have to go, now!”
This citizen first responder, with 3 other men saved more than 50 trapped people besides Dianne.
Who were they, what were the decisions and challenges they were faced with, and what happened to them?
To answer those questions and more, let’s recap a bit.
On the morning of September 11, Frank, an architect by profession, was finishing his breakfast on the 88th floor of the North Tower. He worked there along with his wife.
Just as he was about to leave the North Tower with his wife, Flight 11 of the American Airlines crashed into it, violently shaking the building.
Everyone was in shock.
Frank gathered his nerves and started calming down the people with him on the floor, asking them to stay together.
He took the initiative and started searching the entire floor for a working exit. As soon as he saw an emergency exit that was usable enough to escape the building, he went back and led the group and his wife to it so they could escape.
As soon as the group started exiting, he started down behind them, when he heard someone desperately pounding the exit door one floor above him, on the 89th floor.
The names of his co-workers were Pablo Ortiz, an ex-Navy Seal and now employed as a construction superintendent with the Port Authority, Pete Negron, an Environmental Coordinator, and Carlos da Costa, an Assistant General Manager.
Together they made their way to the 89th floor through the debris and yelled to find out if someone was still there.
The door was jammed in and the stairway was badly damaged and mangled.
Frank, thinking fast, got a hammer and dug a hole in the wall. As soon as he did it, he was facing a man desperately pleading for help.
This is when Pablo, using a crowbar, took the initiative and pried the door to open and now faced 2 groups on the 89th floor. He was the man Dianne DeFontes was referring to in her interview.
Pablo led the 2 groups to a different exit after prying open the buckled doorframe jamming the exit, the first one being mangled out of shape and unusable.
Once Dianne and her co-workers on the 89th floor were going down the stairs and safely exiting the building, Frank and Pablo, instead of accompanying them, went on to look for more survivors who may have been still stuck on the upper floors.
They continued to the 90th floor and evacuated even more groups of people who had practically given up.
As if this wasn’t enough for a day, they somehow dug through the increasing debris, smoke, fire, and worsening conditions, and made their way to the 91st floor. It’s said the flight had crashed around the 92nd floor. So, the 91st floor was in a perilous condition.
Now continuously faced with doubts of whether they themselves will make it out of the building alive, these 2 citizen first responders found 18 survivors stuck on the 91st floor and led them safely to the stairwell.
Seeing there were no more floors to ascend, they finally started descending the building, but not without first looking for survivors at every floor.
They saved 6 more survivors stuck on the 86th floor.
Frank and his Family
On the 78th floor, they heard a man’s voice from inside the elevator asking for help. With great difficulty, they eventually pried open the elevator door and helped the man out.
Around this time, Frank as an Architect and Construction Manager, probably knew it was too late for them and the building was about to collapse.
All of this time, Pablo was in touch with his wife who was at home, on his pager.
During an interview, she told the interviewer that her last page to him at 10:28 a.m. went unanswered and she instinctively turned to the news on television and aghast, saw the building with her husband in it crumble before her very eyes.
Being employed in construction, these men fully realized the risks of their actions but chose to act and help out survivors anyway.
Frank, Pablo, Pete, and Carlos are credited with saving the lives of at least 77 people in the North Tower, people who would have never made it out in time if not for their selfless courage.
Carlos Do Casta
Quite frankly, these citizen first responders gave up their lives so others could live.
They went on saving as many people they could, knowing full well the tower could collapse on them any minute.
So, what’s a hero again?
Someone who steps up as a leader when he is not expected to!
Frank, Pablo, Pete, and Carlos are now known as the heroes of the 88th floor, and will be long remembered fondly by not only the people they saved, but by the vast majority who now know their story and will be inspired by them for years to come!
Ten years after the tragedy, TLC came up with a 2-hour special titled – 9/11: Heroes of the 88th floor and reconstructed this morning using interviews of survivors, archival footage, recreations, and narration by Chris Noth, showing the bravery of Frank and Pablo, and how they saved 77 people and inspired thousands with their selfless efforts.
Let’s stand together solemnly in remembrance of these heroes and in solidarity with their families.
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