A North Carolina man shares his gripping story of surviving the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
A veteran in the insurance industry, Joe Dittmar was in New York for a business meeting at the New York City offices of Chicago-based AON Corporation on the 105th floor of Two World Trade Center.
What he witnessed that day is still etched in his mind.
"Oh my God, 13 years later is nothing. It's like it happened yesterday,” Dittmar said.
"It's not something you get by. It's not something you forget."
His meeting was scheduled for 8:30 a.m., but didn’t start on time.
“And at 8:48 the lights in the room flickered. That's it. We didn't see anything. We didn't feel anything. We didn't hear anything, just this flicker of lights,” he said.
An insurance broker came into the room saying there had been an explosion in the North Tower and they needed to evacuate.
"We got 54 insurance people in that room and they all did the same thing, 'We're fine. It's New York. Stuff happens in New York, we'll be fine.’”
That broker was also a volunteer fire marshal for the floor and insisted they leave.
"He took us to the nearest fire stairwell and told us that we were going to walk down 105 flights of steps. And everyone was real happy about that,” Dittmar laughs as he reflects.
People grabbed for cell phones, but they didn’t work. At this point, they still had no idea about what was going on. It wasn’t until they made it to the 90th floor where people filed out to see the North Tower.
“We could see the fuselage of a large plane lodged inside that building. And my first thought was, ‘My God, how couldn’t the pilot have missed the building,’ and the fact of the matter was... he didn't miss.”
He continued, “And to see all that, to see furniture, paper, people being pulled out of the building against their will, it was a gruesome sight and I was so afraid."
Dittmar says at most, he stayed on the 90th floor no more than 30 to 40 seconds. He knew he had to get out. As the group made its way to the 78th floor, some headed into the elevator lobby.
Dittmar took the stairs. The second plane hit the South Tower while he was in a fire stairwell.
"That plane went through our building between the 78th and 82nd floor,” he said.
He was between floors 75 and 72, just a few flights below the impact.
He is one of only seven survivors of the meeting of 54 insurance executives. He credits divine providence, fear, good decisions and 3,000 guardian angels for making it out alive.
“They wanted me to survive right? And I guess part of what I'm doing here is why I was meant to survive.”
Dittmar still works in the insurance business, but also makes time to travel the country sharing his story.
He says he has an obligation to make sure people never forget.