Could Have Been Me: 20 Years Ago, 10 Days Before 9/11, I was on Top of the World Trade Center

Prasun Mishra-

While we were up there everyone started clicking pictures with a plane that was flying low. The plane eventually passed the towers. We all were very much impressed that we were standing truly on “top of the world” where a plane was flying below us. However, I was a bit anxious and concerned about being there while the plane was on a trajectory toward the Tower. One mistake and the plane could hit the tower. We hoped that the pilots were being very careful.

I was on my way to give a NYC tour to one of the faculty who was being interviewed for a position at Rutgers Medical School (I was jokingly called in as a “tour guide”  by some of my friends as I knew the city well). When we were at WTC, she insisted that she would like to head to the top. We found a very long waiting line. We had many other places to show her, so we decided to go another time. The actual words were, “The buildings are not going anywhere; they are going to be here when you visit NYC next time.” But she didn’t know when she would be in NYC next. With her persuasive pleading, she convinced us to join the long line. We took pictures at the entrance and took the fastest elevator to the South Tower’s indoor observation deck on the 107th floor. Then we took an escalator to the outdoor viewing platform atop the South Tower. The views were breathtaking.

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View from the observation deck of the 107th floor of the South Tower.

At that time, I worked at Rutgers Medical School. The campus has an amazing view of NYC, especially outside my lab. One of my favorite activities was to step out whenever I could and read a scientific paper or a book by sitting on one of the benches on the Rutgers campus with a magnificent view of the NYC skyline. The Twin Towers stood at the heart of this awe-inspiring view.

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A view of the Twin Towers from a ferry ride to Liberty Island.


On 9/11 I had a routine checkup appointment with my physician so I arrived very early on campus. When I stepped out of the lab, I witnessed smoke coming out of the WTC building in the NY skyline. Folks gathered outside mentioned that a plane had hit the North Tower. From my experience 10 days before atop the WTC, I thought that there was a chance that a plane might have accidentally hit the building.

I still made it to my appointment and  today I still remember my physician saying “I admire your punctuality; planes are hitting buildings and it’s remarkable you were able to make it today.” I guess he was in rush to leave. After the appointment, I came out and noticed smoke coming out of both the towers. I walked down the campus amongst police cars and ambulance sirens. I saw folks gathered around a campus TV, where I learned that a second plane had just hit the South Tower. This was the tower that had the observation deck that I visited. At that point, we all knew that this was no accident. We were under some kind of planned attack.

Soon I was devastated to learn that the South Tower collapsed. I felt as if the ground fell out from beneath my feet. I remembered when  I stood on top of that South Tower only a few days before. How was it even possible that it could come crashing down like a fragile house of cards.

I went inside to wrap up my experiments and after some time one of my coworkers rushed in, crying, “It’s not there anymore.” We all ran out to see only smoke coming out and there was no sign of the towers anymore. The University announced the campus closure and we all left. In the corridor, I met one of my friends whose wife worked in NYC. He said by God’s grace she was late that day and missed her regular ferry going to the city. The next ferry was canceled, and all the other access points going to Manhattan were seized, so she came home.

We all know what happened after that. Like everyone else, I was devastated. Especially since I visited the place and had been on the top of the WTC building just 10 days ago. I felt how folks must have felt who were in WTC and on top of the towers as the plane approached. I always think it could have been me had  I visited 10  days later. I was unable to fathom that such majestic structures were not there anymore.

When I developed my camera roll and saw the pictures it brought tears to my eyes. Every picture of my friends and me standing atop the tallest building in the world that day has the timestamp of 9/01/2001 (9/01). Fate placed us at this site only 10 days before the devastation.

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The timestamp on the back of the pictures taken on 9/01/2001 (9/01), ten days before 9/11.

I did not dare to share this story until now, 20 years from the incident. When I look at these pictures every time tears roll through my eyes. This story taught me that nothing is permanent in life. As someone who feels the pain of others, I woke up today filled with grief. I found my photo album and traced to these pictures. My tears fall as I go through my memory lane. Thinking again, it could have been me and my friends.

I remember visiting NYC and  Ground Zero after 9/11 only to find the ravages. The Sphere at the plaza fountain was damaged but saved.  But the gaping loss of the Twin Towers pervades the site.

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View of the Sphere at the plaza fountain in the courtyard of the twin towers.

I still cannot fathom the sorrow of those who lost their loved ones. Let us all pray for the families who lost a loved one in this tragedy. May their souls rest in peace.