From the September 24, 2001 issue of THE NEW YORKER.
Article written by David Remnick.
Katherine Ilachinski is a seventy-year-old architect. As a girl, she survived the German bombing of Belgrade. On Tuesday morning, she was in her office on the ninety-first floor of Two World Trade Center, working on a sketch for changes to an electrical substation at the Hoboken terminal of New Jersey Transit. The first jet hit One World Trade just above the level of her office window.
"There was an explosion, and a fireball went along the side of my building where I was sitting," she recalled. "It was so hot. It was like being in a boiler. I had to get out of my office. I went into an interior passage, then into the main corridor, to the elevators. You know, I was in the building in 1993, when we were bombed, and that time my instincts were completely different. Then, I closed my office. This time, I just wanted to get out of the building. Some people were taking the stairs. But I thought, I'm too old to walk so far down. Our elevators go to the lobby on seventy-eight. So I took the elevator to seventy-eight.
"The lobby there was mobbed, everybody trying to get in the elevators to the ground. I saw a guy who worked for me, Anthony--Anthony Portillo," Mrs. Ilachinskisaid. Her voice trembled. "He's a CAD operator--that's computer-aided design. I told Anthony, 'Let's take the elevator to forty-four.' It was still too high for me to walk, but the elevators to the ground were so crowded. There was no air. And I know what happens if the elevator gets stuck. You are doomed. But Anthony said, 'No, Katy.' He wanted to take the elevator all the way down. I didn't trust it. So I took the elevator to the forty-fourth floor. That elevator was relatively empty.
"But the scene in the lobby on forty-four was a repetition of seventy-eight. It was just mobbed. People all the way from east to west. Most of them waiting for the elevator to the ground. That was when I decided to try to walk, and something just propelled me to the north stairs. I don't know by what force I was propelled. But now, two days later, I can look at the pictures and see: that was the side least affected by the second jet.
"In the stairwell, it was quiet. There were announcements on the loudspeakers, saying, 'It's safe. The building is safe. Don't panic.' I think they even told us we could go back to our offices, but I'm not sure. I was just going down, down, down, like an automaton. After the plane hit our building, and the building started shaking, there were no more announcements.
"Through almost everything, I felt amazingly calm, except for that one moment in the stairwell, when the building started shaking and I thought, I'm a goner. I wished I was back on the ninety-first floor, and I could jump. Because I could jump from the window--reluctantly, but I could do it--because then it is over. But to be trapped under rubble, that is worse. I remember, from the war, from Belgrade, what it is to be trapped under rubble.
I don't really know where I was when the plane hit. I had with me some water, but when the stairs started shaking I dropped it. There was smoke, but not too thick. A colleague was with me when we reached the ground, and we came out of the building together.