Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Dynamic Duo

Courage is resistance to fear,
Mastery of fear,
Not Absence of fear.
- Mark Twain

Frank DeMartini, 49, and Pablo Ortiz, 49, worked together for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey out of the agency's offices on the 88th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.  On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, Mr. DeMartini, the World Trade Center's Construction Manager, and Mr. Ortiz, Superintendent of Construction, were in their 88th floor offices - with approximately thirty or so of their co-workers and Mr. DeMartini's wife, Nicole, when the North Tower was struck at 8:46 am.  As chaos ensued all around them, Mr. DeMartini and Mr. Ortiz did what they seamlessly did every other day.  They went to work. 

When American Airlines Flight 11 struck the North Tower, its impact point was between the 93rd and the 98th floors.  The effect of the impact, however, was felt profoundly and immediately on the several floors below the impact point, including the 88th floor.  Although the North Tower had three stairwells (A, B, and C), the force of the impact rendered A & B impassable.  Additionally, it produced so much debris - in addition to toxic smoke and fire - that it rendered the path from the Port Authority's offices to C almost impassable.  Almost.  

Frank DeMartini and Pablo Ortiz, after risking their own lives to do the reconnaissance necessary to confirm that the 88th floor could be evacuated by way of stairwell C, led their co-workers and Mrs. DeMartini to it.  At that point, had the two men simply followed the rest of the 88th floor occupants down the stairwell to safety, each would have been lauded for their heroism.  They did not.  Although logic certainly favored "down" as the direction to travel, they opted for "up".  

They opted for up - along with a third Port Authority employee, Mak Hanna, because they heard what sounded like banging on a door coming from the 89th floor.  There, Flight 11's impact had bent the door leading to stairwell C, thus trapping the occupants of the 89th floor.  DeMartini, Ortiz, and Hanna used a crowbar to punch through the drywall in the areas immediately adjacent to the door - and created a hole large enough for a person to fit through and out into the stairwell.  Now, the twenty-three people rescued from the 89th floor would join the 88th floor evacuees on the long trek down the stairs.  Mak Hanna accompanied the evacuees down the stairs.  

Frank DeMartini and Pablo Ortiz did not.  

Again, they headed up the stairs. On the 90th floor, in conditions that one might call "rapidly-deteriorating" if one was blessed with a historically-profound sense of understatement, they came to the assistance of more people who were trapped and who otherwise would have died.  All in all, Frank DeMartini and Pablo Ortiz rescued seventy-seven people from the North Tower.  Seventy-seven.  

Neither Frank nor Pablo made it out of the North Tower.  Radio records confirmed that their last known position in the building prior to its collapse was on the 78th floor - the Sky Lobby.  Neither man's body was recovered from the wreckage.  No remains of either man have yet been identified.

I would commend to your attention the 2011 documentary film, "9/11:  Heroes of the 88th Floor".   It tells the story of these two extraordinary, selfless men far better than I have done.  It will break your heart - and more than just a little.  

But in times like these, it might also serve as a reminder that even in our darkest hour, light may be found.  You may just have to work hard to find it. And when you do, the reward can be extraordinary.                                           


1 comment:

The Omnipotent Q said...

I saw the documentary a while back, Adam. I couldn't help but wonder what Frank and Pablo found on the 83rd floor where my friend Joyce worked. We know they went from floor to floor from the 88th to the 78th floors. The best guess I can come up with is they arrived on 83 too late to rescue or help anyone. Their bravery that day was amazing. I only wish they could have survived so that the mystery of what happened to Joyce and her colleagues at General Telecom could have been put together.