Ron DiFrancesco was a Canadian working on a U.S. immigration work visa in the South Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11. He was a manager at Euro Brokers’ office on the 84th floor. As a Canadian he felt as if it was a unique honor for him to have been appointed to his position and to be working in the World Trade Center, regarded by many as the most prestigious building in Manhattan.
When the first plane hit the North Tower, the people in his office heard the crash and saw the flames and smoke emanating from that building. They did not know yet that a hijacked plane had been involved. As the phones started ringing and people started asking Ron and the other employees there what happened, they surmised that a small plane had lost its way and accidentally hit the building. They could see that the flames from the crash were forcing people in the North Tower to flee and in some cases to jump to escape the fire. As news reports started coming in giving more accurate accounts of what was happening, Ron got a telephone call from his good friend in Canada telling him to get out of his building. He heeded the warning and made his way over to the elevators. Just then the second plane his tower.
Ron says that the impact of the crash was so violent that the building swayed some seven or eight feet. He thought for the moment that the building would tip over but instead it simply swayed back the other way. After the building stopped swaying, Ron made his way to the staircase. Unlike in the North Tower where the plane came in level, in the case of the South Tower, the pilot of the plane came in on an angle evidently to cause maximum damage. In a sense that was fortuitous for Ron in that the right tip of the wing of the airplane plowed into the tower above the 84th floor although the body of the plane crashed into the building below it.
Ron quickly made his way to the staircase. Smoke was coming up the stairs from the lower floor. He tried to make his way down but people from lower floors were coming up to escape the fire below. So he turned around and tried to go up.
Since the right tip of the wing of the plane hit the tower above his floor, that part of the tower was on fire. There was no way to proceed upward. For perhaps the first time, Ron DiFrancesco realized he was no longer in control of the events in his life. A sense of doom descended on him and the rest of the people trapped between the floors. Unable to go up, once again he turned to go down facing the billowing smoke coming up the staircase like a smokestack. Now there was also fire down below and despite using a piece of drywall to shield himself from the heat, as he proceeded his body was being burned.
He thought it was all over. Overcome with smoke he was about to give up. Just then Ron says he heard a voice. He cannot really explain exactly whose voice it was, but he drew strength and faith from it to continue downward despite the burns. Then he heard a second voice, the voice of a firefighter. While he could not see in the smoke, the firefight said to come in the direction of his voice further down the stairs.
Ron reached the firefighter and told him he couldn’t breathe. The firefighter examined him and told Ron to go down to the bottom where he would be cared for. That’s what he did. Since he was now below the crash site the sprinklers had come on making the descent much easier. When he finally emerged on the ground floor he was blocked from exiting the building by firefighters who said it was too dangerous because of falling debris and the bodies of those who jumped. Instead he was direct into the basement of the building to exit there.
Ron descended below. He was especially impressed by a heavy set man who had also come down from his tower and was now descending with Ron into the bowels of the building. As they reached downstairs they suddenly heard the rumble of the building pancaking down on them. They turned to look back down the corridor where they saw a huge fire ball coming at them. They turned around and ran for their lives.
Ron woke up in the hospital. There were burns to the great majority of his body. His contact lenses had melted to his eyes. It took years to recover. But he had made it. He was the last known survivor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center bombing. Since then Ron and his family have moved back to Canada. Yesterday, however, he returned to New York to the site where exactly 15 years ago he was lucky enough to survive America’s worst terrorist attack. His story is a testament to resilience in the face of adversity. It is one that reminds us of how precious life can be and of the fact that eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.