Robin L. Beugless - Personal Account of the Events of 09/11/2001
NYC - Shanksville, PA - United Flight 93
Voices of 09/11/2001
Author: Robin L. Beugless - 09/11/2001
Hello, my name is Robin L. Beugless and I live in New Jersey. I would like to share my personal experience of the tragic day in New York City, 09/11/2001. That day is burned into my memory forever.
I had recently become unemployed from Ernst and Young, LLP in August 2001 due to the firm downsizing nationally and the beginning of a new economic recession. I was heavily involved in my job search and I reached out to my first cousin Lauren Catuzzi-Grandcolas. Lauren and I were close and she was assisting me in my job search. Lauren had recently left her job at Good Housekeeping in San Francisco and was in the process of writing her new book dedicated to women and girls entitled, "You Can Do It! The Merit Badge Handbook for Grown-Up Girls". Her book was completed and published April 10, 2005 by her two surviving sisters, Dara Near and Vaughn Lohec. Lauren and I were on the phone quite a bit discussing her book, my job search, and professional networking. Lauren was a great businessperson, and she became a mentor for me. Lauren offered to add me to her Women's Advisory Council once her book was published. I was proud and excited for her and her new endeavor. Lauren was always helpful. Her motto was, "Never give up and don't be afraid to try new things". Today, I still live by that no matter how bad things get, I don't give up. keep trying, and I try to be strong.
After vacationing in Cape Cod, I returned to NJ on Friday, 9/8/01. On the ride home I called my sister, Dana, to check in on our family. She told me that Lauren's parents, my Aunt Barbara and Uncle Larry Catuzzi, flew in to NJ from Houston, Texas, and that Lauren had also arrived from San Francisco. Larry Catuzzi's mother (Lauren's Grandmother) passed away and they were all in NJ for the funeral in Carlstadt. That Friday evening when I arrived home, I had a message on the answering machine from Lauren which stated, "Hi, Cuz, this is Lauren! I am staying at Vaughn's house for the funeral this weekend. Let's get together for dinner and drinks if we can before I leave." I had wanted to see her but I was too busy preparing for my job interview scheduled in NYC on Tuesday, 9/11/01. I never got a chance to call her back.
Tuesday morning arrived and I was excited and nervous about my job interview in Rockefeller Center in NYC. I was thinking of all the preparations I had made for this interview. It was a big deal for me since I had never gone into NYC alone before. I mean, me, Robin, taking the train alone, catching the cab alone, and doing everything alone with no help. So, I had my mind focused on the job interview, and what I needed to do to get the job.
I rode the Path train into NY Penn Station from Linden, NJ, and arrived at Rockefeller GE Building at 8:30 am with plenty of time to spare before my 9: 15 am interview. I was able to relax and review my notes for my interview in the basement of Starbucks' Cafe. I was so proud of myself. Everything was going smoothly and I felt quite calm. The day was absolutely the most gorgeous, brilliant, and beautiful weather I had ever seen. The sky was crystal clear blue, and the temperature was perfect. Everyone I encountered in the city that morning seemed to be in generally good spirits. At 9:00 am, I approached the elevators to get to the 54th floor where the Rockefeller Trust Company was located. There were three women walking past me talking very fast, and they were clearly very upset. I made a mental note that the flow of people at this time of day would normally be walking in and not out of the building. Then, I noticed another small group of women walking quickly past me and there was one woman crying. Now, it is not like me at all to stop strangers but something told me to stop, so I asked, "Are you okay?" The group stopped and the woman who was crying explained that a plane crashed into one of the World Trade Center Towers. When she said that, I thought it could only have been a little Cessna airplane. It was 9:05 when I reached the center aisle of the elevator hallway. All the doors opened at the same time. Each elevator was full of people and they all exited into the tiny elevator hallway. I immediately walked to the security guard and asked him what was going on. He told me that the GE Building was locked down due to its potential as a target. He said, ''Terrorists are attacking us and the building is being evacuated now." I suppose in denial I said, "I have a job interview on the 54th floor with the Rockefeller Trust Company at 9:15". It was 9:10 am.
He replied, "Miss, it is at your own risk if you go up there. There is no guarantee that we will not be hit next, and you will not be able to come back down. Is there someone you can call up there?" I said no, and that I would call my job agency. He said, "Well, you better call them and cancel this interview for today." I asked, "What is happening? Why is the building locked down and being evacuated?"
He answered, "Terrorists. A 757 crashed into one of the WTC buildings. They are attacking us and we might be the next target. So, you have to leave right now." I said, "Ok, thank you." I did not get on the elevator and instead I managed to squeeze myself past many people, all evacuating the building at the same time. It was 9: 15 am and everyone was smashed together body to body trying to rapidly exit the building. I left the building with the crowd and stopped at the railing overlooking the Rockefeller Ice Skating Rink. Although everyone was talking loudly, people remained calm and professional. It was the kind of sound heard as a crowd files out of a theatre. I kept calling my roommate and friend, but my cell phone was not working very well. I was able to make calls, but I couldn't receive any and I did not know why. I was trying to get my bearings and to understand what was actually happening. It was much later that I learned that AT&T Mobile Phone Service had lost three floors in the North Tower, and that the antenna on the South Tower was gone as well. It was 9:30 and I called Dana, but she did not answer her phone. I left a voice message on her answering machine and stated, "Hi Dana, this is Robin, I am in the city for my job interview. Something seriously bad has happened and we are being evacuated. Call me as soon as you get my message, I am okay, call me."
I then called my roommate at her office in Suffern, NY. She did not answer, so I left messages and finally I called the main reception and told them to page my roommate. The receptionist said she was in a meeting and could not leave. I told her, "This is an emergency. I am in NYC. Please have her call me ASAP after the meeting." She said ok and took my phone number. The receptionist never told her that I called. As I was standing there, a call came through from another friend who was crying hysterically as she frantically told me that CNN reported the Pentagon was attacked by a passenger jetliner. It was 9:45 am, I think.
I was getting nervous but kept cool and professional like everyone else around me. I said to one woman standing near me, "I came into the city through Penn Station". She froze and said, "You cannot go south. The city is locked down and it is very dangerous, do not go south."
I said, "Ok, thank you." I continued to make calls but my phone was not working correctly. I remembered another friend who worked at Time Warner, located about a half block from where I was standing. I decided to walk there to see if I could catch her on her way out. Something told me not to go into the building. As I approached, I noticed a large crowd of people standing on the corner across from me and some were crying, talking and yelling. One person had a radio tuned to CBS News Radio AM reporting what was happening live. It was 9:50 and they reported that people were jumping out of the WTC South Tower. That did it for me. I decided that I had to leave before it got too late and I wouldn't be able get out of NYC. With this news, several people around me began to cry loudly.
I had no plan or idea of how I was going to get out of the city. I was getting a bit scared now. I walked back to the cross street in-between Rockefeller GE Building and the Time Warner Building and was determined to hail a cab. I flagged down one cab and the taxi driver said, "No, the city is locked down I cannot take you out". Then, I saw another cab just sitting there. I walked over and asked if he could take me out of the city. The cabby said, "No, this cab is reserved and I am waiting for my clients". I said, "okay". At that moment, I noticed a voicemail message on my cell phone and it was Dana, who said, "Robin, you have to go north to get out of the city. Mobs of people are trying to get out of the city in the south, and the toxic plume was going southeast away from the city."
I received a call from a friend in NJ who was screaming and crying on the phone. She said the terrorists brought down a plane in Shanksville, PA at 10:03 am and it was headed for the Whitehouse and the Capitol in DC. CNN reported that the US was under attack. Also, she said CNN said there were eight other planes about to attack the US but they didn't know where. She was hysterical and cried, "Oh my God, the Sears Tower in Chicago - my son works there! I have to call him and tell him to leave now. Good luck, Robin, call me tomorrow after you get home."
It was approximately 10:25 when I saw a cab approaching. I flagged it down and thankfully, the cabbie stopped to give me a ride. The driver asked me where to go. I said, ''Take me north, out of the city. The plume is going southeast." He turned left onto Park Avenue North. It was 10:28 and I turned around to look out the back window of the cab, and I saw the second WTC building collapsing. It was a huge white and grey billowing cloud of dust. It reminded me of the Mt. Saint Helen's volcano eruption back in 1981 that I witnessed first-hand while living in Seattle. I had the same feeling of a disaster.
The cabbie said the city is locked down and he didn't know if we could get out. said that we should take our chances and try it anyway. He asked me again where I wanted to go once we got out of the city. I thought of another friend who worked in White Plains, NY. I did not have the address to provide to the cabbie, so I suggested that he have a look at my NYC map. I asked him how much a cab ride to Suffern, NY would cost. He said, "About $78.00." I said, "Okay let's do that."
It was approximately 12:30 pm when we exited the northern tip of Manhattan. There was a roadblock with armed police and National Guard Troops on guard. The police guards let us pass single file through the blockade and the cab driver continued to drive north to the Tappanzee Bridge.
As we left the city, Dana was able to get through to my cell phone. She said, "Please tell me what you are doing and where you are going." When I told her I decided to have the cab driver take me to Suffern, NY to my roommate's workplace, she said, "Call me when you get on the Tappanzee Bridge and then call me when you get home." I said, "Ok."
As we were driving to the Tappanzee Bridge, I noticed that there was no traffic heading south at all. There were only emergency vehicles from New Jersey, New York and Connecticut racing south into the city. I have never seen so many emergency vehicles driving in the same direction at the same time. It was eerie to hear the sirens as the emergency vehicles raced into the city, especially while we were at a traffic standstill- all exiting NYC.
The cab driver was concerned. He said to me, "Do you know, once I leave the city, I cannot get back in."
I replied, "Yes and I will pay you well if we get out. You can take me to an ATM and you will not have to worry."
We finally crossed the Tappanzee Bridge at 1:00 pm. When I looked south at NYC, all I could see was billowing clouds of smoke from the smoldering buildings. It was hard to grasp what had happened. I called my sister, Dana, and reported that I was on the Tappanzee and headed for Suffern, NY.
At 1:30 I finally arrived at my destination at my friends office in Suffern, NY. The front gate of the company was closed. It looked like a ghost town. The security guard walked out of the little guard house, and asked both of us for two ID's each which we both provided. The security guard went into the guardhouse and wrote down all of our information. He then said, "First, who are you here to see, and second, how in God's name did you get out of the city? The city is locked down!" We both agreed and said it was God's will that we got out safely.
I paid the cab driver a generous amount for the cab fare, included a huge tip, and wished him good luck. I thanked him for taking me out of the NYC. He said thank you and you be careful. I said, "Please get a nice hotel room, and try to relax. I don't think you want to go back to the city, now, anyway." He agreed and left.
I got into my roommate's car and we started to go home via the NJ Garden State Parkway South. At 1:45 pm we stopped at a rest area that had cable TV. The minute we walked in I saw the two WTC buildings burning on CNN TV. I couldn't appreciate the severity of the events that had just happened, even though I was in the city when it all occurred. As I watched the news report, I began to feel sick. I think it was only at that moment that the reality of what happened actually hit me. I had an overwhelming feeling of dread and intense sadness. I reminded myself that I got out ok and it just felt unreal.
When we got home to Rahway at 2:30, I watched CNN and other news channels that kept replaying the film footage of the plane attacks. It occurred to me that I had to get my car from the Linden train station. By 3:00 I retrieved my car and I realized that many of the commuters who took the train into NYC that morning might not return to pick up their cars. We returned home and I resumed watching the TV and news reports.
At 3:30 Dana called and said, "Hi Robin, how are you doing?"
I said, "I am really shook-up right now, and I am amazed that I got out of the city ok. Did you see all the people walking across the bridges to NJ?"
She said, "Yes. That's why I told you head north. It was crazy at the south end of the city where everyone was trying to desperately get out." Her voice started to shake and then she said, "Lauren was on United Flight 93 that crashed in Shanksville, PA."
I asked, "What? That is not true!"
Dana said, "Robin, yes it is true."
I said, "No, Lauren was leaving Vaughn's house on Monday, not Tuesday." Dana said, "Robin, Lauren was scheduled for a later plane on Monday, but since she got to the airport early and there were no delays, she managed to catch the earlier flight and got on Flight 93."
I said. "That could not be true. No. Lauren was not on Flight 93."
Dana said, "Yes, she was.", and we both started crying. "Mom and Dad are very upset and they have spoken to Aunt Barbara and Uncle Larry".
We agreed to talk later.
I went into shock, started crying, and ran downstairs to tell my roommate. She could hardly believe it either.
I called my parents and everyone was quite upset. My mother told me that my older sister, Wynn, informed her that I was in the city for a job interview but she did not know where. My mother was very relieved that I was ok. In addition, she told me that the rest of my family was ok, even those who worked and lived in the city. I hung up the phone with her and was completely in shock. It was so unbelievable - it seemed (and still seems) completely unreal. How could this happen?
I found an American flag and I put it in front of the house. From that day forward, I decided to fly my flag 364 days a year and replace it with a 9/11 anniversary flag on September 11thof each year in honor of all the 3,000 lives that were lost that tragic day. The next day, Dana and I went to her local Church and attended a memorial mass for lives lost on 9/11/01. I stayed with her that day 9/12/01.
To this day I pray for all Americans who were lost to this and all US tragedies such as Pearl Harbor and all the Wars. I also pray for every American who has lost a loved one to these tragedies. We must never forget any American life lost as an innocent victim, or in active military duty serving the United States of America.
I pray for all of you!
In Loving Memory of Lauren Catuzzi-Grandcolas and all victims of the 09-11-2001 attacks, Sincerely, Robin L. Beugless