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Local 9/11 survivor: 'I thought I was watching myself die'

Posted September 11, 2012
Updated September 12, 2012

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— A Cary man who was working in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, said Tuesday that he never thought he would survive the terrorist attacks that brought down the Twin Towers that day.

John Cerqueira was 22 and a recent graduate of North Carolina State University when a plane crashed into his office building – One World Trade Center.

"My office was on the 81st floor. I was there when the first plane hit the building, before anyone was aware it was a terrorist attack," he said.

As he and thousands of others crammed into a stairwell in a race to get out before the building collapsed, Cerqueira and his boss came across a woman in a wheelchair on the 68th floor. 

Together, they carried her to safety.

It took about an hour, and Cerqueira said he wasn't sure if they would make it.

"There were several steps, several times that day when we thought we were close to the end ... I thought I was watching myself die," he said. 

They got out just in time, and ran from the crumbling tower as it plummeted toward what become known as ground zero.

"I remember looking up and seeing a cascade of smoke and debris, which come to find out was the top of my building, peeling away right above me," he said.

Cerqueira spoke to the Junior League of Raleigh on Tuesday, which marked 11 years since the attacks, to encourage service as well as remembrance.

He has been recognized by the governor for his heroism and featured in numerous national publications and television shows, including Oprah.

14 Comments

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  • charmcclainlovesdogs2 Sep 12, 2012

    Why are we just now hearing/reading his story?

  • bunnie Sep 12, 2012

    You ARE a hero! I can't imagine what it was like for anyone that was there, at the Pentagon or on the planes that day. We were at work watching after we heard and it was a horrifying thing to watch. I just remember watching, praying and crying. My heart and prayers go out to them all.

  • wakeforest914 Sep 12, 2012

    How can you possibly compare being at the airport to being IN THE BUILDING THAT GOT HIT!!!?

  • stevec2 Sep 12, 2012

    Uhavenoclu
    Your comment is so badly written, that I can't even fathom what you are trying to say. But, that's probably a good thing.

  • change2012 Sep 12, 2012

    Uhavenoclue, Your comment should not have even been allowed to be posted....Just because this man was not where you were does not mean that he didnt experience this first hand. he was heroic indeed whether he was in the airport industry or just simply on the 81st floor of the WTC...smh

  • sophiemom Sep 12, 2012

    That is some story. I've also heard many stories of "survivor's guilt," such as the case of someone who called out sick that day or was a little late getting to work. One of my neighbors lived in NYC and was several blocks from the twin towers that day. She said that she thought the world was coming to an end after the second building was hit. Thanks for your story Mr. Cerqueira!

  • jwstevens04 Sep 12, 2012

    Uhavenoclu....I agree with kiminc...
    Really? You're going to go there with a story like this? Hero? Yes...he stopped and helped a lady in a WHEELCHAIR! For you to have 'been there'...you certainly are lacking in compassion for these victims...

  • dsalter Sep 12, 2012

    I believe this horrible ordeal brought a lot of respect for what fire and rescue people have to do. Not to mention the police.

  • kikinc Sep 12, 2012

    Uhavenoclue-Wow. Just wow. There are MANY stories of the selflessness of people in NYC that day, including many stories of people being carried. There are pictures of it, too. I had family in that building, and I've heard the stories. I'm sorry for what you experienced that day, but if your story is indeed true, you are probably one of the least compassionate people out there. I think being on the 81st floor when a plane hits your building is definitely knowing the first hand effects.

  • nc1state Sep 12, 2012

    Totally unselfish. There is a lot that folks can learn from this.

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