Raleigh, N.C. — 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.