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Last Elevator Down

MICHAEL NESTOR: I'm Michael Nestor. I'm the deputy inspector general for the Port Authority of New York New Jersey.

LIZ THOMPSON: I'm Liz Thompson. I'm the executive director of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council.

RICHARD TIERNEY: I'm Richard Tierney. I'm with the Office of the Inspector General for the Port Authority, and I worked in Tower One on the 77th floor.


Ten years ago today, Nestor, Thompson and Tierney were eating breakfast at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top of the North Tower of the World Trade Center.


CORNISH: Together, they rode in the last elevator down in the moments before American Airlines Flight 11 struck the building at 8:46 that morning.

NESTOR: We usually got there around 7:30 - because we were there every day. We had breakfast there every day, so we got there pretty much our regular time and saw the same people that we always see - the hostess, Doris.

THOMPSON: Doris and...

NESTOR: Yan(ph), the waiter. We were sitting right - almost in the center, when you walk in.

THOMPSON: Right. They always sat in the center.

NESTOR: In the center, at the window.

THOMPSON: I just went in, and Doris Zeng(ph) was her usual divine self. She greeted me with a smile, and I was sitting facing the Statue of Liberty. And it was a gorgeous, gorgeous morning. We just commented about what a perfect day it was.


NESTOR: We said goodbye.

TIERNEY: We said goodbye to Doris, to Yan.

NESTOR: Yeah. Dick and I got to the elevator first, and then we heard Miss Liz screaming down the hall. And we held it for her. We rode down, and I guess we were joking around or talking.

TIERNEY: We said something to each other, just - you know, light conversation, whatever.

NESTOR: And it didn't take long. You know, those elevators were fast. It didn't take long. And then we got off, and the plane hit.


NESTOR: I guess when we figured out who didn't get out, and we were the only ones that were up there that did get out, you know, it kind of sunk in as time went on that, my God, we were the last people to leave that place alive.

THOMPSON: I mean, I often thought if I'd had an extra cup of coffee and gone to the ladies' room, then that would have been that.

NESTOR: Things just kind of - for us three - fell in place. For a lot of other people, it didn't, you know. And you just kind of wandered into luck or un-luck, or misfortune or good fortune.


TIERNEY: I think about how close I came, but not deliberately. It just comes upon me, this sense of - kind of a disconcerting sense of how close, you know, how close I came to not being here today.


NESTOR: There is nothing you can do to change what happened. There was no right, wrong, smart, stupid. It was just a matter of - I don't know if it was luck, fate or what it was. But we made a left turn; we're here, having this conversation.


NESTOR: If we made a right turn - and we wouldn't be having this conversation.


NESTOR: We wouldn't be here. And it was just chance.

CORNISH: Michael Nestor, Liz Thompson and Richard Tierney were three of the four passengers on the last elevator down from Windows on the World. Everybody who was at Windows on the World at the time of impact, approximately 170 men and women, perished.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.