Interview with Darrin Olinger by (1st print 2001)

Darrin Olinger (DO) was working as a Finance Associate in the World Trade Center when disaster struck on 9/11th/2001. He was also an army lieutenant. (He has continued to earn promotions and now, a decade later, he has a higher rank.)

This interview is's first interview conducted via email. Questions asked by Sahar Chinyere (SC) in addition to the ones separated by CC (Chinyere Communications questions asked by SC) that were answered in the body of the following response were:

Immediately following the 2d collision, where were you and what was happening around you? Approximately how long did it take you to get away from the area now referred to as "ground zero"? Where did you go and what happened on the way? How did you travel back to your residence and how long did it take?

(cropped photo of mural by Elvert Barnes)

CC: Where were you when the 1st plane hit the WTC? What floor? What did you hear and see? What did you think was happening? What were you told at the time about what was happening, if anything?

DO: At the time I was on the 43rd floor of Tower I. I arrived that a.m. at the regular time, 8:25, stopped briefly at my desk on the 48th floor. I then went to the 43rd [floor] for a cup of coffee. I was with a colleague, facing south, overlooking the Statue of Liberty, enjoying the early morning.

While sitting, there was this immense "thud".

The building swayed violently to the south and then rocked back to the north. I could feel the building rocking on its foundations. The building actually seemed to bend, like a pliable piece of rubber. (SC has since learned that the building's flexibility is a feature deliberately designed by engineers to help prevent breakage in the event of high-impact disaster.)

I continued to look south, out the window, and could see falling debris, pieces of the building, falling out the south side. The windows also started to crack. I thought it was likely a bomb, placed on the observation deck.

But there were no alarms, no announcements as to what to do.

It was instinctive that we needed to escape.
We were near the fire escapes, and we then proceeded to descend.

At first the descent went swiftly, but soon, as people from lower floors joined in, the descent slowed to a crawl. Soon after entering the fire escape, which incidentally was narrow, I could smell jet fuel and smoke.

This was the most distressing moment, because I knew these two substances don't mix well.

Upon smelling these substances I knew that an airplane was involved. The fumes of the fuel were also getting stronger. I had a napkin which I used to cover my eyes and nose, in order to preserve my airflow.

During the descent, the people upfront decided to enter lower floors, rather than walk to the bottom. Although I knew this was not the right route to follow, I had difficulty communicating this sound strategy to the front of the line (due to distance).

This mistaken idea continued to retard our descent, much to my annoyance.

I jumped the line as much as I could, and directed people to walk "to the ground, all the way to the ground".

Soon thereafter, our descent improved. I outline this as a matter of record, rather than self-aggrandizement.

The lights remained on in the stairwell and some water from fire sprinklers was leaking under the doors. Some [people] were becoming emotional [and] impatient with the course of events.

It is fortunate that we did not know the full magnitude of the disaster, which was unfolding during our flight.

As we neared the 10th floor, we learned that the ground-floor door was locked-- and wouldn't open.

I later learned that this door was designed to open electronically in a disaster -- The damage to the building prevented it. However, the door was soon opened from the outside by fire and police personnel-- who then proceeded to ascend the stairs. As a result, we stepped aside, nearer the walls, allowing them to pass by. They numbered less than ten. Simultaneously, injured victims were descending, some with smoke inhalation, burns, etc. None were life-threatening and these victims were moving on their own power, albeit escorted.

Within a few more minutes, we were on the ground floor. All together, the descent took 20-25 minutes.

On the ground floor, I felt a great relief. I exited an east door in Tower I.

We were directed to the northwest and told not to look.

However, I caught a glimpse of the concourse area-- where the fountain once stood. This area appeared charred and burnt. The windows, while not broken, were blackened. Debris was strewn throughout the area.

It was surreal.

Heading northwest, we traversed the walkway, which served the area between the WTC (World Trade Center) and World Financial Center across the street to the west. Some people were walking out -- I and my friend were running, bypassing these slowpokes.

We arrived in the WFC (World Financial Center) and exited the westernmost doors, near the Hudson River and a nearby marina. At that point we turned and saw the towers.

It was a horrifying scene, unreal.

Only at that moment did I realize that both towers were hit. Eyewitnesses outside told me what had happened. They also told me about the Pentagon.

I fixed my attention on Tower I, because I worked there. About two-thirds [of the way] up, I could see the smoke, billowing out and upwards. Flames were shooting throughout the upper areas.

I then saw the unpleasant sight of jumpers, leaping to their deaths.

The first was a man, he was partially on fire. He was soon followed by another person.

The full impact of all this had not set in, because I was in survival mode.

My colleague and I then attempted to use cell phones, which were useless, in order to reach our families, to tell them that we had escaped. We also tried payphones, to no avail. We made our way around the south tip, to the east, trying more phones. I recall standing from a vantage point there, and commenting, "... I bet these buildings will be closed the rest of the year." It never occurred to anyone that a collapse was imminent.

I ducked into a nearby hotel, again to try the phones. I called a friend in Manhattan to have a message relayed to my parents (which he did).

While in the lobby, the CNN broadcast showed the collapse of Tower II. I couldn't believe it.

Upon exiting the hotel, the air was filled with a fine dust. The sidewalk was caked with powder. I recall a piece of dog fecal matter, dusted over.

We made our way north, through Chinatown. Sirens, police, ambulances were everywhere. We continued north, away from major tourist attractions, due to the possibility of more attacks. I saw a Roman Catholic church. Knowing my colleague was Catholic, I suggested we step inside to pray for the victims, the nation, and the rescuers. We did. Along the way, the streets were filled with fleeing workers, some covered with white powdery dust.

I've never seen so many people converging on the streets in that area of town.

Eventually, we made it up to my friend's office on 14th [Street] & Broadway, from where I called my parents. Incidentally, my friend works at a mental health clinic. My colleague was pretty shaken up by then, so I had him talk to the counselors. I was there when I learned about Tower I collapsing.

I was still filled with adrenaline and asked my friend for water and food. We went around the corner for same.

My colleague and I soon continued on our way. I saw Geraldine Ferraro walking with a distressed look on her face, around Lexington and 50th [Street]. My colleague wanted to head home. Since he lived in Queens, he headed for the Queensboro bridge, to walk over. I, living on the upper West side, left for the opposite direction.

He extended his hand for a farewell shake. It wasn't enough at the moment so I gave him a hug.

At that moment I was alone, and headed for my church on 57th [Street] & Broadway. It was about 12 [noon].

I wanted to be amongst more friends and pray more for the victims. I was still dazed, and unsure of the full extent of the incident.

From there I walked home, to [the Upper West Side]. Since I lost my keys in the World Trade Center, the super needed to find extras. It was about 4:15 [p.m.] by the time I entered my room. Once there I began to check all the messages and take all the calls. It was a day of infamy.


{The following question was asked & answered later in 2001 as a follow-up addition to the initial interview.}

CC: What do you think about President Bush's response? The media's response?

DO: I believe the President and his staff are doing a good job. The response is appropriate. Military action is justified. The perpetrators must be punished. The war must be fought decisively-- with a clear outcome. The regime of Afghanistan must be supplanted with a democratic one.


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