Issaquah resident fled 9/11 destruction in Manhattan
September 6, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
The unbridgeable gulf separating days before 9/11 from days after runs along a Manhattan street named — as if by chance — Liberty.
The street slices across Lower Manhattan and presses close to the World Trade Center site.
Issaquah resident Dana Macario, 33, endured the initial confused, chaotic moments after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks along Liberty Street.
On a cloudless morning 10 years ago, Macario — then Dana Luthy, a marketing coordinator at a top-flight law firm — boarded a subway train in Brooklyn for a short ride beneath the East River to Lower Manhattan. The young Western Washington University graduate was headed to a 39th-floor office in 2 World Trade Center.
Macario noticed sheets of paper drifting in the air like unseasonable snowflakes as she emerged from the subway station just before 9 a.m.
Hijackers sent American Airlines Flight 11 hurtling into 1 World Trade Center moments earlier.
Macario, cloistered on the subway in the era before ever-present cellphones and smartphones, did not realize the scraps floating from the sky came from the burning building.
“You first thought — you try to place everything in a familiar context — was, ‘Is there a ticker tape parade going on?’” she said.
Macario joined a crowd along Liberty Street, less than a block south of the World Trade Center.
“We couldn’t tell at all the extent of the devastation. People around me were like, ‘Man, I bet they’re pissed about the sprinklers. They don’t seem to be working that well,’” she said. “We all assumed that it was probably a small, contained fire. Nobody around me even thought that anybody had been injured.”
Months earlier, as Macario considered attending law school, she landed a job as a paralegal at Thacher Proffitt & Wood, a firm based on floors 38 through 40 in the 110-floor building. But the punishing hours convinced her to consider a career in marketing instead.
Macario often reached the office by 9:15 a.m. after a short jaunt on foot from a subway station in the Financial District. Until a few weeks before the attacks, she disembarked from a subway in a subterranean mall beneath the World Trade Center.
In the moments after the plane crashed into 1 World Trade Center, Macario and the crowd along the street assumed a mishap occurred — a wayward pilot, perhaps.
Then, a battleship-gray-and-navy-blue airliner, United Airlines Flight 175, veered into the other tower as Macario and others assembled in the street watched in disbelief.
“We saw this very low approach out of your peripheral vision, and just watched it very deliberately flying into our building. That was the building that I worked in,” she said. “For me, I knew that some of my coworkers would already be there.”
Flight 175 slammed into floors 77 through 85 at 9:02 a.m. The firestorm and smoke dispelled any notions about a possible accident.
“Being there at that moment, there was no doubt that that wasn’t an accident,” Macario said. “It was the most deliberate thing you could imagine.”
Uncertainty follows escape
The mood along Liberty Street oscillated from unease to terror in the instant Flight 175 hit the building.
“As soon as that happened, immediately people turned and ran,” Macario said. “There was no sitting or contemplating at all. It was an immediate reaction of turning and running.”
The subway lines zigzagging beneath New York City remained open in the moments after the planes struck the buildings. Macario headed for home, a brownstone in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
“I was lucky because I just followed the crowd. I was a sheep,” she said. “Everybody ran, I just ran with them and, luckily for me, they ran east toward my subway stop, and I just ran and hopped on.”
The city shut down the subway system not long afterward, at about the same time 2 World Trade Center — weakened from the jet-fuel-accelerated fire — collapsed into smoldering rubble and belched a hellish cloud onto the Manhattan skyline.
Unknowingly, Macario boarded one of the last trains disembarking from Manhattan. Other passengers in the near-empty car did not realize the scale of the destruction outside.
“There was another woman and myself who had been out there and had seen it,” she said. “She and I were kind of hysterical and sitting next to each other and comforting each other. People were asking us, ‘What’s going on?’”
Macario, shaken and almost incoherent, attempted to explain the incident to other passengers.
“I told people — and later I realized, why did I say that? I had no basis for it — ‘They took an empty plane and they flew it into the building,’” she said. “I later realized, subconsciously, without ever thinking it through, that I had fully rejected the possibility that they could have gotten a plane full of people. My mind maybe thought that that was too horrible.”
The train deposited Macario in Park Slope and, as she headed home on foot, she called her mother in Washington.
“I knew she was watching the ‘Today’ show and freaking out,” she recalled. “I said, ‘I’m OK. I saw it happen, but I’m OK. I’m back in Brooklyn.’”
Meanwhile, across the East River, 102 minutes after terrorists aboard after Flight 11 unleashed fury against the United States, 1 World Trade Center crumbled.
“Later, of course, I got home and turned on the news, and started piecing together and hearing what was happening,” Macario said. “I realized that plane wasn’t empty at all.”
Most occupants in the towers beneath the crash sites survived the attacks. Thacher Proffitt & Wood and other tenants in 2 World Trade Center started to evacuate the building after the initial plane struck the other tower, but before the official announcement to flee.
“My immediate thoughts turned to my coworkers, trying to get a hold of everybody and wondering, ‘Was everybody OK?’” Macario said.
Macario also considered, fleetingly at least, the items she lost after the collapse destroyed her office, such as the photo snapped in Las Vegas showing her and a costumed Elvis impersonator.
“It is always weird to think that your mementos — you know, I obviously had personal photos — and that those were then among the rubble,” she said.
Nobody from the law firm perished in the attacks. (Though the recession late in the decade claimed 160-year-old Thacher Proffitt & Wood, a leader in the mortgage-backed securities market.)
“Then, once we got in touch with each other, we all thought, ‘We don’t have a place to go to work. Do we have jobs still? What’s going to happen?’” Macario said. “There was a lot of that uncertainty.”
Fear clouds days after 9/11
Instead, she returned to work less than a week after Sept. 11. The marketing team returned early to start contacting clients and media about the firm’s relocation to a Midtown space along 42nd Street across from Bryant Park, between Times Square and Grand Central Station — potential targets for terrorists.
“In that mindset, all you could think was, ‘These are the next targets, and we’re right in the middle of them,’” she said.
The firm ordered breakfast and lunch for employees involved in the relocation effort, and employees ate as a way to cope. Macario gained about 10 pounds in the six months after the attacks.
Uncertainty and fear about another attack permeated New York City in the weeks after the World Trade Center collapse. Rumors about threats churned across the city. The long, solemn recovery effort at ground zero dominated headlines and newscasts.
“If the subways ever stopped unexpectedly in between stations, you’d start to get panicky,” Macario said.
Soon, she reached a decision to relocate from New York to Washington.
“I probably came to it fairly early on. I started having that thought of, ‘What if I was one of the people that was in a hospital, that made it out but was injured? Who would definitely, 100 percent, go through anything to make sure they could see me in the hospital?’” she said. “I realized that it was my family here in Seattle.”
Macario stayed for several months to ensure the move did not result from some knee-jerk reaction to the attacks, relocated to Seattle in February 2002 and, in a coincidence, accepted a job at a law firm on the 37th floor in a downtown Seattle skyscraper.
“I had been so used to being traumatized myself and having all of my coworkers been traumatized that it was strange being with people who were relatively unaffected,” she said. “Of course, everybody thought it was sad and terrible, but they hadn’t been personally impacted by it.”
Downtown Seattle is along the flight path to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and passenger jets often amble low over Puget Sound. The airliners flying so close to skyscrapers dredged up uncomfortable memories for Macario.
“Every time I would be sitting in my boss’ office, it would look like these planes were headed for the building and I would start to get panicky,” she said. “Everybody else was just completely oblivious to it. It took awhile to get used to that and calm down the nerves and begin to relax a bit.”
(Ironically, Macario is scheduled to fly from the East Coast on the attacks’ 10th anniversary.)
Soon, life resumed a normal rhythm; marriage and motherhood followed. Macario relocated to West Seattle and then to Issaquah, and left the legal field to start a marketing company.
Sometimes — and especially as the anniversary approaches since a September morning altered history and after special forces slew terrorist mastermind Osama bin Laden in May — she reflects on the gulf separating days before 9/11 from days after. Sept. 10, 2001, did not differ much from preceding workdays.
“It was just an ordinary day,” she said. “Now, I think about the stuff that was in my office — the pictures that I had hanging up and the things in my office. It was just a completely average day.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.