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Pasquale Buzzelli: Miracle man 'surfed' 18 floors after 9/11 attack and survived

Pasquale Buzzelli's survival was a mixture of luck, quick thinking and probably, also some divine help
Fiery blasts rock the World Trade Center after being hit by two planes on September 11, 2001 in New York City (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Fiery blasts rock the World Trade Center after being hit by two planes on September 11, 2001 in New York City (Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Reports say that during the September 11 attacks in 2001, 2,977 people were killed and more than 6,000 were injured. But among them were a handful who survived. Pasquale Buzzelli survived 9/11 by surfing down the Twin Towers collapse. 

Buzzelli's story is not unknown. Following the 9/11 attacks, his was a story that pretty much went viral — even for 2001. Filled with survivor's guilt, he couldn't help but try and make sense of why he survived while others didn't. "Here I am given this gift, and I wanted to make the most of it,” he had reportedly said. But how does one move on from as devastating an event as 9/ 11?


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Pasquale's survival was a mixture of luck, quick thinking and probably, also some divine help. As per his account, Buzzelli was on the 22nd floor of the North Tower when he rode a small patch of concrete flooring down another 18 stories. By the end of it, he had suffered a broken leg and ankle.

What happened on 9/11?

Buzzelli arrived to work with the Port Authority on the 64th floor like any other day. At 8.46 in the morning of September 11, he was in a lift on his way up the North Tower when the first plane hit it between the 93rd and 99th floors. Apparently, when riding the elevator, Buzzelli felt it drop several feet before he got to his office. Once he got to his desk, Buzzelli called his wife, Louise.

"I said, ‘Don’t be alarmed, I’m OK, everything’s fine, just, can you put the television on, and tell me what you see,’ and she goes, ‘Oh my god,’ she goes, ‘A plane hit your building,’” Buzzelli told 60 Minutes.


At first, he thought he was going to be fine, but then he had a "very weird feeling, so surreal. And now we knew we could die," he had told the Sun newspaper in 2012. He then called his wife again, who said, "why are you still there? And why are you calling me? Leave!"

That's when Buzzelli rushed for his life — he grabbed his briefcase, a flashlight, and some wet towels, and then fled down the stairwell. When he encountered firefighters walking up, they told him to keep going. But by the time he reached the 22nd floor, the building had started to shake and rumble.

Buzzelli told 60 Minutes that he dove into a corner and got into a fetal position. "I felt the wall that I was laying next to just crack, and the floor give away, and I stayed tucked in the fetal position with my eyes closed. I felt this, this wind rush, as I was falling and, you know, this abrasive, sandblaster type feeling, and I just stayed tucked in, I was being knocked around. I saw, you know, a few flashes of light from being knocked in the head. I just remember saying, you know, ‘I can’t believe this is how, my God, I can’t believe this is how I’m gonna die.’"

In what he thought were going to be his final moments, Buzzelli said he thought of his wife. "Uh, you know, I thought about my wife, my unborn child... and, you know, I said, ‘Please, just God, please take care of them, and make it a quick death,’” Buzzelli said.

Who is Pasquale Buzzelli?

In September 2001, Pasquale Buzzelli was a 34-year-old structural engineer. From Bergen County, New Jersey, he'd grown up in Jersey City, a son of Italian immigrants. Buzzelli had won a scholarship to Cooper Union, and had immediately been hired by the Port Authority.

Buzzelli's survival is laced with guilt and gratefulness. Just three months after the attack, Buzzelli returned to work at the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. But it was not easy as he was constantly reminded of his past. “I lost 14 colleagues who were with me when the tower collapsed. They were the last people I saw, then they were gone,” he told the Sun. “They were the victims, and I was the survivor. So I had a sense of guilt. I just wanted to pretend it didn’t happen.”

He eventually took leave, and as New York Mag reported, mostly sat in a chair in front of the TV or by the pool, trying to get his head together for the next seven months.