Not all rumors hurriedly spread in the wake of a tragedy are exaggerations of the horror that was or vocalizations of fears of things potentially to come — some are expressions of hope.
The “building surfer” is one such rumor in that it celebrates the miraculous survival of an otherwise doomed man and thus by implication imparts hope that others too will have been found to have lived through the destruction. In a larger sense, such rumors reaffirm belief that man will always pull through no matter what disaster is visited upon him.
According to widely dispersed bit of gossip, a man trapped high in one of the falling World Trade Towers managed to ride parts of the collapsing building down to safety. In some accounts, he is said to have “curled himself into a ball,” in others, to have ridden the swirling air currents and cascade of debris like a surfer, a piece of wood his boogie board to survival. Shaken but proud, he emerges from his wild ride with only minor injuries amounting to no more than scratches and a broken ankle.
Often the rumor specifies the floor the man fell from, placing it as the 71st, 82nd, 92nd, or some other so high that no one could reasonably have lived through a fall from it.
Many accounts assert the mystery man was a firefighter, one of the countless brave souls who deliberately risked their lives to help others. Because this is a rumor of man triumphing over mayhem, lore remakes one of the cherished but doomed heroes of the day into a survivor, changing his real fate into one that not only spares his life, but leaves him triumphant in the face of utter devastation. Our sense of justice is thus appeased.
Sadly, there isn’t any credible evidence of the existence of such a man, firefighter or otherwise. He’s a figment of our wishful imaginations, a fictional icon of indomitability we are quick to turn to in times of disaster. We picture his incredible ride down the side of collapsing building and delight in this confirmation that man will always find a way. In our minds, we see his ride as a giant thumbing-off to the destruction raining down about him.
Needed icon or not, could he be real? Is there at least some small shred of truth to this story?
There is — and there is even a true tale of actual miraculous survival — but there are also confusion, misinformation, and exaggeration.
Some news outlets have reported tales from the scene involving interviews with those who’ve rescued victims from the fallen building. One such report came from two members of the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department who pulled a trapped Port Authority police officer from a crater a day after the disaster. “He must have just rode the building as it came down,” one of them said.
The rescued officer goes unnamed even at this late date, leading us to believe he’s a conflation of rumor with hope or just a garden variety misremembering of things read and heard with things experienced. Or he could have been
McLoughlin is a 21-year veteran of the Port Authority police force who was pulled from the rubble of the World Trade Center on
No one knows how Sergeant McLoughlin survived Tuesday’s collapse, or even where he was when the buildings fell. His colleagues said he was probably outside the south tower when it came down, but a battalion chief at the rescue said that Sergeant McLoughlin was on the
82nd floorof the building when it came down.
McLoughlin’s whereabouts at the time of the building’s collapse were in dispute — his boss (who would have been interviewed by the press and whose comments would have been taken as definitive) thought he was one place, and his colleagues knew him to be another.
The injured man and his family have been refusing to talk to the press, but after close to two weeks of being battered with inquiries, a senior press officer for the Port Authority spoke up about what he knew.
Further complicating the matter, some recall seeing an interview with David Lim, another Port Authority worker who was pulled from the rubble. Lim’s story could lead those who listened less than carefully to believe he’d fallen from a great height, because he was on the
Adding to the belief in this tale was a lengthy article titled “Ground Zero” which ran in the
Newsweek has retracted this part of the story. A correction that ran on
In “Ground Zero,” we reported that two Port Authority police officers fell more than
80 floorsand survived in the World Trade Center collapse. The Port Authority now believes that the officers reached the ground floor by foot before the towers fell.
Yet with all the misinformation and confusion surrounding rumors about miraculous survival, some stories do appear to hold up, such as that of Pasquale Buzzelli. This 34-year-old Port Authority worker had begun the descent from his office on the
Buzzelli was knocked unconscious but came to a few hours later, was discovered atop a high pile of rubble by firemen, and rescued. His right foot was fractured and he had suffered a few scrapes and bruises, but was otherwise unharmed. Guzman-McMillan suffered a crushed right leg and was not pulled from the wreckage until a day after the disaster.
Sixteen people in all survived the collapse of the North Tower. Even among this handful who lived, folks standing immediately to the right or left of them at that critical moment died, leaving many of the survivors haunted with unanswerable questions of “Why me?”