Businessman Publishes His Story Of Surviving 9/11 Nightmare
By Jean-Louis Turlin
World Trade Center, 47th Floor: The title seems
to say it all. But it is just the starting point to French businessman
Bruno Dellingers own September 11th "survival story."
After the first suicide plane hit the North Towerthe first
tower to be hit but the second to fallDellinger, not realizing
the urgency of leaving quickly, calmly tidied up his office on the
47th floor, locked the door behind him, and made his
way down the steps and outside the building. He escaped from being
crushed by the falling tower by only a few seconds.
The psychological survival took longer: "The nightmares didnt
stop until I finished the process of writing my book," he told
Figaro-France-Amérique one year after the catastrophe.
The work was all the more therapeutic for the forty-something founder
of a financial advice company because it gave expression to a latent
calling to write. Despite his career in business, Wall Street hasnt
quenched the artistic sensibility of this art lover who also serves
as the New York agent of several young artists and who, before his
life was turned upside down, had dabbled at novel writing.
Dellinger has been able to heal a great deal from the traumatic
events of September 11 by putting on paper his conscious and repressed
feelings in the same way others do by while stretching out on the
couch of a psychotherapist. Beginning the work wasnt easy:
it took him six months to begin to write about the reality "which
one must confront if one is to move beyond."
When he took up the pen in April, Dellinger says that he didnt
remember "anything anymore . . . I could only imagine what
the noise of the towers falling down was like by comparing it to
the sounds of everyday life. For example, the sound of police sirens
on Madison Avenue one day made me hear the alarms again in the emergency
stairwell that I used to evacuate my tower."
Dellinger recounted dozens of times, to satisfy requests from the
media and because he had "a need to speak", the several
hours that turned his world upside down. But it wasnt until
later, when he began to detachedly organize the events of that day,
that he began to overcome them.
One paragraph puts the reader into the reality of Dellinger and
his three employees at the moment the first plane hit. "Suddenly,
I hear the rumble of the airplane engine coming full speed towards
us. I dont understand immediately, I pick my head up from
my computer. Barely have I looked through the windows when an incredibly
violent impact shakes the building.
"One second, two seconds: the wave of shock descends on the
upper floors, the tower oscillates with extreme violence, tables
turn over, a marble statue about to fall, my chair rolls forward
and then back on the floor.
"Three seconds: behind the windows, an endless flood of airplane
parts, steel supports, aluminum, glass, debris, kerosene, fire,
bodies maybe, tumbles down before our petrified eyes."
However, Dellinger didnt fully grasp the seriousness of the
situation. He "tidied up" before leaving his office and
walking to the central stairwell: "The people with burns coming
down the steps dont give me the slightest idea of the horror
which is going on seventy floors higher. Or maybe I just dont
want to realize it?"
It was only when he came out of the building and onto the street
where he could see the spectacle of devastation above and his building
"asphyxiated" by "sinister spirals" that he
actually realized what had happened.
In the following few seconds, the South tower fell and Dellinger
saw "a gigantic rolling pin rush down on me below." He
was only able to escape by seeking refuge under the cover of an
ATM machine in front of a nearby bank.
Before the saving hand of an FBI agent brought him to safety, under
the gray-black cloud which came down with the tower, "the day
has crumbled in on itself; there is no more sound, no more air.
My lungs are going to implode. I am still conscious but the evil
is done: I have received the kiss of death. My unconscious is certain
of it: this time I am dead." This is what he thought until
the brutal return of physical sensations.
"The dust came all the way into my eyelids. There was dust
in my mouth, nose, lungs, and under my teeth, which creaked with
it . . . "
The rest of the book is a detailed description of the slow return
to life: the long walk to the apartment, unreal and reassuring at
the same time, frustrating attempts to make contact with his wife
who had left for Chicago and was unable to find out the status of
her husband, the first contact with relatives who called desperately
from France, and even on that first day, the refuge in action to
forget the shock: that first afternoon "I made my first phone
calls to find another office," Dellinger explains.
Finding a new locale for his company, which was a real obstacle
course, brings the reader into the labyrinth of emotions of a person
oscillating between hyperactivity and depression, between a thirst
to live and questions about the meaning of an existence turned upside
One year later, Dellingers life is back to normal, and yet
he is another man, transformed like the World Trade Center itself:
"The very foundations of my life were shaken. The World Trade
Center was one of the solid things which I could count on. The loss
I feel is something I will never be able to get rid of. I have to
learn to live without it and writing the book has helped me a great
deal to do this."
The terrible experience was itself an education: "Two weeks
after the tragedy we began again to work again as best we could.
Human nature is extraordinary. I dont consider myself a hero
but I found in myself unexpected strengths. The formidable power
of adaptation is what New York and America have taught me."
Dellinger is today torn between the happiness of being alive and
a vague, unspoken feeling of guilt for having survived . His book
aims to be a "witness" before any consideration of profit:
"I wont publicize this book, which is for me a literary
work on the suffering of a man, a woman, and a team of employees
in a situation which surpasses understanding and which is larger
than life itself." Perhaps never before has an American historical
experience been so faithfully rendered by a French eyewitness.
Translated From France by Brian and Christelle Beard
Back to The Citizen Page