Let's Just Do It
How Mike Benfante discovered that he had what it took to be a hero
BY: Interview by Elizabeth Sams
Q: The plane hit 4 floors above you on the 85th floor. What did it sound like?
Mke Benfante: Well, believe it or not, I remember hearing one of my reps screaming first: "Oh my God." Each floor of the World Trade Center is like an acre large -- I think 20,000 by 20,000 square feet -- and it hit the north side of the tower. My own personal office is on the south side of the building. So I think it actually took time to reverberate from one end to another. And he was standing on the north side of my office near the entrance doors -- and the entrance doors were blown off the hinges into the office upon impact.
And I heard him screaming, "Oh my God, oh my God," and I got up from behind my desk and went to the center of the office. I was yelling at everybody to remain calm. When I did feel the impact, I turned around and looked out my window and the whole building was shaking violently, like bad turbulence but from side to side, and you see flames shoot down -- past my window -- and debris falling down.
Q: What did you think had happened?
I had no idea. I was eerily calm thinking back on it. Because I was just -- I wasn't going to accept that it was anything other than maybe a gas explosion or I don't know, or some type of fire.
Q: The building had done drills since the bombing in '93. Did you have training in what to do or did you just head down because that seemed the logical thing to do?
There are fire drills, but no one really is prepared or anticipates an event like this occurring. I was yelling at them all to stay calm. I ran out of the office doors and I looked down the hallway and the walls behind the elevator shafts were blown down. And there were like ceiling tiles down. I look to the right where the stairway was and it was clear. So I ran back into the office and I was telling everybody to get to the center of the office -- 'cause I figured whatever it was, it was coming from the outside in. Everybody was saying, "We gotta get out." So I said, "O.K., let's get out." And we all started going down the steps.
But somebody said, "There's someone stuck in the bathroom." I thought they meant the men's room. So I ran back to my office, I grabbed my cell phone and grabbed my bag. Ran down the hallway, jumped over some debris that had fallen down from the ceiling and from a wall, and I did the combination on the bathroom door. I opened the door, screamed in there, but there was no response. The stalls were down; the ceiling tiles were down. It was smoky, like a bomb had gone off in there. Just yelled, nobody responded.