MICHAEL BENFANTE AND JOHN CERQUEIRA
Carried woman down WTC
Michael Benfante and John Cerqueira, colleagues in the New York branch of a Boston-based telecommunications firm, were in a staff meeting on the 81st floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center on September 11 when American Airlines flight 77 plowed into the building four floors above them. (To read Benfante's own account of what happened, click here.)
They felt the building shake, saw the flames and smoke out the window. Branch manager Benfante ordered everyone to head down the stairs. The street, and safety, were at least a mile and a half below.
On the 68th floor, Benfante and Cerqueira found 41-year-old Tina Hansen stranded in a wheelchair and did a simple yet extraordinary thing. They spent the next hour carrying her to safety.
These two men had no prior rescue training; saving lives was not their chosen profession. But that's just what they did. With help from others along the way, they carried a woman neither of them had ever met to a waiting rescue van, then had to run for their lives as the building collapsed behind them.
As survivors' stories from the Pentagon and World Trade Center emerged, we learned that Benfante and Cerqueira were not alone. In the wreckage of both locations, perfect strangers, despite their fear, made room for each other on crowded stairways, went back for missing colleagues, put themselves in greater danger to help others survive, sometimes at the cost of their own lives.
We nominate Michael Benfante and John Cerqueira for their spontaneous, matter-of-fact bravery on September 11. We also nominate them as representatives of the many other ordinary men and women in Virginia and New York--most of whose stories we'll never know--who took risks that day to help others and reminded us of our best selves.
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