Lyndelle Phillips: “I operated under automatic pilot. I was practically numb. I don’t remember everything we did.” (Photo courtesy of Lyndelle Phillips)
This story originally was posted on MLSnet.com on Sept. 13, 2001. It tells the story of Lyndelle Phillips and Carlos Llamosa and their brushes with death at the World Trade Center in two separate incidents, the former on Sept. 11, 2001 and the latter in February 1993, It is used with permission.
By Michael Lewis
This is a tale of two survivors, one as close as you can get to Tuesday’s World Trade Center catastrophe, another who was hundreds of miles away.
They both consider themselves lucky to be alive.
You probably are aware of one of the survivors — Miami Fusion and U.S. national team defender Carlos Llamosa. His story is well documented of how he survived the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. The bomb exploded next to his office.
Unless you’re into the New York soccer scene, you probably haven’t heard of Lyndelle Phillips until today. She is an attorney for Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co., which housed 3,500 employees at the WTC. Her connection to soccer is a long and deep one, first as many years as a player in local leagues, most recently as president of the W-League’s New York Magic.
She considers herself very, very fortunate today because the second plane that destroyed the South Tower rammed into Dean Witter’s law offices on the 65th floor — a conference room where Phillips was sitting only 20 minutes prior.
“I’m not a holy roller or a bible-thumper but I’m religious, yes,” said Phillips, a ’93 bombing survivor. “You survived this twice. There, but for the grace of God. What if the plane had hit our building first?
“Right now I’m more in shock with the crash and devastation.”
Phillips watched the first plane hit the North Tower at 8:45 a.m. “We felt the impact and then we saw that debris was flying out of the window. Documents, desks, people,” she said.
Even though Trade Center security officials said the South Tower was secure and that workers should remain in their offices, Phillips made a quick and lifesaving decision: That everyone should leave the office and walk down — 65 flights.
“I didn’t listen to that,” said Phillips, who took her purse and briefcase. “The big problem (with the ’93 bombing) was there was smoke all over the place. I was concerned about the flames from the other building.
“Remember, you are in the World Trade Center. There are no open windows. You’ve got to get somewhere to breathe. . . . I operated under automatic pilot. I was practically numb. I don’t remember everything we did.”
During the evacuation, the second plane struck the South Tower as Phillips and her colleagues reached the 27th floor.
“The building was shaken to the foundation,” she said. “We didn’t know what it was. The building started shaking to the left and to the right.
“We felt the impact and thought the building was going to fall down. I thought we were going to die. I took off my shoes and I said ‘Forget this.’ I started running. . . . I was running with my little soccer legs as fast as I could.”
She eventually reached the WTC plaza.
“It looked like a war-torn area,” Phillips said. “I didn’t see any bodies. But there were pieces of metal, desks, papers, and completely covered with plaster.”
Eventually Phillips made her way to Broadway.
“I was told not to look up, but I looked up anyway,” she said. “I saw that World Trade Center One (North Tower) was burning. You could see the clouds of smoke coming out of it. I didn’t believe it.”
Some 10 minutes later the South Tower collapsed. Phillips did not witness it.
A little later someone told her the towers were gone.
“What do you mean it’s not there?” she asked.
“It’s gone,” someone said.
“My mind told me that it was covered in smoke or that I was looking in the wrong direction.”
Phillips figured a good portion of the Dean Witter workers from the South Tower made it out alive.
“We got a miracle count of people who got out,” she said. “Ninety percent of the people are accounted for.”
But Phillips realized the scope of the catastrophe hadn’t hit her yet. “Right now, I’ve got friends calling from all over,” she said. “I’m sure that once I get a chance to sit back I’m sure it will settle in.”
Some of that realization settled in on Thursday.
“I’m supposed to be in Portland for a deposition tomorrow (Friday),” she said. “All my files have been destroyed. I’ve got to call (company offices in) California.”
Phillips then excused herself from our phone call because she had to make that call. Even in a nightmare like this life has to go on.
Carlos Llamosa’s story
Carlos Llamosa can tell you something about life going on. Like Phillips, he considers himself lucky to be alive.
Tuesday was a typical morning for Llamosa. He had taken his seven-year-old son, Esteban, to school and then stopped by a Pep Boys to have some work done on his car before practice. Llamosa stared in horror and disbelief at the shop’s TV as the second plane crashed into the South Tower.
“I was in shock,” he said.
“I was angry. I am very, very sad for the people and families.”
Llamosa’s heart went out to the victims as his thoughts went back almost a decade.
Llamosa, who worked for a cleaning company at the time, decided to go to lunch at a nearby Chinese restaurant with fellow workers that day instead of eating in. When he returned, Llamosa learned that six people died and more than a thousand injured due to a bomb that destroyed his cleaning office in the basement of the building.
When interviewed about it years ago Llamosa called it “the luckiest day of my life. I was in the right place at the right time. I think I have a guardian angel.”
After the bombing security was heightened at the Twin Towers — for a while.
“Before the bomb anyone could go up to the buildings if they wanted,” Llamosa told the Palm Beach Post. “After the bomb, you’d see a lot of security around the building. . . . But after a year you didn’t see the same security around the building. They relaxed a little bit.
“Every day I went to the buildings, I was nervous: Maybe something is going to happen again.”
Llamosa was stunned by the enomority of Tuesday’s catastrophe.
“What happened years ago can’t compare with what happened (Tuesday),” he told MLSnet.com. “Unbelievable.
“I thought the first one crashed by accident. When I saw the second plane crash into the other tower, I thought it wasn’t an accident, but a terrorist.”
Llamosa, a regular with the U.S. national team, feared that several friends and former co-workers might have died in the building’s collapse. But he had no way of knowing their fate.
Because of increased phone usage, Llamosa had no luck calling New York to check on friends and family. So, he phoned his father in Colombia, who relayed to him that family members were all right.
Llamosa and his Fusion teammates were supposed to play the MetroStars at Giants Stadium on Wednesday night, but that game was postponed indefinitely.
“It’s not a good idea to play a game (on Wednesday) or the next couple of days,” he said. “We have to show support for the people and families who died.”
Later on Tuesday, Llamosa picked up his son from school. Esteban asked if a plane would crash into their house.
“You’re going to be safe,” Llamosa said.
Carlos Llamosa is just lucky to be alive to tell that to his son as is Lyndelle Phillips to tell her escape act.