World Trade Center survivors stay lifelong friends
Published Friday, September 9, 2011 5:21PM EDT
Last Updated Saturday, May 19, 2012 5:55AM EDT
Only a handful of people escaped from above the impact zone in the second World Trade Center tower to be hit 10 years ago. Two of them, Canadian Brian Clark and Stanley Praimnath, helped each other survive and became lifelong friends.
Theirs is an incredible story of heroism, survival and friendship, and one that they are always happy to tell, in hopes of inspiring others.
Clark was on the 84th floor of the South Tower when Flight 175 crashed in at about 950 km/h, slicing in between the 77th and 85th floor.
"At 9:02, our building just rocked, it was just a huge double explosion, the room just fell apart," Clark told CTV's Canada AM from New York Friday, with Praimnath at his side.
"And for 10 seconds, I was terrified. I really thought the building was going to fall over. The building swayed one way and then came back to the vertical. And from then on, I kind of sobered up."
Clark gathered those around them, headed to a stairwell and started down the stairs. He was stopped on the landing of the 81st floor by a woman coming up who implored them to turn around, saying there were flames down below.
"She was insistent. But I was distracted by a banging noise inside 81," Clark remembers.
"And I went in to discover Stanley sort of buried in debris."
Praimnath remembers that after the airliner hit, the ceiling had collapsed and all the cables inside had fallen out. He crawled across the building on the floor, moving through different conference rooms before he reached a solid wall, not far from the stairwell.
"What you didn't see on TV was that the air pressure was so great, it was just sucking everything out. And I was screaming for somebody, anybody, to help me. ‘Lord send somebody, anybody, to help me'," Praimnath remembers.
Praimnath had gone temporarily deaf from the plane's impact and explosion, but he could faintly hear someone answering him, saying, "Bang on the wall and I'll know where you are."
Praimnath did as he was told and Clark located him and told him to climb up over the broken wall so that he could catch him.
"He said, Now you have to climb over if you want to live. You have to think about your family'," Praimnath remembers.
Even while Praimnath insisted he couldn't do it, Clark kept telling him he could, reminding Praimnath repeatedly to think about his family. Finally, Clark reached over and grabbed Praimnath himself.
"He reached down with one arm; I don't know if he has a longer arm or what -- but he just reached down, with one fluid motion, around the neck and under the arm, he pulled with such force that I flew over to the other side, knocked him off his feet," Praimnath says.
Clark introduced himself to Praimnath, who was so grateful, he didn't know what to do.
"I don't know how to thank a man who just saved my life. So I grabbed him around the neck and gave him a kiss on the cheek," he says.
Clark assured him that they would stick together and they headed back to the stairwell, before Clark turned to Praimnath.
‘Before we started to descend, he had a gash in his left palm, and he took his left hand and stared me in the eyes, rubbed the two palms together and says, 'We are blood brothers.' And we started that long journey home," Praimnath remembers.
When they emerged in the abandoned plaza, they found what Clark calls an "ashen grey place that just looked like an abandoned archeological site."
They ran a few blocks, to the Trinity Church, near Broadway Ave., arriving just as the South Tower collapsed.
Somehow, the church building blocked the cloud of debris from hitting them. But in the dusty chaos that followed, the pair got separated. Praimnath doesn't remember how it happened, but he does remember seeing people getting trampled and hearing the screaming.
"You could hear every form of expression. Women who were screaming, some of them who were praising God, some who were cursing," he says.
Thankfully, Praimnath had given Clark his business card, which Clark had put in his shirt pocket.
"I was able to call him later that day. That's how we stayed in touch. Because we were total strangers before 9/11," Clark says.
Today, the two are still friends. While Praimnath is, of course, grateful that Clark saved his life, Praimnath also saved Clark, because if his screaming hadn't distracted Clark in the stairwell, he might have listened to the woman urging everyone to turn around and go back up.
Many people did try to head for the roof to await rescue, but that rescue never came. All of them died when the building came down.
Clark is now retired and often speaks to high school students about his experience. He says he offers them one message.
"That life is very precious; don't take it for granted. At the end of your life, you're going to hope that you lived well and that you loved well and what is your legacy? You should start thinking about that now," Clark says.