9/11 Memorial Volunteer Survived Both WTC Attacks

Port Authority employee Philip Caffrey poses for a photo in a blue volunteer vest.
9/11 Memorial volunteer Philip Caffrey survived both the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and the 9/11 attacks.

On Feb. 26, 1993, Port Authority employee Philip Caffrey was at his desk on the 69th floor of the North Tower when he heard a loud explosion and felt the building sway. 

Caffrey began evacuating with the rest of his office and quickly found that the stairwells were full of other people looking to get outside. They descended the stairs slowly as the smoke became thicker. He would not make it out of the building until about four hours later.

It was not until he was back home in New Jersey that he learned terrorists had detonated 1,200 pounds of explosives in the parking garage of the World Trade Center, killing six people and injuring more than 1,000 others.

Over the next few years, Caffrey continued to work on the 69th floor with the Port Authority. On Sept. 11, 2001, he once again found himself at the World Trade Center under attack. This time there was no mistaking that something horrible had happened. After Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower, Caffrey watched from the south-facing office windows as debris rained down on streets of Manhattan.

During the 1993 bombing, one of Caffrey’s coworkers, Port Authority employee John Abruzzo, was unable to evacuate the North Tower without assistance, as he relied on a power wheelchair to move around. Some of Abruzzo’s coworkers stayed behind with him and waited for rescue workers to help him exit.

Due to improvements in fire safety and evacuation procedures at the World Trade Center after the 1993 bombing, Abruzzo had use of a special evacuation chair on 9/11. Caffrey and a group of volunteers used it to help Abruzzo down the 69 flights to safety. 

Caffrey believes that focusing on carrying his colleague helped him to stay calm despite the chaos unfolding around him. After the group exited the tower, they headed up West Street to find a safe place to rest.

Looking up at the North Tower, Caffrey thought about those still trapped inside the building. The horror of the attacks remains “hard to even process today,” Caffrey said. About five minutes after he, Abruzzo and his other colleagues successfully escaped the building, the tower collapsed.

Now a volunteer at the 9/11 Memorial Museum, Caffrey believes it is important to tell the story of both attacks on the World Trade Center. Just as the Museum honors the 2,977 people lost on 9/11, it also remembers the six victims of the 1993 bombing.

“It is important certainly not to forget the people who didn’t survive that day,” Caffrey said. “The towers were a sign of America and power – they succeeded at least in taking them down. But it stopped there because the nation just pulled together as it always does.”

By 9/11 Memorial Staff

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