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The last survivor walked down from the 84th floor of the South Tower

Letter to the Ottawa Citizen editor, about the 'Last Man Out' articles published Saturday and Sunday, June 4-5 2005, sent using their website form, 2005-06-07. Followed by a copy of the articles.

Not published.   As far as I know, there was not a single letter to the editor published on that topic.

Letter to the Ottawa Citizen editor, about the 'Last Man Out' articles

The 'Last Man Out' articles present some facts that do not fit the official story about the 9-11 events. The front page picture even shows evidences of explosions in the floors below where the tower was hit.

These explosions, like a planned demolition, could not have been caused by a plane.

The last man out, Ron DiFrancesco interviewed for those articles, did not see any sign of steel melting on his way down from the 84th floor; he would not have survived the temperature required to weaken the reinforced steel structures. To soften steel for the purposes of forging, normally temperatures need to rise above 1100°C. Neither did the relatively lukewarm stairwell cage stand up.

Soon after he got out, "the South Tower collapsed on itself; it took only 10 seconds for the skyscraper to fall, its steel supports fatally weakened by the intense heat". Almost the speed of gravity, as if it was a house of cards.

The explanation presented in the article, for the 9-11 events: "A complex series of geopolitical events and intelligence failures were about to culminate in an unprecedented terrorist strike".

Intelligence failures? Why believe the official story from the same people who recently cooked up the Weapons of Mass Destruction hoax to justify a war in Irak?

How could so many planes be allowed to stray for almost one hour without any military escort, in the most heavily protected airspace on the world? Why would so-called terrorists fly around the Pentagon to hit an area under renovations?

There are plenty of sources exposing the 9-11 deception. A good starting point, for those interested, could be http://septembereleventh.org, in support of the 9-11 family struggle for the truth.

One of their recent news present a book, The 9/11 Commission Report: Omissions and Distortions, by Dr. David Ray Griffin, which demonstrates conclusively that the 9/11 commission report was also part of a cover-up to conceal the fact of US Government complicity in the events of 9/11.

Overall concerns with the official version of 9/11 have been published and discussed by scholars and writers around the world, including Jim Mars, Nafeez Ahmed, Michael Ruppert, Cynthia McKinney, Barrie Zwicker, Webster Tarpley, Michel Chossudovsky and many others. On May 26th 2004, the Toronto Star reported a national poll showing that 63% of Canadians are also convinced US leaders had 'prior knowledge' of the attacks yet declined to act.

While the mainstream media, ignoring the glaring contradictions, repeat the official propaganda and become complicit in those crimes against humanity.

Gilles St-Pierre
www.PeaceandLove.ca

Twin Towers Explosions
September 11, 2001

South Tower explosive destruction
South Tower destruction
Credit: Jeff Christensen, Reuters

High Profile 9/11 Truth Websites

From Global Outlook
The Magazine of the 9/11 Truth Movement
Issue Number 10, September 2005.

9-11 War on Terrorism, book cover AMERICA'S "WAR ON TERRORISM", by Michel Chossudovsky, 2nd edition, Global Research, 2005, 387 pages.

Review from GlobalResearch.ca, where the book can be ordered:

In this new and expanded edition of Michel Chossudovsky's 2002 best seller, the author blows away the smokescreen put up by the mainstream media, that 9/11 was an attack on America by "Islamic terrorists".  Through meticulous research, the author uncovers a military-intelligence ploy behind the September 11 attacks, and the cover-up and complicity of key members of the Bush Administration.

The expanded edition, which includes twelve new chapters focuses on the use of 9/11 as a pretext for the invasion and illegal occupation of Iraq, the militarisation of justice and law enforcement and the repeal of democracy.

According to Chossudovsky, the  "war on terrorism" is a complete fabrication based on the illusion that one man, Osama bin Laden, outwitted the $40 billion-a-year American intelligence apparatus. The "war on terrorism" is a war of conquest. Globalisation is the final march to the "New World Order", dominated by Wall Street and the U.S. military-industrial complex.

September 11, 2001 provides a justification for waging a war without borders. Washington's agenda consists in extending the frontiers of the American Empire to facilitate complete U.S. corporate control, while installing within America the institutions of the Homeland Security State.

Chossudovsky peels back layers of rhetoric to reveal a complex web of deceit aimed at luring the American people and the rest of the world into accepting a military solution which threatens the future of humanity.


Last Man Out: Part One
Ron DiFrancesco was high in the South Tower when the plane struck. An inferno and 84 floors lay between him and his family.


Andrew Duffy

The Ottawa Citizen, June 4, 2005



CREDIT: Shannon Stapleton-Files, Reuters

People make their way down a crowded stairwell inside one of the World Trade Center towers struck by airliners on Sept. 11, 2001.


TORONTO - Almost four years later, Ron DiFrancesco still carries the South Tower with him -- tiny fragments of glass and stucco that occasionally migrate to the surface of his skin.

Mr. DiFrancesco was the last man out of the South Tower before it collapsed at 9:59 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001. He was, according to the official 9/11 Commission Report, one of only four people to make it out alive that day from above the central impact zone on the 81st floor.

The stories of some of those other survivors are well-known.

But the 41-year-old Mr. DiFrancesco, a soft-spoken father of four, has scrupulously avoided the media spotlight. He doesn't like talking about his escape; he believes it's disrespectful to the families of those who died to celebrate the decisions that allowed him to live.

Mr. DiFrancesco has rejected dozens of interview requests from journalists and filmmakers. He rarely discusses the day's events, even with his children. "They know it's still raw for me, even though I'd be more open to it now," he says.

(Mr. DiFrancesco agreed to talk to The Citizen only with great reluctance and under the condition that he not be characterized as a hero.)

The almost four years since the terror attacks have been difficult ones for Mr. DiFrancesco, who continues to undergo therapy for back and hip injuries. He has also sought the help of a psychiatrist to better understand what he describes as "agitation," and the guilt he feels about his survival on a day when 61 of his Euro Brokers' colleagues died.

Mr. DiFrancesco sometimes suffers bouts of panic: when the lights flicker, for instance. Or, as was the case in August 2003, when he was caught on the subway as a massive blackout cut power across Toronto and much of the northeast.

At those times, it all comes flooding back.

- - -

As was his habit, Ron DiFrancesco woke just after 5 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 11. He washed and shaved and was out the door before his wife, Mary, and his four children had stirred from their beds.

He had to catch the 5.37 a.m. train near his Mahwah, New Jersey home in order to make the subway connection that would take him below the Hudson River to the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

Mr. DiFrancesco always marvelled at the energy of the trade towers. It swept him along the moment he stepped from the PATH subway, in the fifth sub-basement of the complex. It hummed in the express elevators that sped to the skylobby of the 78th floor where he took a second elevator to the offices of Euro Brokers. There, on the 84th floor, it wafted from the office like the smell of strong coffee as his colleagues discussed overnight financial numbers from London and Tokyo.

He was at his desk by 7 a.m.

It was a postcard kind of morning with the sunrise glowing through the windows that lined the east wall in front of him on the Euro Brokers' trading floor. Mr. DiFrancesco worked as a money market broker, orchestrating short-term financial deals between international banks. He specialized in the needs of Canadian institutions.

The job, in many ways, had found him. In the late 1980s, Mr. DiFrancesco was working as a bartender in Toronto's Downtown, a cavernous bar partly owned by Maple Leafs defenceman Borje Salming, when he befriended two brokers. They worked for an international bond brokerage founded to trade the new European currency, the euro.

Mr. DiFrancesco was a business administration graduate from the University of Western Ontario, but he wasn't sure what direction to take his career. He had recently left a bankruptcy firm, and was thinking about taking a year to travel. But the two men sold him on the idea of applying to Euro Brokers, which was expanding into new business areas. He was hired the next week.

"This was before the movie Wall Street," he says. "It wasn't considered a glamourous business when I started."

During the 10 years that followed, Mr. DiFrancesco's career flourished alongside an increasingly busy family life. His children, Toby, Julia, Liam and Sam, were all born in the 1990s.

Then, in 2000, Euro Brokers announced

it was closing its Canadian office. Mr. DiFrancesco was faced with the prospect of moving his young family to New York or relaunching his career with another firm.

The lure of New York was strong. Mr. DiFrancesco had often travelled to Euro Brokers' WTC headquarters and he knew it offered the kind of adrenaline rush that can only be had from assembling 300 caffeinated and competitive brokers in one sprawling office. "It was exciting," he says.

In July 2000, he moved alone to New York City to test the waters. He brought his family down a month later.

Within a year, Mr. DiFrancesco and his wife, Mary, felt comfortable enough in their new surroundings to put down more roots. The children had settled into their school. Crime was not an issue. Life was manageable.

What's more, Mr. DiFrancesco thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere at Euro Brokers. His mostly male colleagues were intense and friendly and shared the language of offshore deposits, forward rate agreements, credit default swaps, interest rate swaps and options.

Some of those in the 84th-floor office would occasionally worry about their safety -- what they would do in the event of another bomb -- but Mr. DiFrancesco was not among them.

The WTC had been the target of an attack in February 1993, when Islamic terrorists packed a van with explosives and detonated it in a parking lot beneath the North Tower. The blast killed six people and injured hundreds more.

Mr. DiFrancesco had grown up in Stoney Creek, a quiet suburb of Hamilton. Those kind of things just didn't happen in his experience.

But on the morning of Sept. 11, the tectonic plates of history were in motion. A complex series of geopolitical events and intelligence failures were about to culminate in an unprecedented terrorist strike -- one that would imperil the lives of Mr. DiFrancesco and everyone around him.

About an hour after Mr. DiFrancesco took his seat at Euro Brokers, American Airlines Flight 11 left Boston's Logan International Airport on a scheduled flight to Los Angeles. Soon after takeoff, five armed men, led by Mohamed Atta, forced their way into the cockpit and took over the plane. The hijackers turned off the plane's transponder, making it difficult for air-traffic controllers to find it.

Loaded with fuel, Flight 11 tracked low over midtown Manhattan and slammed into the north face of Tower One, between floors 94 and 98.

It was 8.46 a.m.

Ron DiFrancesco saw a "huge flash" outside his office windows as sound boomed across the trading floor. The lights flickered overhead.

At first, no one knew what had happened. Brian Clark, an executive vice-president of Euro Brokers and a volunteer fire marshall, thought the explosion had come from within the South Tower, above him. He began to organize an evacuation.

Most people immediately headed for stairwells and elevators. Those who had experienced the 1993 attack were among the first to leave. Others turned their televisions to news channels in an attempt to understand what had happened.

Mr. DiFrancesco joined a clutch of people at the bank of windows. They watched as fire and grey-black smoke poured from the North Tower. People leaned out windows, waving desperately for help.

Those around him speculated that a small aircraft, possibly a Cessna, had crashed into the North Tower. Mr. DiFrancesco discounted the possibility of terrorism. It must have been pilot error, he said.

Within minutes, an official with the Port Authority, the agency that managed the World Trade Center, came over the public address system to reassure people in the South Tower that they were safe. There was no need to evacuate, the official said, and those in the process of leaving the building should return. Some of those who had taken the elevator to the lobby were told to return to their offices.

Mr. DiFrancesco called his wife, Mary. They had met at university and had fallen in love through late-night phone conversations. After more than a decade of marriage, they still talked often: Ron called her four or five times a day from the office.

Although never surprised to hear from him, Mary was shocked by Ron's news: The North Tower had been hit by an airplane. "But it was Tower One that was hit. I'm in Tower Two," he reassured her.

Ron described the scene he had witnessed from the windows of Euro Brokers. People had started to leap from windows to escape the flames. "It's horrible," he said.

Mary turned on the television to watch events unfold as she phoned Ron's family to assure them he was safe.

Mr. DiFrancesco, meanwhile, tried to return his attention to the financial numbers that scrolled down two screens on his desk. He was quickly interrupted by a long-distance phone call from Toronto. A friend, Paul Tepsich, berated him for staying at work while the North Tower burned. "Get the hell out," Mr. Tepsich told his former university classmate.

After several minutes, Mr. DiFrancesco relented and agreed to leave. He called his major clients and told them that he would be closing his trading desk for awhile. He called Mary again to let her know about his change in plans.

Then he walked toward the bank of elevators near the middle of the building.

Mr. DiFrancesco was moving down a narrow hallway when United Airlines Flight 175, which had been hijacked shortly after leaving Boston for Los Angeles, banked sharply into the South Tower at 950 kilometres an hour. The Boeing 767 cut into the east side of the south face between floors 78 and 84, igniting an intense fire fed by 90,000 litres of jet fuel.

The higher wing cut into the offices of Euro Brokers while the fuselage destroyed the offices of Fuji Bank below.

Mr. DiFrancesco was thrown against the wall and showered with falling ceiling panels, cables and drywall chalk. There was a gaping hole in the office trading floor that he had just abandoned.

It was 9.03 a.m.

He thought there had been some kind of explosion below as he still couldn't conceive of a fully loaded passenger plane hitting the tower. There was chaos. He knew immediately that the situation was desperate. He knew that his life could depend on what happened in the next few minutes.

Picking himself up, Mr. DiFrancesco found that he was steps from Stairwell A. He followed a small group of six or seven people through a fire door and down the narrow passage.

It was the beginning of a circuitous odyssey that would eventually take Mr. DiFrancesco out of the South Tower. The critically damaged building would stand for the next 56 minutes. Mr. DiFrancesco would need every last one of them.

The South Tower had three emergency stairwells, even though the fire code only demanded two such escape routes. As it happened, only one of them -- Stairwell A -- had not been cut in two by the plane's impact. (Stairwell A was the farthest from the airplane's point of impact and protected by an elevator machine room.)

Mr. DiFrancesco and the others who started walking down that stairwell had no way of knowing that they'd lucked into the only possible escape route.

The stairwell was smoky and dark, lit dimly by a flashlight carried by Mr. Clark, who was leading the descent. The group made their way down three flights to the 81st floor, where they met a heavy-set woman and her male colleague. "You've got to go up. You can't go down," the woman said. "There's too much smoke and flames below."

A life-and-death discussion began. Was it better to go up and wait for firefighters to arrive? Possibly get to the rooftop for a helicopter rescue? Or was it better to risk a dash through the fire and smoke below -- a dash that might only take them into the heart of the inferno?

Mr. DiFrancesco was listening to the argument when the group heard someone thump against a wall and call for help.

Mr. DiFrancesco and his fellow Canadian, Mr. Clark, abandoned the discussion and squeezed onto the 81st floor by pushing aside some drywall around the fire door. Desks, walls and ceiling panels were heaped into smoking ridges and knolls. Drywall chalk and smoke filled the cone lit by Mr. Clark's flashlight.

"I can see your light," said a voice.

The two men headed toward the sound. Mr. DiFrancesco breathed into his open backpack -- it normally carried his gym clothes -- in a bid to filter the poisoned air, but he was overcome and retreated from the room. (Mr. Clark, who would later say that he felt he was breathing in a kind of "bubble," went on to pull Fuji Bank employee Stanley Praimnath out of the debris; the two then continued down Stairwell A and out of the building.)

Mr. DiFrancesco returned to the stairwell. Gasping for air, he decided to climb the stairs in an attempt to escape the smoke. He hoped to get onto a higher floor, possibly find some clearer air, and await rescue. He still didn't know what had caused the explosion.

As he climbed, however, he found the fire doors on each floor locked. Controlled by a computerized security system, the doors were designed to prevent smoke from spreading through the tower. But the plane's impact had damaged the system. The doors could not be opened.

Mr. DiFrancesco continued to climb, trying each fire door as he gained a new landing. He caught up with his colleagues from Euro Brokers, some of whom were now helping the heavy-set woman ascend the stairs. She had convinced everyone to climb the South Tower in search of rescue.

The woman was struggling to breathe, so Mr. DiFrancesco gave her his backpack as a mask of sorts.

They met more people as they climbed. Some were going up, some down, all trying to find a way out of the stairwell. Cell phones didn't work. They were groping in the dark for the right answer.

All the while, the South Tower was rapidly losing its ability to stand over lower Manhattan. The tower had a unique design that distributed its weight between columns in its inner core and those along its exterior walls. The impact of the airplane had placed more pressure on the surviving steel columns, and the intense heat of the fuel-fed inferno was steadily robbing them of strength.

Mr. DiFrancesco believes he climbed as high as the 91st floor -- he's not positive what floor it was when he stopped -- in the 110-storey South Tower. All of the fire doors were locked. Panic rose in his chest. He was slightly claustrophobic. The higher he went, the more people crowded the stairwell. His mind filled with thoughts of his wife, Mary, and his children, all waiting for him.

Mr. DiFrancesco decided he couldn't wait any longer. Desperate to see them, he started down once more. Others followed his lead. But conditions this time were worse.

Mr. DiFrancesco worked his way down the stairs until the smoke thickened such that it was impossible to see more than a few feet ahead. He stopped at a stairwell landing in the middle of the impact zone where people were stretched on the floor. Everyone took to the ground beside them in an attempt to find a thin window of breathable air.

Mr. DiFrancesco and the others -- he believes there were more than a dozen people -- were face down on a strip of concrete, between two staircases. They were on 79th or 80th floor. Some of those beside him began to slip into unconsciousness.

Then, Mr. DiFrancesco heard a voice.

The conclusion of Mr. DiFrancesco's story appears in Sunday's Citizen.

The Exclusive Story of How a Canadian Escaped Death onSept.11, 2001

© The Ottawa Citizen 2005


Last Man Out : The aftermath

Mary saw the tower burn on TV and, thinking of her husband, said: 'Keep moving.'


Andrew Duffy

The Ottawa Citizen, June 5, 2005


The story so far: Hamilton-born Ron DiFrancesco, 41, was working on the 84th floor of the World Trade Center's South Tower when it was struck at 9:03 a.m. by al-Qaeda terrorists who had turned a commercial airliner into a suicide bomb. He began down Stairwell A with some co-workers from Euro Brokers, then after encountering heavy smoke, he ascended to the 91st floor in search of a safe place from which to be rescued. Unable to breach any of the stairwell's locked fire doors, he started down again, only to stop on a smoky landing in the impact zone.

Face down beside a dozen others in a smoke-blackened stairwell, with panic storming in his chest, Ron DiFrancesco heard a voice.

"Someone told me to get up," he says, recounting the moment that ultimately saved his life on Sept. 11, 2001.

A devout Roman Catholic, Mr. DiFrancesco believes God told him to get off the floor of that South Tower stairwell. He doesn't know why; he's not one to proselytize. His faith, like much about him, is a private matter.

"I just have no other explanation for what happened."

Heeding the insistent whisper, Mr. DiFrancesco struggled to his feet and inched along the wall, his hands crawling ahead of him. He felt his way through the smoke and started down the stairs again. After several steps, he saw a pinhole of light through the blackness.

He moved toward it, breaking through some drywall that blocked his way. Another sheet of drywall had fallen over the stairs and he slid down that, child-like, to reach the next flight. Flames licked the walls in the narrow stairwell. He covered his head with his forearms. The fire singed his arms, chest and head. He kept running.

Mr. DiFrancesco believes he raced down two or three storeys engulfed with flame. His arms and chest still bear the scars of that dash.

Finally, he emerged into a clear and lighted stairwell, alone, at the 76th floor. He was below the fire. Water ran down the stairs. He took off his shoes and socks to gain better traction. His lungs burned and he struggled to breathe, but he kept running.

Mr. DiFrancesco met three firefighters moving up the stairwell with their equipment. "I'm having trouble breathing," he told them.

"You can get help at the bottom," one of them said.

Mr. DiFrancesco continued down as quickly as his legs would carry him. When he reached the plaza level, a 10-storey high lobby, he headed for an exit which opened onto the five-acre square between the North and South Towers.

The Austin J. Tobin Plaza was home to a circular fountain and a massive bronze sculpture, "Sphere." On any other fine September day, the plaza would be filled with vendors, tourists and office workers enjoying coffee breaks in the sun.

Mr. DiFrancesco was stopped by a security guard. "It's too dangerous out there," he was told.

Mr. DiFrancesco looked onto Tobin Plaza and was horrified at the scene. Dead bodies and debris littered the concrete. Each new victim falling from the tower sounded a shotgun blast against the ground. "It was like a war zone," says Mr. DiFrancesco.

He was told to turn around and take the south exit, the one that led to Liberty Street. Mr. DiFrancesco ran down a stalled escalator and began walking south with speed.

He was relieved to meet an older colleague from Euro Brokers, John Kren, who had left the office after the first plane hit the North Tower. He slowed to match the man's stride.

Walking south, they tried to leave the tower at Liberty Street, but another guard redirected them to the northeast exit that led to Church Street. They made their way back through the concourse.

It never occurred to either of them that they were still in danger. But the South Tower's steel supports were failing; the building was in its final moments as a skyscraper.

As Mr. DiFrancesco and Mr. Kren passed an adjoining hallway near the Church Street exit, they heard an ungodly roar. Mr. DiFrancesco turned to his right in the direction of Liberty Street, to see a massive fireball -- compressed as the South Tower fell -- roiling toward them.

"Run!" he yelled.

The two men bolted for the exit. Mr. DiFrancesco was bowled over by the explosion as he reached some stairs. Something slammed into the back of his head. The last thing he remembers is the sound of his own voice: "Help me, help me!"

- - -

Mr. DiFrancesco met his future wife at the University of Western Ontario when he went to a friend's house in search of a clean sheet for a toga party. A new roommate, Mary Pace, answered the door.

She was the fifth of 10 children born to Murray and Angela Pace of North Bay, Ont. Dr. Murray Pace was an obstetrician who had delivered thousands of children in the city. The Paces were a fixture in North Bay; everyone knew at least one of them.

But during her first year of university, Mary Pace was all but anonymous. She lived off campus and felt distant from the rush of student events.

Ron DiFrancesco would change that. An orientation leader, he took her everywhere and introduced her to his wide circle of friends. "He was very friendly to a shy person," says Mary. "He was very charming."

They would talk on the phone for hours every night. Eventually, it became obvious that they were right for one another. They were both athletes, both committed Catholics, both family-minded. The pri-mary tension between them became Ron's unwillingness to enter fully into a relationship that he knew would end at the altar.

"He was really determined: he didn't want to be tied down so early," says Mary, who studied political science.

Their courtship would last more than six years until the inevitable happened: they were married. Children soon followed with Toby in 1991, Julia in 1993, Liam in 1995 and Sam in 1998. Their lives became enmeshed with the schools, churches, hockey rinks and movie theatres of their neighbourhood, Toronto's Bloor West Village.

Still, Mary jumped at the chance of moving to New York when the opportunity arose in 2000. She viewed it as a welcome adventure.

In Mahwah, New Jersey, Mary and her children were embraced by the local parish. A family was assigned to help them settle. She was allowed to jump the queue to gain a space in the local playgroup. "They were very warm and very kind people," says Mary.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, she saw her three older children to the school bus at 7:30 a.m. Then she retreated home to ready Sam for playgroup. The phone rang as she was about to go out the door.

It was Ron. He still called four or five times a day. He told her a plane had just smashed into the North Tower, but that he was safe in the South Tower. Mary hung up and turned on the television. Then Ron called again to say he had decided to leave the building.

Minutes later, Mary watched in stark horror as a plane streaked across her television screen, straight into the gleaming glass face of the South Tower. It exploded, she knew, somewhere close to the 84th floor where her husband had just walked away from his desk.

"I felt like, 'This isn't really happening. This isn't real,' " she says.

Mary tried to douse the panic that fired in her heart. "He'll call me," she told herself. "He was on his way out. He'll call when me he gets out. He always calls. And that's what he'll do."

Mary phoned the children's school to ensure they weren't exposed to live TV coverage. They had been to the World Trade Center and would know their father was in danger. Her friend, Nancy, came over to look after Sam.

She talked to Ron's mother, Kitty, and his father, Dante, a Hamilton steelworker. More than a dozen relatives had gathered in their home, but Dante DiFrancesco was too nervous to join the crowd in his living room. He remained alone in his garage that morning, roasting red peppers on his barbeque, waiting.

Mary, meanwhile, talked to her own parents and to dozens of other concerned friends and relatives. Everyone vowed to pray for Ron. She could feel the network build.

Mary couldn't bear to watch the towers burn. She walked around the house, then outside, and set about talking to Ron.

She talked and she talked. "Come on, keep moving. You can do this," she told him. "Concentrate. If you're hurt, just keep working at it. Keep going. Keep moving. You've got to get out of there."

Mary felt connected to Ron, as if she was somehow navigating the danger with him. She talked to him about faith, about his family. She was sure he was on his way out.

That certainty flickered when the South Tower collapsed on itself; it took only 10 seconds for the skyscraper to fall, its steel supports fatally weakened by the intense heat. "Was there enough time?" she wondered. It had seemed like no time at all: only 56 minutes had elapsed since the attack on the South Tower.

Still, Mary remained convinced Ron would call. Maybe he was hurt; maybe he needed to be rescued. But he always called. "I'm not giving up," she told herself. "I just have to be patient. I have to wait."

Mary kept the main phone line open for Ron. Hours passed. She waited and prayed and talked to him. Finally, at 1:30 p.m., a stranger called. He identified himself as a nurse at St. Vincent's Hospital. He said her husband was alive; he had just been brought into the emergency room. Ron had a concussion, but he had managed to provide her name and phone number. He said Ron would be OK.

Mary thanked him and told him to phone the next worried family. "Tell Ron I love him," she said.

Mary screamed in relief. She downed a stiff drink poured by her friend, Nancy, and began phoning friends and relatives to relay the news.

- - -

Early the next morning, the phone rang again in the DiFrancesco household in Mahwah, New Jersey. It was another nurse from St. Vincent's Hospital. Mary had kept in contact with the nursing staff through the night.

"Your husband is very upset," the nurse told Mary. "He's in very bad shape and you need to get here."

Mary didn't understand. The nurses she had spoken with the evening before had told her that Ron was agitated, but nothing else. New York City was in a lockdown. How was she supposed to get to the hospital?

"You tell them your husband needs you," the nurse said.

The nurse enumerated his injuries. He was unconscious. He had suffered serious smoke inhalation and was breathing with an artificial respirator. He had burns to 60 per cent of his body. He had a broken neck and a broken back. His eyes had also been damaged, possibly from his contacts melting in his eye sockets.

"What? What?" Mary demanded. She couldn't believe what she was hearing. "Nobody told me any of that."

She began to panic. Would he die before she managed to get there? Had Ron been terrified by himself in hospital? Had she let him down?

She called a friend who drove her into New York City. It took most of the day to get through the security cordon to St. Vincent's Hospital in midtown Manhattan.

The sight of him made her cry. Ron's head was swollen to twice its normal size. He was in a neck brace. He was on a respirator. His eyes were taped shut. He was covered in bandages. "His head was huge, his lips were four times the normal size. His ears were huge," she says.

She found a quarter-sized spot on his face that wasn't burned or bandaged and kissed it.

He was in and out of consciousness for four days. Ron had to be sedated because his mind was still living the terror of that day. He was agitated and scared and tore at his respirator.

At first, he could talk about his experience only in broken pieces; he had no idea how he had arrived at hospital. (Who pulled Mr. DiFrancesco from the rubble of the South Tower and how he got to hospital remains a mystery.)

In addition to his burns and broken bones, he had suffered a serious impact wound that had gouged the back of his head. His body was peppered with shards of glass and stucco carried by the fireball. (His wife would pick a two-centimetre long shard of glass out of his forehead about a month later.)

Initially, the nurses, his family and friends sought to protect him from the full horror of Sept. 11. One visitor, a woman desperate for information about her missing husband, a Euro Brokers' employee, couldn't bring herself to tell Mr. DiFrancesco the truth when he asked about him. "He's fine," she said.

Mr. DiFrancesco found it hard to walk when he left hospital after 11 days. He was welcomed back to his New Jersey home by his anxious children, his parents, brothers and in-laws. It's a moment he remembers as difficult rather than joyous. "It was hard," he says. He was tired and still in considerable pain.

Mr. DiFrancesco was slow to understand the magnitude of the Sept. 11 tragedy.

He watched the towers fall for the first time on television. He found it hard to absorb the enormity of the loss suffered. One out of every five people who had worked with him was now dead.

"Some of them, I looked into their eyes that morning," he says. Even the man with whom he left the South Tower, John Kren, would die in hospital in October 2001.

Mr. DiFrancesco struggled with the very idea of his own survival on a day when so many of his colleagues died. Why had he been the last man out? He still doesn't know the answer.

He was also distressed by what he perceived as his own failings. He regrets not taking other people with him down Stairwell A, even though he has no idea whether anyone would have followed him. "I'm grateful for my own survival, that I got to see my family again, but I wish there had been more of us," he says.

Mary also felt conflicted. In the weeks after Sept. 11, she was surrounded by death and grief as she attended a series of memorial services for Ron's colleagues at Euro Brokers. Mary knew that, but for an inexplicable string of circumstance, she would be the grieving widow. Then she'd feel guilty for thinking of herself at such moments.

"We wanted to celebrate Ron's survival, but find the balance with the devastation and loss that so many around us felt," Mary says. "And to be awestruck enough to realize that it was an incredible miracle that he survived. And that there's no other explanation other than to say that God decided that Ron was going to live ... It was just against all odds that he lived."

It was four months before Mr. DiFrancesco could bring himself to visit the World Trade Center site, and five months before he returned to work. But he was never again comfortable. Each day, as he returned home, his children would be at the window, waiting.

Mr. DiFrancesco and his wife decided they couldn't live with that kind of anxiety. He told his boss at Euro Brokers that he intended to quit and return to Canada. But the company had another idea. They offered to set up an office for him in Toronto -- essentially a one-desk satellite of the trading floor.

The family returned to their Bloor West Village home in August 2002. Mr. DiFrancesco now works in a five-storey building on King Street. His office is on the third-floor. He didn't want to work in another skyscraper; he wanted a building that he could escape in a hurry. "I know where all the emergency exits are," he concedes.

Although he's been back in Toronto for more than two years, the office has the feel of a place still being unpacked. There's a black-and-white photo on the wall of workers sitting on a skyscraper beam, eating lunch. A collection of Canadian $1 and $2 bills are framed on another wall. Framed family photos sit on a cabinet. The only significant reminder of 9/11 is a book memorializing the Euro Brokers employees who lost their lives that day.

Yet the World Trade Center and those who died there are never far from Mr. DiFrancesco's thoughts.

He travels to New York City regularly to meet with officials at Euro Brokers and to absorb the atmosphere of the new office, an atmosphere softened by the events of 9/11. "It's like visiting family now," he says. "But you realize some people aren't there."

When he goes out for dinner or drinks with colleagues, conversation sometimes turns to personal accounts from that day. Mr. DiFrancesco doesn't seek out such conversations, but admits to being curious about what happened to others. In New York, he also visits regularly with the widow of a close friend. Each visit is difficult, he says, but important to them both.

An avid cyclist, Mr. DiFrancesco is built square and strong and has the quiet intensity of a man climbing a mountain pass. It's readily apparent that he's familiar with pain.

His survivor's guilt has been slow to dissipate. He sometimes finds himself strangely agitated. He's sensitive to noise. He has sought professional counselling and it has afforded him some perspective, an understanding that there's nothing abnormal about his feelings of guilt and disquiet after such a tragedy.

He listens more carefully in church now. He takes more holidays. He spends more money on indulgences for his children.

He also follows closely the war on terrorism and the U.S. response to the Sept. 11 attacks. But he insists that he bears no ill will, no personal sense of vengeance, against those who perpetrated the attack.

Mostly, Mr. DiFrancesco just wants to move on with his life. He wants to watch his children play hockey and basketball and grow up sure in the fact that their father will be home after work each day.

Mary, too, is eager to put the trauma to rest, but she doesn't expect life to ever be the same as it was before Sept. 11, 2001.

"It seems like just now, in the last few months, that we are functioning more normally, that the fallout seems to be subsiding," she says. "But there will never be 'normal.' I think we'll always be trying to be worthy of it. The gift."

The Exclusive Story of How a Canadian Escaped Death on Sept.11, 2001

©The Ottawa Citizen 2005


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