Father-daughter trip to Manhattan quickly turned to survival mode amid confusion
The fear, anger and overwhelming sadness Roy Vanderhoof and Nicole Lolich felt on Sept. 11, 2001, are still painfully fresh today.
The two were on a father-daughter trip to Manhattan 10 years ago when they found themselves eyewitnesses as the World Trade Center's Twin Towers burned and crashed after the terrorists' attack on that sunny September morning.
Vanderhoof is a Rock Creek mortgage broker. His daughter works in Tigard's Ameriprise Financial office.
Vanderhoof remembers rushing that morning to make sure he and his daughter made it to the first ferry to the Statue of Liberty. They wanted to make an 11:30 a.m. lunch reservation at the picturesque Windows of the World restaurant on top of the World Trade Center.
'I wanted to stay in bed,' admits Lolich, who was 21 at the time and getting ready to begin her senior year at the University of Oregon. 'I delayed us five minutes, and we missed the train. We had to wait for the next one.'
They were in the subway when terrorists crashed the first plane into the northern World Trade Center tower.
'We were directly under the World Trade Center when the second plane hit,' Vanderhoof said. 'We were told that we would not stop there because of a police action.'
They emerged from the train at the next subway station at Whitehall Street in the Manhattan neighborhood of Battery Park, about four blocks from the World Trade Center, where they encountered lots of people.
'There was a young woman in her late 20s who was frantic and saying, 'Do not go out there. The World Trade Center was bombed,' ' Vanderhoof said.
'She was the only one freaking out and everyone just rushed by her,' Lolich added. 'She was trying to warn us, but everyone ignored her. Everyone else was really calm. A little later, we heard a plane crashed into the World Trade Center followed by another one.'
There was a lot of confusion on the street, and no one really knew what was going on, the Multnomah Village resident recalls.
Meanwhile, her father continued to walk toward the Twin Towers, looking up to see the buildings ablaze and dark smoke billowing from the skyscrapers.
Vanderhoof grabbed his daughter's camera and began taking photos. All the while, they talked with other passersby trying to make sense out of what they were seeing.
'We had no idea they were going to fall down,' he said, shaking his head. 'Oh, my God. We stayed talking with people for 45 minutes.'
They talked with an exhausted businessman who had been on the 105th floor of one of the towers and took the stairwell down. He couldn't find anyone else from his office. They talked to a woman who was late to work that day because of a doctor's appointment.
About 10 minutes later, they ran for their lives.
'In an instant, it was dark'
'We heard a big whoosh,' Vanderhoof said. 'The building just fell and this smoky cloud came at us down the street. In an instant, it was dark.'
Survival mode kicked in.
'I took off into the park,' Lolich said. 'I was trying to get away. All I knew was that we needed to get out of there.'
As hundreds of people rushed past, the Oregon tourists learned that a plane had crashed in Washington, D.C., and heard that more planes could be flying bombs. They tried to avoid landmarks such as the Brooklyn Bridge, Empire State Building and Wall Street as well as tall buildings. They made their way back to their hotel in Midtown Manhattan by taking the FDR expressway into Chinatown and then Little Italy.
When they returned to their hotel, Lolich tried to call her mother Sue, who couldn't make the trip to New York.
'Watching the news and learning what really happened was so surreal,' Lolich adds. 'We were right there.
'Once we got through survival mode, it started to sink in how many people were missing. It's incredibly sad.'
Vanderhoof and Lolich were able to return to Rock Creek four days later. But Lolich says nightmares followed her to the University of Oregon.
'I relived that day over and over again,' she said. 'I had horrible dreams of fire and couldn't sleep.'
Lolich was diagnosed with acute post-traumatic stress disorder and began counseling. Counseling helped. In 2002, father and daughter returned to New York - this time with Sue - for the first anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. They sought a sense of closure at Ground Zero.
'I was afraid to be back there,' Lolich admits. 'I'm honestly afraid for the 10-year anniversary.'
'Our memories of that day never really go away,' Vanderhoof says. 'You know you were there and part of history. I have a lot of empathy for those who lost their family - their fathers and mothers, sons and daughters. Their experience was so much more intense than ours as accidental tourists.'