Father-daughter trip to Manhattan turned to survival mode amid confusion as the Twin Towers fell
The terror, anger and overwhelming sadness Roy Vanderhoof and Nicole Lolich felt on Sept. 11, 2001, are painfully fresh today.
The two were on a father-daughter trip to Manhattan when they found themselves eyewitnesses as the World Trade Center's Twin Towers burned and crashed down after a terrorists' attack on that sunny September morning.
The Rock Creek mortgage broker joined his daughter at her work Friday in the Ameriprise Financial office in Tigard, to share their story and photographs that they took that day.
No one really knew
Vanderhoof remembers rushing that morning to make sure they got on the first ferry to the Statue of Liberty in order to make their 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,' admitted 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 to come.'
They were cruising along in the subway when terrorists crashed the first plane into the northern 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.
'Usually that stop is crammed with people, but there was only one homeless guy nodding off on a bench. No cops. We felt a vibration, but thought it was just the subway.'
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 recalled.
Meanwhile, her father continued to walk toward the Twin Towers, looking up to see the buildings ablaze with 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.
And, they watched as about a dozen motorcycle cops sped off to the base of the buildings with their radios blaring.
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 walking along the FDR expressway into Chinatown and then Little Italy.
When they got back to their hotel, Lolich tried to call her mother Sue, who couldn't make the trip to New York.
After several tries, she left a message on the phone that her mother saved and played over and over: 'We're OK. We finally got through. We were there. We thought we were going to die, but we made it through.'
As they sat in their room watching images on the television screen, Vanderhoof's anger grew. Lolich was really sick and suffering flu-like symptoms.
'I was just so angry, and there was nothing I could do about it,' he said.
'Watching the news and learning what really happened was so surreal,' Lolich added. 'We were right there.
'Once we got through survival mode, it started to sink in how many people were missing. It's incredibly sad.'
'I relived that day over and over again'
Vanderhoof and Lolich were able to return home to Rock Creek three days later, on a Friday.
But as Lolich returned to her studies at the University of Oregon, nightmares followed her.
'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.
'Coming back, nobody could relate to us and what we actually went through,' she said. 'I was at school in Eugene and had nobody to talk to who could relate.'
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 admitted. 'I'm honestly afraid for the 10-year anniversary.
'Every year on that day, I am always afraid because it is very symbolic for the terrorists. It would be a natural time for them to try an attack again.'
As the 10-year anniversary approaches, Lolich begins what has become an annual tradition of reading all of the articles and watching news documentaries about the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the aftermath.
'I always try and remember what we went through and what so many other people lost.
'As a country, we really should remember what the people of New York, Washington, D.C., and Pennsylvania went through. We should remember the people on those planes.'
Vanderhoof nodded his head in agreement.
'Our memories of that day never really go away,' he said. '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.'
Both believe Americans should not allow the memories of that day to fade away.
At the same time, they don't like to see it used as a way to scare people or as an excuse for the nation's ills.
'You have to live your life,' Lolich said of the most poignant lesson she learned from her experience nearly a decade ago. 'You can't live in fear of things happening.'