9/11 Anniversary: Survivor Reflects on Escaping Death

Keating Crown survived the direct impact on WTC 78th floor.

ByABC News
September 9, 2011, 12:38 AM

Sept. 10, 2011— -- There are hundreds of stories from those who, one way or another, narrowly escaped death on 9/11.

Missed trains, buses or ferries; doctors appointments and phone calls. One woman was held up nearly being run over by actress Gwyneth Paltrow's car.

But few came quite as close as Keating Crown.

Nearly 2,000 people were at or above the points of impact at the World Trade Center Sept. 11, 2001. Only 18 survived. Crown was one of them.

Crown was working for the financial services group of AON Insurance on the 100th floor of the South Tower when the North Tower was hit.

After watching in horror as a fireball engulfed several floors of the North Tower, Crown and hundreds of others streamed down 22 flights of stairs to the 78th floor sky lobby, where express elevators would speed them to the ground floor. At that point no one knew what had hit the North Tower, or why.

Just before 9 a.m., an announcement on the building's public address system told workers the South Tower was "secure," that they could return to their desks.

Many decided to go back up, but hundreds of others decided to evacuate regardless of instructions, and remained waiting for the elevators. They had no idea a second jet was roaring directly toward them. The explosion ripped through the 78th floor sky lobby. Of the people there, the only survivors were those standing in alcoves, or farthest from where the plane hit.

"There were over 200 people on the 78th floor," Crown said, "and I was fortunate to be in one square foot where I was able to survive the impact."

One minute he was standing in a room with 200 people. In the blink of an eye, it was just 14.

Crown suffered lacerations and a broken leg, but was able to get to a stairwell, and run down the remaining 78 floors. Separated from his colleagues, Crown encountered a friend on the first floor who helped him to the triage area and into an ambulance. Minutes after the ambulance pulled away, Crown said, the building came crashing down.

Structural engineer Gene Corley, vice president of Skokie, Ill.-based CTL Group, wrote a U.S. government report on how the World Trade Center performed after being attacked. He explained how it was possible for a very few to survive the extreme impact.

"He was at or just below the location where the plane came in," Corley said of survivor Crown. "There was a tremendous explosion there, a big fireball that engulfed that area and he would have been in it and the only way that anyone really could survive that is really be very lucky or have some kind of protection."

Not only that, Corley said, but if Crown had breathed in at the wrong time, the searing hot gases from the explosion could have burned his lungs too badly to survive.

Of the three potential stairwells he could have used, two were too badly damaged to use. The third suffered impassable damage above the 78th floor.

"The plane got two of the stairs," Corley said. "So the third one was missed because the plane didn't hit the tower exactly in the center."

By chance, it was that stairwell that Crown took.

Crown, 33, credits family and friends' support in the weeks that followed for his ability to cope with the tragedy he'd experienced. Many of his thoughts at first were with the first responders who helped him.

"There were a number of paramedics, first responders, doctors that had run down to the site that were taking care of me and didn't survive when our building fell," he said. "People from all over the city descended on the site ... and I was one of the lucky ones."