There will be hundreds of amazing survival stories out of the World Trade Centre bombings but this is one of the better ones from Sydneysider James Dorney who survived from floor 52.

The hijacked Boeing 767 jetliner slammed into Tower Two of New York’s World Trade Center, and James Dorney, a 25-year-old risk management specialist from Pymble, was trapped somewhere near the 50th floor.

The stairwell was packed. People from every floor beneath were scrambling to escape. And Mr. Dorney, surrounded by screams and fear since evacuating his 92nd floor office, was barely able to move.

He had started his job four weeks prior. “It was the slowest time of my life,” Mr. Dorney told The Sydney Morning Herald just three hours after the terrorist attack. “When the plane hit our building – about 15 or 20 minutes after Tower One was hit – I was thrown down six flights of stairs. It felt like the building shook for three minutes, but it was probably only eight seconds. It was mass hysteria.

“It felt like every two hours, you’d make it to another floor in that stairwell. Every two levels people were joining in the crush, trying to get out. All I wanted to do was get out. The place was shaking, the lights were out, and we were hardly moving. I thought I was dead, there and then. “There was a voice coming over the loudspeaker telling us the World Trade Center Two was secure, and for us to make our way out in an orderly fashion. Then this. It was 40 minutes of sheer terror.”

Finally, through the dust and rubble, Mr. Dorney saw the flashlights of the rescue crews. But with the building’s collapse imminent, and thousands of confused people flooding the streets, safety had yet to be attained. “People were just yelling ‘Don’t look back! Don’t look back!” he said. “I didn’t. I haven’t seen the footage yet, but I knew people must have been jumping out of their windows to try and get out. There were chunks of horse flesh all over the ground, and I was just trying to get the hell out of there any way I could.

“People were screaming. Some were standing on Broadway taking photos. I wasn’t even ten blocks away, not even at Canal Street, when Tower Two started to fall down. A big wave of dust started coming straight up the street like something out of (the movie) ‘Independence Day’. I was sprinting and crying. I was an absolute mess. I feel like the most blessed person in the world to be alive. I don’t think anybody from level 92 up survived.”

Mr. Dorney, a graduate of Shore School and Sydney University, had started his day like any other. Having arrived at the offices of Aon Risk Services of New York around 8.30am, he had logged on to his computer and placed a call to Georgia. Then came the first impact. Mr. Dorney never saw American Airlines flight 11- a Boeing 767 that had left Boston – impact with Tower One. He did, however, witness the aftermath and immediately suspected a terrorist bombing.

His first instinct was to flee. And after helping several hysterical workmates, Mr. Dorney sprinted to the stairwell, only to find it already crammed with terrified office workers running for their lives.

Less than halfway down, United Airlines flight 75 – also a Boeing 767 out of Boston – slammed into his building, Tower Two, decimating the building and likely claiming hundreds, maybe thousands, of innocent lives.

“What I saw happen to Tower One was an explosion so big that it would cripple most cities,” he said. “It was like something out of ‘Die Hard’,but this was very, very real. At first I didn’t know if I was going to survive that. When I realized that I had, I sort of came to my senses and I just nailed it out of there.

“Some people were losing it, and trying to collect all their stuff. It’s the kind of thing you just don’t wish anyone to ever witness or experience, whether they’re a friend or an enemy. When stuff like this is happening, and you’re on the 92nd floor, it’s pretty hard to be rational.

“The second plane ploughed straight into my floor. I don’t know what’s happened to my workmates, I don’t have a job, I don’t even have a building. I’ve got no idea what’s next for me or where I go from here. I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to get over this.”

George W. Bush has promised revenge. John Howard has foreshadowed the likelihood of Australian casualties. James Dorney has survived.

And against the backdrop of the worst terrorist attack in American history, at least one family, at least one group of friends, at least one community has something to be thankful for. Because many won’t.

Peter Fray

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