- The Washington Times - Monday, December 3, 2001

NEW YORK The baby's timing was perfect. A living gift of Thanksgiving, a reminder of the inevitable cycle of life and death. The birth became the sweet part of the bittersweet world of Heath Riccobono, who on Nov. 20 cried for joy.
Two months earlier, Mr. Riccobono, a 31-year-old banker, thought he was going to die inside the World Trade Center. Instead, he is now in his Holbrook, Long Island, home with his first child a boy born at 8 pounds, 6 ounces just before Thanksgiving.
"I am so thankful for being able to witness my son's birth," he said. "I'm happy to be here with Melissa, who I love. And I pray for those Americans who are out there in Afghanistan. I'm grateful for them for defending our country and defending what I went through."
Heath Riccobono thought the exciting part of his life was over years ago. On Dec. 7, 1993, he arrived at the platform too late to hop aboard an eastbound Long Island Rail Road commuter train.
"I just missed that train for probably a second," he said. "I was pounding on the glass. I was so angry."
The train he missed carried Colin Ferguson, a deranged gunman who walked through two cars, indiscriminately shooting and killing six persons and wounding 19 others in what would be called the Long Island Railroad Massacre.
A guy gets only one story like that in a lifetime, he figured.
Until the morning of September 11.
That day, his thoughts were on the drudgery of daily existence. He was thinking about his wife-to-be, Melissa "Missy" Lamoutte, who shared a home with him and was in the final trimester of pregnancy with their first child. He was wondering whether the baby's arrival was a signal for him to make a change.
Heath Riccobono arrived that day for his job at Fuji Bank on the 80th floor of the World Trade Center's south tower as a restless man. His desk overlooked the north tower. When the first jetliner crashed at eye level just outside his window, Mr. Riccobono looked up in time to see a fireball, a rain of paper and then debris pelting his windows. He never saw the plane.
A loudspeaker announcement told people in his building that a plane had hit the other tower, but there was no reason to panic or evacuate the south tower. Some people in his office decided to leave anyway, and Mr. Riccobono thought that a good idea.
He walked down 27 flights of stairs, getting off at the 53rd floor to find a phone to call Missy. He walked into a room full of insurance brokers, many of them talking on telephones, continuing to conduct business while a horrific scene was visible outside their windows.
As Mr. Riccobono looked out the window, he saw a man falling just outside the glass.
"The man was wearing a suit," he said. "He's clutching his face with both hands as tight as he could. His back was toward the ground. I couldn't stop watching. His body hit the ground with such tremendous force there was nothing but a pink spot He was no longer a human being There was nothing left of this person. His family will never know what a horrific death he experienced."
Then he watched a second person, a woman in a white-checkered skirt, grazed off the side of the building on the way down, her arms and legs flailing wildly near the very end.
"Missy begged me to get out of there," he said. "I couldn't believe these people were standing around talking on the phone. We were told not to evacuate and they didn't. People were milling around the halls talking to one another, not concerned that we could be in danger."
He found a half-empty elevator. The hallway was full of people, but no one got on with him, a fatal decision. He had just reached the sky lobby on the 45th floor when the second jetliner slammed into his building somewhere above him.
"Words cannot describe the thunderous explosion I felt. A wave of black smoke and glitter that was glass was filling the sky lobby. Everyone was screaming. It was a free-for-all to the fire exit. I felt weak from being terrified. People were being pushed down and trampled. The entire lobby was trying to get through one fire exit The building rumbled, swayed. I felt helpless. I'm going to die."
Mr. Riccobono has no concept how long it took to descend those 45 floors. Many of his co-workers 50 in all would never be seen again.
Since the towers collapsed, Mr. Riccobono has been working in the bank's offices in Jersey City, N.J.
"The hardest part," he said, "is that the office is now directly across the river to where the World Trade Center was. I look out my window and see it there."

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide