Personal Stories

Henry Fuerte, a 9/11 World Trade Center Survivor Tells his Story

“Why did I survive when 256 co-workers, 70 of them personal friends died?”

| 11.09.17 | 18:08
Henry Fuerte, a 9/11 World Trade Center Survivor Tells his Story
Henry Fuerte was born in the US to a Jewish family. He had completed his Bachelor’s degree in biology but ended up becoming a computer and technology expert employed on the 90th floor of North Tower of the World Trade Center in an international insurance company Marsh & McLellan.
“That Tuesday was Election Day for mayor and I came to work late. Normally I’d be at the office at 8:00 am but I came approximately 8:45. I saw my boss coming out of the elevator to get a coffee in a coffee shop right by the World Trade Center. We smiled at each other and continued on our way”.  What Henry didn’t know was that was the last time he’d see his boss. He was killed and buried under the wreckage of the tower that came down on the shop only to be found 2 months later.

Fuerte took an elevator up to the Sky Lobby on the 78th floor. He was on his way to the next elevator up to the 90th floor. The elevator came and the door opened. As he entered he was immediately thrown backwards out of the elevator from a huge blast. The blast was from a plane crashing into the building 12 flights up from him. It was the American Airlines Flight 11, coming from Boston Logan Airport which slammed the building and whose explosion sent Henry sprawling. The elevator he was supposed to take disintegrated and careened down the shaft, the people inside burned alive before hitting the bottom of the shaft. “I understood something was amiss. I’m 187 lbs. but I was tossed like a rag doll. There suddenly was a lot of dust and darkness. I remember it like yesterday. It was a miracle that I flew backwards out of the elevator. I had this feeling that I must get out of there immediately. An inner voice told me to fly out of there.”

Fuerte and others around him tried freeing people trapped in a different elevator attempting to force the door open but it wouldn’t budge. The group gave up and decided it was now time to save themselves and get out of the area. They went down to the floor where the Hyundai Company was situated and asked where the stairs were. “But they were really unaware of the danger of the situation and asked us to leave as we were disturbing them. They continued on working.” Fuerte and others found the emergency stairs and went down. “When we got to the 35th floor we met firefighters passing us on the way up. We made place for them to pass we went down single file and they went up.

Fuerte was on autopilot singularly focused on getting out of the area. He descended the tower in pain from the blast that hurt him and saved his life hurling him from the elevator. The second tower got hit. Fuerte got out of the building and ran towards the Brooklyn Bridge. “Outside I saw police, FBI and firefighters and when I saw the flames on the Southern Tower I understood this was a terror attack. 3 minutes passed and a woman started screaming. I turned around to see the Southern Tower collapse in front of my eyes as I’m running from it. A thick cloud of smoke and dust enveloped the whole area. I tried calling my parents but didn’t succeed. I met another Jew who succeeded in reaching his wife on his phone and had him get the message to my family that I was still alive.”

Fuerte went to a hospital by foot and waited 4 hours. Upon examination he was found that other than some minor smoke inhalation which caused some low oxygen levels in his blood and a few scratches he was fine. “I started to say the psalms from a book my aunt gave me as a gift a few months before. I thought about Israel and told myself that’s it; I must move to Israel.”

2 days later Fuerte was back at work as if nothing happened but after 6 months of routine he began having post trauma symptoms: depression accompanied by trembling, hallucinations and nightmares. “I did decide to get back to work so as not to wallow in my thoughts but I did wonder: Why was I saved?  I’m single and had no children why me? 50,000 people worked in the World Trade Center every day. It was 108 stories high and over 400 meters tall. 256 of my co-workers died 70 of them I knew personally. 400 Jews perished there. With time I understood the great divine providence that G-d wanted me to live. That’s exactly what He wanted.”

This idea was the impetus for Fuerte to leave everything and move to Israel. “It was difficult to explain to my family how and why I could leave a successful career, my home and family. But eventually I moved to Israel. My family thought I lost my mind!” Shortly before he decided to move, Henry met the young woman who would later become his wife, Michal Michelle. “I went out with a lot of young women but all of them ran away as soon as I said the word ‘Israel’”, Henry says with a smile. He went out with Michal 4 times and then decided it was time to move to Israel. Michal ended up coming immediately afterwards for a friend’s wedding and stayed for 4 more months. When she was about to get on a plane back to the States Henry ran and got her a diamond ring and proposed to her. She said ‘yes’ and they got married in August 2006.

“This was my second miracle. I got married at 35 after going through a lot in life. This was a miracle in its own right. It was very difficult for me to find a Jewish bride in the States. People take it for granted but not me. To me it was a miracle. Moving to Israel was also a miracle. I came 7 times as a tourist but moving here is not simple.”

Grateful for the miracles he experienced, Henry came back to Judaism and keeps Torah and Mitzvoth. Henry, his wife Michal and 2 children Maayan and Gabriel live in Modiin and they thank G-d for his great kindness and compassion. “I earned a good income in America. I was all set, but I had no satisfaction. I always looked for some change. When I decided to strengthen myself, things suddenly fell into place. I moved to Israel, I got married, I found good employment in computers, a job that people dream of. I have a house, a wife and children and a good livelihood. I’m to my loved on and my loved one is to me. I did what I could and G-d met me half way. You need faith in G-d and then you see how G-d’s salvation happens with the blink of an eye.”
 
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