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The Braille Monitor,  October 2001 EditionThis is a line.

Eyewitness to Catastrophe

Michael Hingson and his guide dog
Michael Hingson and his guide dog

From the Editor: Shortly before we went to press, the world was profoundly altered on September 11. We all watched and listened and prayed for those caught up personally in the tragic events in New York, Washington, and western Pennsylvania. Blind people are a cross section of the general population, so not surprisingly some of our members were at ground zero. Seville Allen, first Vice President of the NFB of Virginia, works at the Pentagon, but she was unhurt. Three blind vendors had facilities in the World Trade Center. We are deeply grateful that they all escaped, though their businesses are obviously gone.

In fact we are mounting an effort to provide financial assistance to the blind people who were caught up in these life-changing events. Those interested in making contributions to assist the blind people who have suffered can send their contributions to the National Federation of the Blind. Be sure to write "disaster relief" in the memo line of the check, and your gift will be used to help.

Mike Hingson has been a member of the National Federation of the Blind for many years. On September 11 he was working in his office on the seventy-eighth floor of World Trade Center Tower One. On Friday evening, September 14, he told Larry King about his experience. Here is the transcript of the Hingson interview on "Larry King Live":


Michael Hingson has been blind since birth. Michael was on the seventy-eighth floor of the World Trade Center, the One building, the north tower. He was guided out by his guide dog Roselle and another colleague. Michael, first, what--do you have a job in that building?

MICHAEL HINGSON, EYEWITNESS: Yes, I work for a company, Quantum ATL. We manufacture Enterprise-scale libraries, tape libraries that back up data for disaster recovery situations such as this.

KING: Really? That's what you manufacture?

HINGSON: The company manufactures that out in California. And my job is to manage the channel sales in New York and New Jersey.

KING: Is it a job that can be easily handled though blind?

HINGSON: Oh, yes. Obviously I use some different tools. I use a dog to get around, and sometimes I will use a cane. I use a computer that talks, a calculator that talks. I will write some material in Braille. It certainly is a job that I can do. Where you might drive a car to go to a place, I use a car service or rely on buses and trains.

KING: How long you work there?

HINGSON: I worked at the World Trade Center for about a year and a half.

KING: What happened? What do you remember happened?

HINGSON: There was an incredible bang. Sort of a dull thud, but certainly very tremendous. Then the building shook very violently. I remember going, "God, don't let that building tip over." I had a lot of faith.

KING: What did you think it was?

HINGSON: I thought it was some sort of an explosion at first. My colleague David Frank looked out the window as soon as the building stopped shaking and said there's fire above us. I could hear debris falling. And he said, "There's just debris falling everywhere."

KING: So your first thought now is to get out. You're also blind. So you're working on senses as well?

HINGSON: Absolutely. But I knew where the stair wells were. David could see. He and I were the last out of the office. There were guests in the office as well. They went out first. We got them out. And then we went out.

KING: And down seventy-eight floors?

HINGSON: Down seventy-eight floors.

KING: What role did the dog play?

HINGSON: She guided. She did a tremendous job. She is from Guide Dogs for the Blind, which is one of the larger schools in the country that trains these dogs. They do an incredible job of selecting the animals, doing the best that they can to acclimatize them to adverse conditions. This clearly can't be one of them. But she knows how to cope with noises; she knows how to cope with a lot of different stressful things. She played guide down the stairs.

KING: That's the school in Rochester, Minnesota, right?

HINGSON: No, this is in San Rafael, California.

KING: I remember Guide Dogs for the Blind in Minnesota is the main base. The dog is with you, we understand, Michael?

HINGSON: Roselle, sit. I don't know whether you can see her.

KING: We see her. Beautiful dog.

HINGSON: She is a good girl.

KING: And a brave dog.

HINGSON: She is.

KING: You are walking down seventy-eight floors. You have a friend with you, and you've got your dog. Are you scared?

HINGSON: No question. I was very concerned. I didn't hear the second plane hit, but we knew that at that time something had happened. We figured that a plane had hit the building because I could smell--we all could smell jet fuel fumes. So we knew there was something going on.

KING: How about other people on the stairway?

HINGSON: Yes, and I'm referring to them as well. There were a lot of people going down the stairs, especially when we got down into the levels around floor forty and so on.

KING: When you're blind, do you fear they will push right by you? Knock you over?

HINGSON: No, I wasn't so concerned about that. I stayed on the right-hand side. There was plenty of room for people to pass if they wanted to do that. And some did.

KING: Was it true some people were cheering you?

HINGSON: There were people that were doing that. I was cheering other people. We all cheered the firemen and the police and those who went upstairs. We were very concerned for them. We slapped them on the backs; they were being very supportive. "Do you need help? Are you OK?" they would ask us. And we asked them, "Are you all OK? Go get them; do everything you can. Our faith is in you."

KING: Did the firemen talk to you?


KING: Saying?

HINGSON: Are you OK? Is somebody with you? Don't worry. You'll be out OK. Just don't be scared. Just keep going; you're going to do fine.

KING: Did you smell any jet fuel?

HINGSON: Lots, yes. There were fumes all the way down.

KING: Then when you get to the lobby, what happens?

HINGSON: Well we had to go through a lot of water. The sprinklers were running. There was  a lot of debris on the floor. We got out of the lobby to the main World Trade Center Shopping Mall, which is also inside. From there we were escorted out of the building, and then we moved away.

KING: And did you learn of the second tower being hit?

HINGSON: I didn't know the second tower had been hit. I knew there was fire on both towers. We got about two blocks away, and then Building Two started to collapse. So we  all--there were a number of us--we ran for cover. We ran into a subway station. But by that time we were already covered with soot. We had to go through a lot of falling glass and a lot of other kind of debris. Then we got out of the subway, and a couple blocks further, Tower One collapsed.

KING: You've been in earthquakes, too, Michael?

HINGSON: Yes, I used to live in California.

KING: This much worse?

HINGSON: Much worse. It's not fun being at the epicenter.

KING: No. By the way, how long did it take to get down?

HINGSON: I would say altogether from starting in the stairs to getting outside the building, for me, probably about fifty minutes or so. I was out about twenty minutes before Two collapsed.

KING: How is life for you now with no place to work?

HINGSON: Well I'm doing fine. I've got a computer at home that talks. I can work at home. Even coming in this evening, on the cell phone I was speaking with one of our customers, Nam, who is talking about buying one of our libraries. I can conduct business on the phone. We go forward, from that standpoint. At the same time I'm really ticked at the people that did this. They took our lives.

KING: Michael, we salute you, and we salute Roselle.

HINGSON: Thank you very much. She is a good dog.

KING: God bless.

HINGSON: God bless you.

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