Most American's remember all of the details when they first heard the tragic news that American Airlines Flight 11 impacted the North Tower of the World Trade Center on 9/11.
My recollections of this tragic day are a bit different than my friends' memories. Hopefully I can share my unique tie-in to this tragic day by touching on the life of a friend that I lost that day.
I had two wonderful visits to the North Tower of the World Trade Center. My first visit was in August of 1979 when I celebrated the honor of winning a Clio Award in New York City. The celebration took place on the 107th Floor of the World Trade Center at the 40,000 square foot restaurant Windows on the World.
It was an amazing restaurant and the panoramic views of Manhattan and the tri-state area were striking to say the least. Even though it was 32 years ago, I clearly remember every detail about that night of joyous celebration. It was a "night of magic on top of the world."
My second visit to the Windows on the World and the World Trade Center was exactly 20 years later, in August of 1999. I slipped out a convention that I was attending at the Jacob Javitts Center to enjoy "breakfast and business with a view." Little did I know that as I took the long 107 floor ride up the elevator that I was about to meet a very special young woman.
For many years I made my living by marketing photo related products. When I walked past the Windows Gift Shop I knew that I was going to have more than just a breakfast with a view. My goal was to find a manager and suggest that I create and provide the restaurant and the gift shop with a customized Windows on the World disposable camera.
After ordering a wonderful breakfast I ask my waiter if the manager could stop by my table. A little pushy I guess, but after all I was in New York City, the home of assertive salespeople.
Much to my surprise and pleasure a striking young lady walked to my table within minutes. She had a great smile, sparkling eyes and an air of confidence about her. She simply said, "Hi, I'm Christine Olender, the assistant general manager. Is everthing all right with your breakfast?"
Christine and I started our business relationship that morning over breakfast. Even though we exchanged many phone calls and emails in the next two years I never saw her in person again.
We did get to know each other over the next two year period. Both of us were from Illinois, she was from Chicago and I was from Joliet. In fact, Christine called me "Mr. Joliet" from that day on. She was born on the 4th of July, and I was born on the 13th of July. We were both Cancers and had much in common on many levels.
After two years of phone calls and emails I had the good fortune of receiving a go ahead and a purchase order from Christine and the Windows on the World for their own customized disposable camera. Her phone call said it all. "I love the artwork on the camera 'Mr Joliet,' go for it." I laughed and thanked her for the order. I remember telling her how much fun it would be to work with her on other projects in the future.
Our phone call was on Sept.r 9, 2001. We would never talk again.
Christine was working on 9/11 at the Windows on the World where she was hosting the Risk Waters Group for breakfast. The first speaker for the technology conference was to talk at 9 a.m.
At 8:46:26 a.m. American Flight 11 impacted the North Tower of the World Trade Center. The plane entered the North Tower between the 94th and the 98th floor at 490 miles per hour.
It is my understanding that Christine took immediate control of her area of responsibility after the plane hit. She organized all of the breakfast guests and employees on the 106th floor. All three emergency stairwells were filled with smoke.
The communication from Christine on her mobile phone to 911 Services was more precise and consistently repeated than any other communication with the Port Authority Police on that fateful morning.
The following are the exact words of Christine Olender and Port Authority Police Officers on her recorded 911 calls:
CHRISTINE: Hi, this is Christine, assistant GM of Windows. We're getting no direction up here. We're having a smoke condition. We need directions as to where we need to direct our guests and our employees, as soon as possible.
PORT AUTHORITY POLICE OFFICER STEVE MAGGETT: Okay. We're doing our best, we've got the fire department, everybody, we're trying to get up to you, dear. Call back in about two or three minutes, and I'll find out what direction you should try to get down.
CHRISINE, minutes later: Hi, this is Christine up at Windows on 107. We're still waiting for direction. We have guests up here.
OFFICER RAY MURRAY: Ah, how many people have your got there, up there, approximately?
CHRISTINE: We have approximately, probably about 75-100 people.
RAY MURRAY: Seventy-five to 100, and your're up on 106 or 107.
CHRISTINE: One-oh-six; 107's impossible. The smoke condition on 107 is (sound lost).
RAY MURRAY: We're..we are sending officers and fire personnel up there at this time. We are evacuating as soon as possible.
CHRISTINE: But we...right now we need to find a safe haven on 106 where the smoke condition isn't bad. Can you direct us to a certain quadrant?
RAY MURRAY: All right, we are sending somebody up there as soon as possible. If anybody can get to the staircase, that's fine.
CHRISTINE: You can't. The staircase is (sound lost).
RAY MURRAY: All right, we're sending...we're sending people up there as soon as possible.
CHRISTINE: What's your ETA?
RAY MURRAY: I...ma'm, I have to get on the radio. As soon as possible. As soon as it's humanly possible.
The transcripts show that Christine called back in exactly five minutes to press for help to save her guests. When she got nowhere, she waited for four minutes and called for the fourth and final time.
CHRISTINE: Hi, this is Christine again from Windows on the World on the 106th floor. The situation on 106 is rapidly getting worse.
RAY MURRAY: - saying to the people around him - I got a fourth call from Windows on the World, it's getting rapidly worse up there.
CHRISTINE: We...we have...the fresh air is going down fast. I am not exaggerating.
RAY MURRAY: Uh, ma'm, I know you're not exaggerating. We're getting a lot of these calls. We are sending the Fire Department up as soon as possible. I have you, Christine: four calls, 75-100 people, Windows on the World, 106th floor.
CHRISTINE: What are we going to do for air?
RAY MURRAY: Ma'm the Fire Department...
CHRISTINE: Can we break a window?
RAY MURRAY: You can do whatever you have to get to, uh, the air.
CHRISTINE: All right.
Within minutes after her last communication the building collapsed. Christine did everything she could. Despite her valiant and self-less efforts, her guests did not escape. And saidly, neither did she.
In the North Tower, where Christine and her guests were located there were 1,360 fatalities above the 92nd floor. Being above the 92nd floor on 9/11 meant certain death for its occupants. No one survived.
I only had breakfast with Christine one time. It was the only time that we met personally. Our emails and phone calls were always positive, upbeat and fun. I believe that this is how she lived her entire life.
These transcripts show that Christine demonstrated amazing courage when she had to. It's obvious that she eased some of the panic of her customers and comforted them in the gentlest way possible as things got worse by the minute.
Christine Olender is one of the true heroes of 9/11.
I wish that I had known her better.
Better yet, I wish that the tragedy of 9/11 had never happened.
I would still be supplying Christine with cameras, we would have breakfast together at least once a year and she would still be calling me "Mr. Joliet."