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Surfing the Collapse

A Tony Hawk–meets–Tom Cruise fantasy, based partly on fact.


In the aftermath, a fantastic action-movie-hero rumor started: Someone inside had ridden a jagged steel boogie board to safety on benevolent currents of air. Newsweek, in its initial coverage, quoted a doctor on the scene saying of someone found in the rubble that “he rode that”—a chunk of the building—“down all the way from the 86th floor.” Though nothing of the sort was ever confirmed, one man, Pasquale Buzzelli, very nearly lived up to the role. He and his Port Authority colleagues—one of whom was Genelle Guzman-McMillan, the last survivor pulled from the wreckage—had calmly stayed put in their 64th-floor offices, then took the stairs. The North Tower began collapsing above them when they were still between 13 and 22 stories up; Buzzelli, a structural engineer, knew what was happening when he heard the thunderous roar and threw himself into a fetal position. The fall [S5] reminded him of the roller coasters at Great Adventure, he would later say. He awoke three hours later, reclining atop a slab of tower, perched fifteen feet above a silent hellscape. He had a broken foot but was otherwise relatively unscathed. Somehow, the pancaking floors, which by the time they reached him had attained their terminal velocity, simply went by him. As William Langewiesche, author of American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center, put it, “Basically the building passed him on the way to the ground ... He lost the race.”














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