When American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Rick Rescorla immediately understood the gravity of the situation.
As the director of security for Morgan Stanley, he had already survived the 1993 World Trade Center bombing and recognized that this could possibly happen again.
Amid the chaotic evacuation of the twin towers, Rescorla was last seen on the 10th floor, courageously searching for survivors.
Born in the UK in 1939 and serving in both the British and US army, Rescorla relocated to New Jersey in 1985. Every single day he commuted on the 6:10 am train to New York City daily, ensuring he arrived at his World Trade Center office by 7:30 am.
After terrorists planted a truck bomb at the World Trade Centre in 1993 – claiming six lives – Rescorla apparently requested that Morgan Stanley employees start working at a less vulnerable location like New Jersey. Though, the company’s lease was until 2006, so there was no move on the cards.
Stranded in the World Trade Center at that time, Rescorla worked on creating comprehensive safety protocols in case of another attack. He mandated that all Morgan Stanley employees rehearse evacuations methodically, descending one floor at a time in pairs through the emergency stairwells, ensuring a clear path for first responders to ascend.
Despite some employees’ initial resistance to what seemed like excessive security drills, Rescorla insisted on being prepared for worst-case scenarios, a decision that would eventually save lives less than a decade later.
On September 11, 2001, when two hijacked planes struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center, Rescorla’s preparations became necessary. He had readied the Morgan Stanley employees he was responsible for protecting to the best of his ability. As the building lost power and swayed following the explosion, Rescorla maintained order.
“Stay calm. Move towards the other stairwell and watch out for each other. Today is a day to be proud to be an American,” he said.
As thousands of employees descended the dark stairwell in pairs, Rescorla began singing the same songs that had resonated with his soldiers 36 years earlier during the Vietnam War.
Amid co-ordinating the evacuation, Rescorla managed to contact his friend Dan Hill briefly. Recognizing Rescorla’s voice, Hill urgently begged him to leave the building, both aware that the terrorist attack intended to bring down the towers.
“I’ve got people to take care of,” Rescorla responded.
He asked that Hill be there for his wife over the coming days, then, the connection was severed. Minutes later, the south tower collapsed, with Rescorla inside.
Rescorla was later credited with saving the lives of more than 2,600 employees working in the south tower. During his conversation with Hill, Rescorla explained that the Port Authority had recommended that people remain at their desks rather than evacuate, but he chose to ignore that and follow the comprehensive plan he had prepared.
Without Rescorla’s meticulous preparation and selfless actions on September 11, 2001, the death toll would have likely been significantly higher.
The details of Rescorla’s actions on his final day were recounted in an article by James B. Stewart in The New Yorker in 2002. This was later turned into a book.
In 2002, one of Rescorla’s former comrades paid tribute to the fallen soldier and 9/11 hero: “We lost one of the best men we’ve ever known. For those of you who don’t know Rick Rescorla, he was a warrior, a leader, and a friend. He was the bravest man I ever saw.”
What an amazing story of bravery and selflessness. We are sending our prayers to those who died on 9/11 as well as their families.
If you found this story moving, you may be interested in reading about how a photo of Albert Ogletree, a cafeteria worker killed on 9/11, was finally added to a museum’s memorial.
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