“Walking around Ground Zero, you would look down and see stray shoes and wallets, remains of family pictures from desks and children’s artwork that had decorated offices just hours before.” – Michael Bonora, Construction Manager, E.E. Cruz.
On the morning of September 11, 2001, thousands of people took the subways to lower Manhattan, boarded early-morning flights to planned destinations or arrived at fire stations for their shift. Tragically, this was the last time nearly 3,000 people would do these everyday activities.
Most people watched the horrific events of that day through the lens of news reporters, but for E.E. Cruz employees Brian Cichetti, Mark Carlucci, Michael Bonora and Christopher Vito, the 9/11 attacks in New York City and the accompanying ramifications unfolded right before their eyes.
It’s a sunny Tuesday morning as New York City comes to life
Just as he would any other morning, Cichetti, E.E. Cruz Corporate Safety Director, arrived at his project site at the Goldman Sachs building in Jersey City, New Jersey. While working on the slurry wall alongside the edge of the river, he had a clear view as he watched the planes strike the World Trade Center towers. Carlucci, also an E.E. Cruz employee at the time, was not on-site at Goldman Sachs, but was relayed the news by the employees just minutes after the initial crash.
At the time of the attack, Bonora and Vito were not E.E. Cruz employees but were working at nearby construction projects.
Vito: “flying way too low and in the incorrect airspace”
“As a private pilot, I was familiar with the airspace in that area,” said Vito. “I remember looking up and noticing a commercial plane flying way too low and in the incorrect airspace for that area. I then watched the plane turn around and fly directly into the North Tower. I’ll never forget what the giant explosion looked like against the blue sky.”
As soon as E.E. Cruz leaders learned what had happened, they immediately stopped work at area projects and asked the Goldman Sachs team to gather all of their “burning equipment” (oxyacetylene cutting torches) and load it into nearby tugboats.
First responders at the scene were in need of volunteers who knew how to operate cutting torches, so Cichetti, Carlucci and other team members headed to the location that came to be known as Ground Zero.
“I joined what was called the ‘bucket brigade.’ For days, we used buckets to dig through piles and piles of debris searching for survivors,” said Carlucci. “Once it got dark, the whole place would glow. You would see the hot spots where the fire was coming through the beams where the buildings had collapsed into the foundation.”
Cichetti: “It was massive Chaos”
“It was massive chaos. There was debris flying everywhere, and we did not know what to do or where to start,” said Cichetti. “The memory that most vividly remains in my mind is a woman who was walking around, approaching complete strangers, with a picture of her son asking if anyone had seen him.”
At the time of the attacks, Cichetti’s wife worked on the 94th floor of the South Tower of the World Trade Center. The plane that hit the South Tower crashed into floors 77 through 85 and severed all emergency stairwells, trapping those above floor 85. When Cichetti first arrived at the scene, he assumed his wife was among those trapped at the top of the South Tower.
Thankfully, Cichetti’s wife had gotten delayed while dropping off their son at preschool and never arrived at the World Trade Center that morning. She was able to reach him later that day to let him know she was safe. Sadly, Cichetti’s wife suffered a deep personal loss, as dozens of her coworkers and friends never made it out of the South Tower that day.
“I’ve never seen people come together like that. People were walking up wearing hardhats with stickers from dozens of different unions. People from all over the country were there,” said Cichetti. “I was awestruck at how everyone looked out for one another having just experienced such a horrific event. It was so surreal,” reinforced Bonora.
Memories of that tragic day remain vivid
Although this horrific attack took place 20 years ago, all four E.E. Cruz employees note that the memories remain crystal clear.
For weeks to follow, brave volunteers continued to dedicate their days and nights to recovery and cleanup efforts, often going long stretches without sleep or food. The E.E. Cruz Goldman Sachs project site was even transformed into a triage center utilized by fire, police and EMT organizations.
In 2006, E.E. Cruz was awarded a contract to build the foundation for the World Trade Center Memorial. One year later, E.E. Cruz was awarded the contract for the linear wall project at that site. Both were completed in 2010. In addition to E.E. Cruz employees, Dave Jones, Flatiron’s Mid-Atlantic Safety Manager, also worked on the World Trade Center projects.
We remember and honor all who lost their lives in the tragic events of September 11, 2001, and we thank the brave first responders and volunteers who aided in rescue and recovery.