As was the case with many Americans, Michael Hingson’s life changed dramatically on September 11th. He and his Guide Dog “Roselle” were the lucky ones, however, in that they escaped the World Trade Center attack. As a WTC survivor and as a Guide Dog user, he was thrust into the international limelight.
Michael Hingson was on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center in New York on that fateful Tuesday morning when the building was struck by a plane under the control of terrorist fanatic.
His yellow Lab guide, "Roselle," was sleeping peacefully under his desk, and the two had been going about their daily routines. Michael is the district sales manager for the computer company Quantum ATL and had been hosting a meeting of field representatives.
"I heard a loud noise like a bump and then a lot of shaking. It was worse than any earthquake I’ve ever experienced," he said. Michael grew up in Palmdale, Calif., and had experienced the Northridge earthquake that struck the state in ’94, among others.
"The building started swaying, and the air was filled with smoke, fire, paper and the smell of kerosene," he said. The plane had struck 15 floors above him. He knew something serious had happened, and his first thought was to call his wife and then make sure everyone in the office was evacuated safely. His wife would not hear from him again until he emerged from the building hours later.
"We knew the emergency exit procedures and people did a very good job of following them," he said. "Roselle" led him through the disheveled office and to the stairwell to begin the long decent, sometimes guiding, sometimes following behind him when things were tight.
Although they didn’t feel anything, Michael estimated that the second plane had struck the other tower when they were somewhere around the 50th floor. "By the time we reached the bottom, it had become very hard to breathe," he said. "We were both very hot and tired. ‘Roselle’ was panting and wanted to drink the water that was pooled on the floor. "
They continued walking away from the building. They were about two blocks away when Tower 2 began to collapse. "It sounded like a metal and concrete waterfall," he said. "We started running for the subway." "Roselle" remained focused on her work and he kept his commands simple. When they emerged and were making their way from the scene, Tower 1 toppled, showering them with ash and debris. "Roselle" guided him to the home of a friend in mid-Manhattan where they stayed until the trains were running again. He finally returned home to his worried wife at 7 p.m.
When we spoke with Michael on the day after the tragedy, he said that they were both feeling stiff and sore, but were otherwise fine. "Roselle" had been sleeping for a lot of the time, but would get up occasionally and play with Michael’s retired yellow Lab guide, "Linnie." Michael said, "For me the saddest part was talking to the firemen as they were coming up the stairs—that’s what I’ll always remember most."