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September 11th: WTC Sarasota survivor recalls terror in tower | News

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September 11th: WTC Sarasota survivor recalls terror in tower
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SARASOTA, Florida - On September 11, thousands of people found themselves trapped in the World Trade Center towers when the planes hit. One Bay area man happened to be there by chance.

Daniel Hoffe is a wealth management advisor. Ten years ago, he told 10 News Reporter Isabel Mascarenas about those terrifying moments and, a decade later, he recalls the terror and reflects on how 9-11 changed his life.

"I want people to remember the heroes. I'm just a survivor," says Hoffe.

At 8:14 a.m. on September 11, the Morgan Stanley advisor from Sarasota was on the 61st floor of WTC's South Tower, known as Tower 2. "We'd finished training and were actually on a break," recalls Hoffe.

Meanwhile, United Airlines flight #175 had taken off from Boston's Logan Airport. A half hour passed. Hoffe says, "I had gotten some coffee. I was on the side of the South Tower facing the North. I could look out and see the North Tower."

At that moment, American Airlines Flight 11 crashes into the North Tower. "First, you hear the explosion and it cracked windows. Then, I remember looking up I saw all these documents just pouring out of the sky like a ticker tape parade."

Hoffe continues, "And I remember walking over to the window and looking down and seeing all this fire and burning debris beneath us. That's when our fire alarm went off and it said everyone get your personal stuff and head for the stairwells."

Hoffe says, at that time, they were not sure what had happened. He says, "We had no clue."

As the group headed down the stairwell, Hoffe remembers the calm in the midst of chaos. "The memory I have is people helping each other trying to get out. We were all on the same team trying to escape. But it felt like we were all trapped in this belly of the beast. You couldn't move. There were three people across, people kept coming in below and wedged you."

Hoffe and the others were "almost" out of the south tower. "We had gotten to the 10th floor and we hear on the PA 'World Trade Center 1 has been hit 2 is secure' and we are in 2 and we're thinking, 'Thank God we're in 2.' And it seems like 5 or 10 seconds later the second plane hits us. When that hits us my first thought...'I almost made it.'"

Hoffe says the lights flickered off, then the generator kicked them back on. "The smoke was coming up from beneath you and the building was kind of swaying. It was not a good place."

The men and women continued climbing down. They reached the mall underneath the tower. "I'll never forget there was a WTC maintenance worker, this guy is covered in dust and soot, the eyes looked like cube balls. He was so scared he couldn't talk, but yet he's holding the door open so we can all get out. I don't know if he made it."

As they were trying to get out, Hoffe says first responders were coming in. "And that's where the firefighters were coming in and going up. The bravery of those guys. Everybody is trying to flee and they are heading into the danger. It's unbelievable."

"You have to be there with the smoke and the swaying towers to feel the terror, to really appreciate the bravery of the firefighters," says Hoffe.

Hoffe and another man looked left and saw the long line of people trying to get out from the mall in that direction. They looked right and saw a clear path to a stairwell leading up to the street. They made it outside.

"The thing I remember the most is this picture perfect blue sky. It was the most beautiful day you could ever imagine, picture perfect, then framed against this flaming inferno," says Hoffe.

As he looked around, he saw the horror in people's faces. "There were all kinds of people screaming, crying, and pointing."

He kept walking away from the towers uptown, then about a dozen blocks away he turned around.

"I remember we looked back where the tower would be and it was gone," says Hoffe.

He then saw the pain in the faces of people looking for loved ones. He says,  "After the towers had come down, you had these people, they had done printouts of loved ones - their father, their mother, their sister, their brother - and everyone is coming up to you. 'Have you seen them? Have you seen them?' You knew you hadn't...the grief was unbearable."

Ten years later, Hoffe says he misses the patriotism he witnessed that week during his drive home to Sarasota. "Every bridge you went under had a U.S. flag and you had people just waving the flag, everybody was so united and proud to be American. Unfortunately, it doesn't seem to have lasted."

What has lasted is Hoffe's survivor guilt. "You do feel guilty you got out. There's no rhyme or reason why I got out, but too many good people didn't get out that day. You feel like you need to do something with your life to help others."

Hoffe says a piece of him remains at ground zero. "Part of me will always be in that stairwell when it got hit."

It's a moment Hoffe remembers every day.  A series of pictures hanging in his office shows United Airlines Flight 175 flying into the South tower. "You see this everyday and you say you got to be grateful for being here. Hopefully, I can make sure people don't forget the true heroes of 9-11, so maybe that's my purpose."

In the year following September 11, Hoffe and two of his co-workers who also survived that day held fundraisers for the victims of 9-11. One fundraiser brought in $100,000 to buy 10 jaws-of-life for the Sarasota Fire Department. 

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