When a United
Airlines plane struck the 78th to 84th floors of the second, south
tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, between 50 and
200 people were gathered in the 78th-floor Sky Lobby, waiting for
an elevator to evacuate them below. Only 12 survived. They described
a blast of light and heat, and then darkness, smoke, and confusion.
Surviving also was the story of a young man with a red bandanna
over his mouth and nose who appeared out of the chaos, issuing crisp
instructions, lending his strength, and guiding the injured to the
stairway out. He spoke with command, but wore no official rescue
gear. "Anyone who can walk," he said, "walk down
the stairs. Anyone who can walk and help someone else, help. There
are people here you cannot help anymore, so don't try to."
The young man led first one small group of injured and then another
down 17 flights of stairs to relative safety. For nine months, no
one knew who he was. Last May, when an article in the New York Times
recounted his heroics, he was identified as Welles Crowther '99.
Crowther worked as an equities trader at Sandler O'Neill & Partners
on the 104th floor of the south tower. After the first plane struck
the north tower, he telephoned his mother, Alison Crowther, and
left a message: He was evacuating the building. But he apparently
never left. His body was discovered last March in unusual circumstances:
as one of only two civilians among a cluster of policemen and firefighters
in the ground floor lobby of the south tower, a staging area for
the morning's rescue efforts.
In fact, Crowther was a fireman, too. From the age of 16, he had,
like his father Jefferson Crowther, been a trained volunteer member
of the Empire Hook & Ladder Company, in his hometown of Upper Nyack,
New York. And like his father, he'd acquired the habit of carrying
a bandanna in his pocket; the father carried a blue one, the son,
From the testimony of survivors interviewed by the Times and by
Crowther's hometown paper, the Journal News, it appears
that Crowther got as far down as the 78th floor before the airplane
struck his building. Judy Wein, an employee from the 103rd floor,
had also made it to the Sky Lobby. The plane's impact left her with
a broken arm, three broken ribs, and a punctured lung. "We
didn't know where we were. We didn't know what to do," Wein
recalls. Then the man in the red bandanna appeared. "He was
calm, he showed us where the stairs were, he found a fire extinguisher."
Crowther escorted Wein and several other injured survivors down
to the 61st floor before turning around and heading back up.
Suffering from burns, Ling Young, who worked on the 86th floor,
was still in the Sky Lobby. She recalls hearing Crowther call out,
"This way to the stairs," and, along with another man, following
his voice. As they descended together, Young saw that Crowther was
carrying another woman on his back. At some point, Crowther pulled
off his bandanna, and Young saw his face. When the little group
neared the 61st floor, he left them and went upstairs once more.
No survivor recalls seeing him after that.
Following the Times article, Alison Crowther sent Young
a photograph of Welles. "As soon as I saw it, I knew it was
him," Young told the Journal News.
On June 2, the Rockland Fire Training Center, where Welles Crowther
had trained as a firefighter, held a memorial service to honor the
five Rockland County volunteer firemen who died on September 11.
Alison Crowther spoke. "Welles must have felt hugely fulfilled that
day," she said. "He was not Welles Crowther, equities trader. .
. . He was Welles Crowther, firefighter."
Welles Remy Crowther Charitable Trust has been created to support
programs benefiting young people. Details can be had from the trust
at 106 Birchwood Avenue, Upper Nyack, NY 10960.
Photo: Welles Crowther '99 played lacrosse for BC. Photo courtesy
of the Crowther Family .