September 10, 2012
A SURVIVORS TALE
Phillips remembers her walk, journey to safety on 911
By Michael Lewis
Lyndelle Phillips remembers the day like it was yesterday.
On a beautiful September Tuesday morning at the cusp of a new decade, Phillips’ company, Goldman-Sachs, held what she called “typical office staff meeting” on the 65th floor of the World Trade Center’s South Tower.
On a typical day, Phillips, who was senior counsel of employment with the company at the time, said she wouldn’t have been there that early, that she usually arrived at the office later.
On the table for the staff were donuts, fruit and coffee.
Then all hell started to break loose — literally and figuratively — at 8:46 a.m. ET on Sept. 11, 2001.
“We heard a loud impact,” she said. “The building kind of shook.
“There were pieces of burning debris going through the air. We didn’t know what it was.”
No one realized at the time, but plane had hit the North Tower.
A Goldman Sachs manager told everyone present: “We’ve got to go.”
Phillips, an attorney by trade and a soccer enthusiast by choice, listened to the manager as she and her co-workers left the floor and took the long walk down to safety.
Had she not walked down, Phillips would have perished with some 3,000 people in what is considered the worst attack on U.S. soil. Tuesday is the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attack.
Had she not taken the journey, Phillips would have not been around to continue her work as the president and manager of the New York Magic of the W-League and New York Metropolitan Women’s League.
Had she not left the building, Phillips would not have enjoyed being inducted into the United Soccer League and Eastern New York Soccer Halls of Fame or would not have been named the W-League executive of the year in 2010.
Moreover, she would not had been able to pursue her passions, especially the beautiful game.
Asked if she felt she was fortunate, Phillips replied, “In many ways, I feel blessed. I am a very spiritual person. If it is my time, it’s my time.”
“This kind of the way my life is unfolding. I guess you kind of define it as luck.”
Phillips said that there were people who decided to leave the South Tower after the plane had hit the building.
“That to me is luck,” she said.
Whether it was luck, intuition or instinct, Phillips is alive to tell her story, one of thousands of stories that that were wrote that fateful Tuesday.
In 1993, she was working for the New York Stock Exchange — on the 28th floor. She had similar instincts back then, when a bomb went off in the garage underneath the towers. When she felt the impact, Phillips looked at her three leaders and said, “I had to go.”
So, eight years later, Phillips said, “It’s kind of second nature. Getting out was the logical, reasonable thing to do.”
Even if the South Tower workers were told via announcement:
“There is a smoke and fire condition in Building 1. There is nothing wrong with Building 2. Please remain in your offices.”
Phillips felt otherwise as she flagged people on the 65th floor.
“We’ve got to get out,” she told her colleagues.
Phillips and her co-workers and others in the building went down orderly “until the building shook,” she said.
That’s when she reached the 20th floor. The second plane — United Airlines flight No. 175 — had gone through and demolished the 68th floor – three stories above Phillips’ offices at 9:03 a.m.
“With the power and the force, the second plane hit our building,” she said. “I thought the building was going to crumble. They’re going to find us here smashed on top of each other.”
A little later, Phillips saw firemen climbing up the stairs while she and her colleagues were walking down.
“Where are you going?” she said she thought.
“Little did they know they were all going to perish.”
Phillips and her co-workers got out with plenty of time to spare. She looked up at the building and saw a gap, a black hole in it.
Several minutes later, Phillips got yet another surprise when she was walking down Broadway. A stranger told her the building was gone. The building had collapsed 53 minutes after it was hit — at 9:56 a.m.
“I thought the woman was crazy,” Phillips said.
“Which building?” Phillips asked at the time.
The woman replied, “The South Tower.”
“I walked away,” Phillips said, and then laughed.
“I discounted anyone commenting that the building wasn’t there,” she said. “I saw a big cloud of smoke. I thought it was behind a big cloud of smoke.”
While Phillips did escape with her life, she did suffer losses — friends from other companies.
“The number of people from my office was small,” she said.
Phillips knew security personnel who went up the stairs to help out. “I knew millionaire traders who stayed and those guys are gone,” she said.
Her law books were obliterated as were the files of her law cases.
“I had a soccer gum ball machine,” she said. “I had a lot of little things in my office that were soccer related.”
But they all could be replaced; a precious human life cannot be.
As it turns out, Phillips did not visit the WTC site very soon after the tragedy.
“I didn’t go back for a very, very long time,” she said. “Fortunately, I had planned a vacation. We [her husband Nino De Pasquale] went to Italy.
“I had a tendency of pushing things away. I didn’t go back.
“I had driven by, but I had not stopped.”
But life has a way of finding a way of making you come to terms with things. Phillips eventually switched jobs and wound up working for the Fire Department as assistant commissioner of Equal Employment Opportunity.
“It’s kind of an interesting connection,” she said. “I kind of have gone full circle.”
As a member of the department’s senior staff, she returned to the site two winters ago, she said, to see what the memorial was all about.
Phillips admitted it was a painful experience.
“It felt very, very light headed,” she said. “I felt I had to get out of there.”
She admitted that returning was “more than I thought it was going to be.
“It was overwhelming.”