By Chuck Goldberg
Stanley Praimnath couldn’t understand why so many family members were calling him at work. The morning of 9/11 seemed like any other in his 81st-floor office at Fuji Bank, which occupied floors 79 through 82 in Tower 2 of the World Trade Center in New York City. Today, however, everyone wondered if he was OK—but they wouldn’t say why.
Praimnath had risen quickly through the ranks at Fuji Bank, going from loan administrator to assistant treasurer/vice-president within six months, running operations on the 81st floor.
A self-described early bloomer, Praimnath always rose fast. In his native Guyana, he taught high school for more than eight years, then came to the United States at age 26 in 1982, joining his parents in Queens, New York. After about a year as a shipping clerk in the Jersey City garment district, he joined a bank in the Wall Street area as a corporate data entry clerk. Within six months, he became supervisor over his area. After a corporate merger, he got laid off and eventually joined Fuji in 1989.
After saying goodbye to another family member, Praimnath took his first look outside and saw what he called fireballs—huge chunks of burning debris—falling from Tower 1. “What in God’s name is that?” he said. Praimnath was oblivious, because when the first plane hit that building, he was on his way up the elevator.
This time it was Praimnath who made a phone call—to Tower 1—which housed the other half of Fuji’s operations. When his boss didn’t answer and a co-worker in his own office expressed fear, he decided to evacuate the building with her. When they arrived in the lobby and attempted to exit, however, a security guard stopped them. The guard reassured them and many others of the building’s safety and security, telling them to return upstairs. An intercom announcement echoed the guard’s words.
At that moment, Praimnath’s mind flashed back to the World Trade Center bombing of 1993, when he was also sent back upstairs. Back then, a big boom went off as he ate lunch, and the lights flickered and went dark as smoke wafted up through the vents. High winds forced authorities to abort a planned airlift from the roof, so when the smoke subsided, everyone had to take the stairs down, only to hear more reassurances. Little did Praimnath know, but this day he would relive history.
After sending his frightened employee home, Praimnath returned to his office and received another call—this time from a co-worker at home watching television coverage. She urged him to get out, but just like his family, she also didn’t say why, so Praimnath assured her he was fine.
As he stood there talking, he took a second look out the window and got the shock of his life. Coming directly at him, at eye level, was a gray plane. As he watched in horror, it grew larger and larger until he could see a “U” on the tail—United flight 175. Even worse was the sound, audible through the soundproof walls because the engine was actually revving, as if on takeoff, only sounding much louder.
“I can still hear that sound in my head,” he says. “That sound will never go away.”
Dropping the phone, Praimnath screamed as he dove under his desk, crying out: “Lord, I can’t do this! You take over!”
Atop his desk lay his Bible, left open from the preceding day, because he always read it as he ate lunch. It was his way of showing his largely Buddhist and Shinto co-workers his devotion to the Lord.
As the plane came in, the bottom wing tilted, taking out all four floors of the bank and every employee.
“It was the most horrific, thunderous, excruciating sound you could ever hear,” Praimnath says. “It was like steel ripping against steel. This sound is still ringing in my ears.”
Slicing through his office, the left wing devastated everything in its path before lodging in his door some 20 feet away. “It was like a demolition crew had ripped the place apart,” he says.
Debris was everywhere, several feet high, and every piece of furniture was mangled—with one exception. “The only desk that stood firm was the one I was hiding under, because my Bible was on top of that desk,” he says.
Though fire raged above him and some distance away, he saw no fire in his immediate vicinity. “That is a miracle,” he says. “I was covered under the shadow of the Lord.”
While surviving the impact was miraculous enough, the aftermath presented more challenges. The ceiling had collapsed, and all the cables dropped—sparking, jumping, and short-circuiting—because of water from the sprinkler system. All the windows were blown out and the air pressure was so great, it was sucking everything out. Praimnath thought he might be next.
“I thought if the floor doesn’t completely collapse and kill me, I’ll be electrocuted or the plane’s wing is going to blow up and I’m going to die,” he says.
Struggling out from under his desk, Praimnath tried to make a way through all the debris, which made it impossible for him to stand up. Utter darkness enveloped him, and it was difficult to breathe because it seemed as if someone had thrown a bag of concrete in the air, he says. Every move brought scratches and bruises, shredding his clothes. The wing blocked his only exit.
Thinking about his wife and two daughters, Praimnath began to scream, “Lord, I don’t want to die. Send somebody—anybody--to help me!”
It was then that he saw a flashlight, so he began crawling as fast as he could in that direction. He navigated one department, the lounge, and finally the computer room, dodging live cables as he held onto furniture for support. The flashlight belonged to Brian Clark, who worked on the 84th floor and doubled as his floor’s fire warden.
Clark had begun heading down the stairwell with six others when he heard Praimnath calling for help and felt compelled to stop as if he had no choice. When he did, the six others made the fateful decision to attempt to go back up and escape through the roof, not knowing those doors had been sealed after the 1993 bombing. They were never heard from again.
At first, Praimnath didn’t hear Clark responding because the impact had rendered him temporarily deaf. Soon, however, they were communicating through the one sheetrock wall that stood between Praimnath and the stairwell.
Promising to catch Praimnath, Clark said, “If you want to live, climb over that wall.” Praimnath didn’t think he could do it. With Clark’s encouragement, he tried but failed. Even worse, his effort caused part of the ceiling to collapse on him, and as he instinctively raised his arm, a metal screw in a piece of wood completely pierced his palm. When he knocked out the screw, his hand ballooned.
At that moment, Praimnath remembered Joshua 7:6-8, when Israel’s leader asked God why He had done so much for them, only to allow them to suffer a terrible defeat. Praimnath, too, had survived so much, only to reach an impasse at this wall.
Clark could hear Praimnath praying for renewed strength. With his good hand, Praimnath then punched the wall with everything he had, though he had no idea where the studs were located. Fortunately, he penetrated both layers of sheetrock, then continued punching until his head became visible, then his shoulders. Clark reached in, got Praimnath in a headlock and pulled him through so hard, they fell in a heap and rolled down a flight of stairs, landing on the 80th floor.
When they’d had a chance to collect themselves, Clark revealed he also had a bloody hand wound. He told Praimnath he was an only child and wanted a brother all his life. “I found one today,” he told Praimnath. He then rubbed his bloody palm into Praimnath’s, adding, “You are my blood brother.”
As they headed down the 80 flights, they came upon people who never made it out. One sight still haunts Praimnath to this day—a man flat on his back, blood bubbling from his head. He cried out, “Please tell my wife and baby that I love them. We just got married.” A security guard watched over him, asking Praimnath and Clark to send help, which never came.
Reaching the lobby, they came upon uniformed emergency personnel who cheered them on, with warnings to flee to an adjacent street. Praimnath and Clark heeded their words, but the personnel remained and perished. As the two hit the street, racing to a nearby church, none of the broken glass that rained down touched them at all, nor did any jumpers from the upper stories, who hit the pavement with loud thuds.
When they got to the church, panting to catch their breath, they turned back to look at Tower 2, mesmerized at how greatly it swayed. It went far in one direction, then returned into position. With the ground also vibrating, Praimnath repeated to Clark what he’d said as they hurried out: “The building is going down.”
“The next thing we knew, we saw it start to implode—one floor after another,” Praimnath says. “Then all hell broke loose.”
The resulting cloud of dust blinded Praimnath, separating him from Clark. The man who’d rescued him had suddenly disappeared, seeming to Praimnath like a Biblical event—an angel sent to rescue one of God’s children before returning to heaven. “It didn’t seem real,” he says. “He’s my guardian angel.” Of all the Fuji Bank employees present that day, Praimnath says he was the only one to emerge alive. (Clark also survived, and he and Praimnath remain friends to this day.)
Spurning any medical attention, Praimnath’s sole focus became reuniting with his family. His wife, Jennifer, had seen the coverage and figured he died, so when he phoned, she thought someone was playing a trick.
When he got home, he was so bruised, bloody, and swollen that his 4-year-old daughter, Caitlin, didn’t recognize him. “Don’t touch me!” she screamed. “You’re not my daddy!” His 8 ½-year-old daughter, Stephanie, stood there holding a butter knife after eating toast, telling him if he hadn’t returned home, she had planned to kill herself.
Praimnath returned to work for Fuji Bank in October 2001 and got a different reaction from his co-workers—who’d all been off work on 9/11--when he read his Bible at lunchtime.
“They would come and ask me to tell them about my God,” Praimnath says. “They realized my God took care of me, so now they wanted to know.”
Eventually, the physical and emotional toll of 9/11 caught up with Praimnath. He developed acute bronchitis, a slight case of asthma, and upper respiratory congestion. He coughed up blood. Though he recovered from all of it, the emotional toll proved more difficult.
For six years he struggled with panic attacks as well as nightmares that haunted and awakened him. “I felt like my skin was on fire and meat was falling off my bones,” he says. “I’d be hyperventilating, not knowing where I was for brief seconds. I’d then regain my composure and go back to sleep.”
The emotions became overwhelming, and Praimnath realized he needed a change. He resigned from Fuji Bank after 19 years, and in 2007 joined the Royal Bank of Scotland as assistant vice president in the loan administration department in Stamford, Connecticut.
The change worked. Now, except for an occasional flashback when he feels a plane above or sees one flying a bit low, he is emotionally whole. He did have one persistent dream, though, hearing a voice that told him he wasn’t doing what he was supposed to do. He searched his mind for some time, but it wasn’t until a pastor prayed for him that the light came on. He realized he had to study to become a minister. After taking correspondence classes, he became a licensed minister with the Assemblies of God, and the dream stopped.
A born-again Christian since 1983, Praimnath, now 56, continues with the Royal Bank of Scotland and attends Bethel Assembly of God in Queens, where he teaches young adults and leads the men’s group. On most weekends he travels to tell his story of survival at churches, but also in schools, government offices, and other venues. He has never solicited an invitation, and they keep on coming. He says he’ll continue going, viewing them as opportunities to share God’s grace, one of the main reasons he thinks he survived.
For a long time, Praimnath also suffered from what he called “survivor’s guilt,” wondering why he was the one to live and why bad things happen to good people.
“I used to go around thinking, ‘Why me, Lord, when so many others passed away?’ But I finally reached a point where I just told myself to stop it. I said, ‘Stan, why not you?’ I realized God has a greater plan in mind, and if we could understand everything about the way God works, He would cease to be God.”
His answer is much the same to scoffers who dispute that God should receive any credit in the face of such devastation or who question why God would deliver him but allow other praying Christians to die.
“It’s not my job to question God,” he says. “I tell them that He does what He does, and He does it well. He does wondrous things we cannot comprehend. All I can tell you is that my God lives!”
Praimnath says he is no religious fanatic, and no more righteous than anyone else—just an average churchgoing guy—and certainly no hero. To those facing trials of any kind, he says God will also answer when they pray.
“My survival is all about God and his grace, because I’m not a hero,” Praimnath says. “The Lord is the hero. If you call upon Him with all your mind, body and soul, He will hear and intervene on your behalf. He will reach down in His mercies and handpick you. There’s nothing too hard for my God.”
Chuck Goldberg has a degree in journalism and a Master of Divinity in Christian education. A former newspaper reporter and magazine managing editor, he is now an ordained minister and freelance writer-editor. He and his wife Dolly have three children and live in Layton, Utah.