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College Station 9/11 survivor looks back nearly 20 years later

Published: Sep. 6, 2021 at 9:50 PM CDT
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COLLEGE STATION, Texas (KBTX) - Nearly 20 years ago, the future of the United States completely changed, and for one College Station man, he says he will never forget.

Nathan Harness was starting his new job in the South Tower of the World Trade Center the week of September 10, 2001. He remembers walking in on Tuesday, September 11, and getting his ID badge to enter the building and begin training.

“I was entering an uncertain job market of 2001,” said Harness. “I just graduated, and I was looking for an opportunity. New York seemed like the place, so I went to work for a large brokerage firm called Morgan Stanley.”

His offices were on the 61st floor and began his day in the inner part of the building.

“Tower One got hit first, and I’m in Tower Two and give you a scope of how big those buildings are, when the first building got hit I didn’t see anything, hear anything, or feel anything,” said Harness.

He says he walked out towards the windows and began seeing something he says he will never forget.

“That was a pivotal moment, a change in the mood of a room when I was looking past people out of the window and seeing office papers all over the sky burning and on fire,” said Harness.

At first, he says his bosses told them to stay in their seats because no one really knew what was going on. Soon after, an announcement came over the intercom that everyone needed to evacuate the building.

He says that he and about 200 coworkers began the descent down the stairs to safety, with no idea what had just happened.

“I was around the 44th floor and I was in the stairwell when the second plane hit,” said Harness. “So that hit my tower directly, and that was that was a moment of my life I thought ‘this is it, this is a building that you were going to be entombed in, and these are your last moments.”

“The building shook so hard that I couldn’t stand on my feet anymore, and I went down to my knees at the stairwell. The lights were cut immediately, the power was cut, and people around me started screaming that this is it we’re all gonna die. I remember thinking to myself this is it, and just your brain goes into overload trying to suck up as much oxygen as I can to live out the final few seconds you think you have. Your life, as they say, flashes before your eyes, and you begin to think through all of the moments.”

Harness says he believes his faith is what gave him a feeling of hope, that even if this was the end, he would be safe. He says that hope also gave him the strength to get up and continue down the stairs.

“You were in a tomb, literally a dark room with no windows, people screaming, people who can’t get up, people who had heart attacks, and it was probably within minutes but it felt like hours, traffic began to move again,” said Harness.

Once they were moving, Harness recalls seeing so people giving others CPR, orderly lines making their way down the stairs instead of shoving by, and people helping carry those who could not walk.

“I kept going, and it was around the fifth floor that I saw the first set of firefighters going up. That is a moment that I will never forget,” said Harness. “Looking at the faces of heroes who climb to their death so that myself and thousands of other people that they did not know had to a pathway out.”

Harness finally made it to the ground floor and started making his way outside.

“I thought I was free, I thought I was clear, but our tower had so much debris falling that it was falling on people and killing them. For the first time, I saw bodies being pulled in from the street with newspapers on top of the people, with their clothing burnt their skin, and triage right there on the spot. So I just entered from a beautiful marble lobby into a war zone,” said Harness.

He says he ran back to another staircase that brought him to building one, and exited out of that lobby. Once outside, he says he did not know what else to do but to run.

“And then I looked back and realized it was the floors landing on each other as the air was just moving out of each floor in the collapse of the building, and dust begins to stream out after me as I run,” said Harness.

He was able to make it back to his hotel thanks to a woman who helped him find it.

Now, 20 years later, Harness shares his story to keep the human aspect of that day alive. He is a professor at Texas A&M, and every year he says he tells his story to his students. He says he now has students who were not even alive when this happened.

As the anniversary of that fateful day approaches, Harness says he continues to live his life as a gift. He says he hopes everyone can, no matter how hard life can get, because we never know what could happen next.

“I hope we remember about 9/11 it’s not just terrorism but that we remember the heroism,” said Harness. “I look forward to that unity in the midst of trial and tragedy, and that is what I hope we find for the next 20 years together.”

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