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Wednesday 26 July 2017
News updated at 2:07 AM IST

Break from routine saved their lives

Last updated: 11 September, 2011
New York, Sept 11, PTI 23:40 IST

For a handful of people on September 11, 2001, some seemingly inconsequential decisions — stepping out for a smoke, taking a subway route, even waking up late because of a late night football game on TV — made the difference between living and dying.

Greer Epstein, an executive director at Morgan Stanley, never took breaks. She rarely left her office on the 67th floor of the WTC because she never had time. But 20 minutes before 9.00 am, one of her buddies called. “How about getting a cigarette?” While riding down the elevator, she felt a jolt, but ignored it since the elevators had always acted strangely.

When she stepped outside to light up, she saw people frozen in place, their eyes fixed to the sky. As she stared at the fire and smoke billowing from a hole in the North Tower, she wondered: “How do they fix something like that?” That’s when a plane flew through her office in the South Tower. A cigarette break saved her life. “I never took a break before noon,” Epstein was quoted as saying by CNN.

“It was something that happened that day. And thank God for it. I was safely out. A fireball went through my office. Had I been sitting there, who knows what would’ve been?”

Others, like Daniel Belardinelli, shrugged it off, chalking up their fate to randomness and blind luck. Belardinelli’s uncle, William Cashman, had planned a trip to Yosemite National Park and invited him to come. Cashman used a friend’s frequent-flier miles for United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark, New Jersey, to San Francisco on 9/11. A week before the trip, Belardinelli backed out, telling his uncle he had work obligations. His uncle never made it to Yosemite. He died along with the crew and passengers of Flight 93.

Rob Herzog believes that he is lucky to be alive now. By 8:45 am, he would normally be at Marsh and McLennan’s office on the 96th floor of the WTC North Tower, where he worked as a vice president for an insurance brokerage company.

That Tuesday, on his way to work, he stopped at a post office near his apartment. Then he took a local subway southbound and tried to transfer to an express at the 59th Street station, as he normally would. “I tried to switch to the express A train...It was so crowded, and I’m claustrophobic. So, I got back into the local train... and missed the tragedy by 5 minutes,” Herzog said.

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