Local News

Sebring woman recalls surviving plane crash into north tower

SEBRING - When hijackers crashed an airplane into the north tower of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, Catherine Griffith, now a Sebring resident, was sitting at her desk at Blue Cross Blue Shield on the 29th floor. Griffith recalled Wednesday she thought she heard a boom. "I thought maybe it was an earthquake," she said, but then thought, "Oh my God, maybe we were hit by a bomb." For the first time since the attack, Griffith attended an event on Sept. 11. Griffith moved to Pennsylvania after the attacks. After meeting her husband in Pennsylvania, they moved to Sebring because there are a lot of lakes.
She was one of a few people who watched as an American flag was raised Wednesday and then lowered to half staff at Veterans of Foreign Wars post 4300 in Sebring. While many of the other events around the country were held earlier in the morning to coincide with the four times when the hijacked planes struck the towers and crashed into the Pennsylvania field, the Sebring flag raising began at 11 a.m. Pete Cheyne, the commander, said the post holds all flag raising events at 11 a.m., making it easier for people to remember when to come. Cheyne said the post has held an event every year since 2001 to honor those who survived, the victims of the attacks and public servants, including police officers and firefighters, who saved others. "It was the biggest attack that occurred on American soil," he said. While most attending the flag raising saw that attack on television, Griffith, who was much closer, recalled that after the impact from the plane, some people were in shock, dazed by what had occurred. Others had to bring them back into full consciousness so they could escape the tower, she said. Griffith said she and others walked down the stairs. If they had used the elevators, which exploded, she said, they wouldn't be here today. She lost some co-workers, she said, but most from Blue Cross Blue Shield survived. From the World Trade Center, she said, she made it to the subway, where virtual chaos occurred, she said. Griffith said, "there is no way I was going to escape from that building and someone was going to trample me." She walked two miles in high heels. Some people threw more comfortable sneakers from windows to help people, but Griffith said she didn't take a pair because some people had no shoes at all. By the time she got off the subway, she said, the north tower had collapsed and the air filled with debris, she said. Reminders of the tragedy continued after she returned to work. Griffith said she handled life insurance claims for some who died and claims for some of the injured. "It was sad," she said. jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834