Feature writing

Special feature

9/11 Ten Years On: The Survivors – The blood brothers

The Times

September 3, 2011


Ten years have passed since September 11, 2001, but what has happened to some of the people caught up in that momentous day? In this special feature, we meet the survivors, such as the dust-covered bank teller and the businessman whose images came to symbolise New York’s remarkable spirit.

We speak to the retired fireman who went to the site to help and ended up standing next to President Bush, and to an injured young woman and the marshal who carried her from the ruins of the twin towers. Brian Clark and Stanley Praimnath recount their escape from the southern tower, two of only four survivors from above the point of impact. Howard W. Lutnick, CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald, reveals the emotional cost of losing 658 employees, including his brother, and four widows describe grieving for their husbands.

Vivid, shocking, upsetting, inspiring: their stories embody a day that remains impossible to forget. 


Brian Clark and Stanley Praimnath worked in the southern tower, Clark as an executive vice-president of brokerage firm Euro Brokers on the 84th floor, Praimnath as assistant vice- president in the Loans Operations Department for Fuji Bank on the 81st. They were two of only four survivors above the point of impact in the tower – in which at least 618 people died – and before that day had never met. Clark, 63, lives in Mahwah, New Jersey, with his wife, Diane, and has four children. Praimnath, 54, lives in Valley Stream, Long Island, with his wife, Jennifer. They have two daughters. 

Stanley “I was looking out of the window and saw a plane getting bigger and bigger. I saw the ‘U’ on the tail, for United. I heard its revving sound, picking up speed. It seemed like it was coming for me. It did this little tilt. I said to God, ‘I can’t do this, you take over,’ dived under the table, then the plane hit, 20 feet away. I heard a thunderous boom and explosion. The floor above me collapsed; only the table, on top of which was my copy of the Bible, stayed standing. The rest of the office was broken up like match sticks. The sprinkler system came on. It was like somebody had thrown a bag of dried cement into the air. I was scared the air pressure would suck me out of the gaping hole on the side of the building, or that I would get electrocuted. I thought, ‘I’m going to die.’ I was screaming, ‘Lord, send somebody to help me.’ Then I saw the beam of a flashlight.”

Brian “The fuselage went in at the 78th floor, the wing tip at the 81st. I was terrified for ten seconds. For five seconds, it felt as if the building moved six to eight feet, then for five seconds it seemed to click back into place. I got my flashlight. Some unseen hand or force or phantom guided me to Stairway A. I heard a banging sound from the 81st floor and a voice: ‘Help, help, I’m buried, I can’t breathe. Is anybody there?’ For some reason, I had this ring of fresh air around me: physical or miraculous, I don’t know. I saw a hand which had smashed a hole in this wall.” Stanley “I had crawled the length of the room, only to be confronted by a wall. I knew beyond it lay a stairwell. I couldn’t breathe. There was so much smoke. The smell of jet fuel was so profuse. ‘Can you see my hand?’ I shouted to the flashlight. Brian told me to jump up, he would catch me. I tried; missed. Brian told me to think of my family: ‘If you want to live, you’re going to have to climb out.’ I’m 180lb, I have a leg wound and punctured hand. I plead, ‘Lord, if you wanted me to die, why bring me this far across the room? Why not leave me to die? I’ve got to get home to my wife and two girls.’”

Brian “I don’t hear this. He’s talking to himself and looks like a caged animal.”

Stanley “I jump up, he reaches down and with one arm grabs me under the neck and around the shoulder and scoops me up and over the wall. We both fall backwards, me on top of him. I hug him, kiss him on the cheek. He says, ‘What are you doing?’, gets up, straightens his jacket and holds out his hand. ‘Brian Clark.’ ‘Stanley Praimnath,’ I reply. He doesn’t let go of my hand. He says something that I will go to my grave with. He tells me he was born and raised in Canada as an only child and all he ever wanted was a brother. He had a gash in his left palm, and I had the cut in my right. He joined them and said, ‘So we’re brothers for life, blood brothers.’ We rubbed our palms together and Brian said, ‘Come on, buddy, let’s go home.’”

Brian “By the fifteenth floor, I say to Stanley, ‘Let’s slow down, I don’t want to come back here tomorrow on crutches.’ I still think there’ll be a tomorrow! At street level, we’re shocked to see everything ashen grey and covered in debris. We come across some priests. We all pray. Stanley says, ‘I think the tower is going.’ I said, ‘There’s no way…’ Then the southern tower, where we had just come from, started to fall. From our vantage point, the windows of the upper floors above the smoke popped into space, lit by the sunshine. It was kind of beautiful.”

Stanley “It was like diamonds falling from the sky. The implosion caused a vacuum, dragging the smoke back towards the core. Suddenly you couldn’t see people; it was like a giant tsunami.”

Brian “We took refuge behind a church. We made it into a building with 30 other strangers Then outside, we were separated. We don’t know how. For about ten seconds I have the strangest feeling Stanley isn’t real, that I’ve imagined him. Then I find his business card in my pocket.”

Stanley “For two days afterwards I go in and out of sanity. I suddenly don’t know who my wife and children are. Two days later, I remembered everything.”

Brian “We speak once every three months at least. I’m much more carefree than Stanley. I don’t have nightmares, I sleep soundly. I’m an optimist. I like giving speeches. I’ve been in TV green rooms with Binyamin Netanyahu and Serena Williams. I lost 61 colleagues; Stanley, 18. My sadness is that the whole event was so senseless and ruinous for so many families. But I’m not dragged down by it; I don’t have survivor guilt. Every day is great, some are greater than others. Because of 9/11 I have a full awareness of how precarious life is.”

Stanley “We’ll both spend the tenth anniversary at the church where I’m a pastor. I feel special, privileged. Some people are still waiting for their loved ones to come home.”