David Harnett

Hope Buzzelli reading her family composed book, "We All Fall Down," which features her artwork as its cover in front of a lake at Westwood Park. Buzzelli is a PV sophomore who is the daughter of Pasquale Buzzelli, a survivor of Sept. 11.

And then there was Hope

9/11 survivor and family recount near-death experience

September 10, 2017

As the North Tower began to crumble, Louise Buzzelli sat alone in her room and took her Crucifix off the wall. She held it tight to her chest and prayed to God that her husband and the soon-to-be father would come home safe.

All she had was hope.

The morning of Sept. 11, 2001, was just a normal day for Pasquale Buzzelli, a River Vale resident dubbed “the 9/11 surfer” by the media following his experiences on that day. He arrived at work at the North Tower of the World Trade Center where he worked as a structural engineer. He got in the elevator to go to the 64th floor. Suddenly, the elevator came to a sudden stop and began to shake.

Pasquale Buzzelli arrived at his floor and called his wife, Louise Buzzelli. He asked her to turn on the television to see what was happening.

His building was on fire.

“He didn’t even know what was going on,” Louise Buzzelli said. “There was nothing I could do. I felt helpless.”  

After Pasquale Buzzelli hung up the phone with his wife, a second plane hit the South Tower.

“I was scared, mad, and in shock,” Louise Buzzelli said. “As the day went on I was trying to stay positive… However, when the towers collapsed, the feeling of staying positive vanished.”

When they were able to speak on the phone again, Louise Buzzelli urged her husband to quickly get out of the tower, but he was asked to stay put.

“The company who owned the buildings, The Port Authority, suggested that the workers on the higher floors needed to evacuate first because they were in a more dangerous area,” Hope Buzzelli, Pasquale Buzzelli’s daughter, and a current PV sophomore, said.

After Pasquale Buzzelli and 15 of his co-workers could finally leave the tower, they began to walk down the stairs. When they reached the 22nd floor, Pasquale Buzzelli and his coworkers began to feel the walls crumbling and caving in. Quickly, he pressed against a wall, went into a tucked position and shielded his body while the floor separated beneath him.

He began to fall.

Honestly when I saw the debris and rubble and sat in a fetal position, I was praying to God to make my death quick and take care of my unborn daughter.”

— Pasquale Buzzelli

“Honestly when I saw the debris and rubble and sat in a fetal position, I was praying to God to make my death quick and take care of my unborn daughter,” Pasquale Buzzelli said. “My whole life, I always wondered how I was going to die and what it was going to be like, and I realized how.”

Then his world went black.

While he was in the towers, Louise Buzzelli and their friends and family gathered at their home, worried that the worst had happened to him.

“I did not know what to do with myself,” Louise Buzzelli said. “I just remember praying to God. I had not been in contact with my husband for six hours.”

A few hours later, Pasquale Buzzelli gained consciousness and found himself sitting on top of a ledge, 40 feet off the ground. Jimmy Keesling, a firefighter, saw him and thought he was another rescuer who was up there helping other people. Keesling was surprised to find him alive, but soon realized he was a survivor.

Keesling gathered more people to help lower him down. Pasquale Buzzelli had a broken foot, a slight concussion, and a burn on his shoulder. After being treated at a hospital, he returned home at 8 p.m.

Contributed by Louise Buzzelli
Hope sharing some of her first memories with her dad.

“While I was falling through the building, I just saw flashes of light,” Pasquale Buzzelli said. “I was surprisingly not scared. I could not believe it was happening. It happened so quickly, but thoughts were racing in my head. All I did was pray to God that my daughter was going to be born healthy.”

Two months later, Hope Buzzelli, currently a PV sophomore, was born. Their family still lives in River Vale where Louise Buzzelli and Pasquale Buzzelli moved to from New York shortly after getting married in 1998. They also have a younger daughter, Mia who is 12 years old.

When Hope Buzzelli was two weeks old, her family reunited with the firefighters that saved her father’s life, and are still friends with them. Every Sept. 11, the Buzzelli family goes to a memorial at Engine 59 FDNY Ladder 30, a fire station in Harlem, New York, to honor the lives that were lost. This was the station of Michael Lyons, one of the firefighters who helped rescue Pasquale Buzzelli.

“We are just happy we are together,” Hope Buzzelli said. “[My dad] has been there with me and supported me through absolutely everything. I think my first word was ‘daddy.’”

Pasquale Buzzelli is still a structural engineer but is now working out of Hoboken.

We cherish the time we have together more, knowing that this could have gone a completely different way.”

— Hope Buzzelli

“Pasquale keeps in contact with other Sept. 11 survivors and the spouses of those who passed,” said Louise Buzzelli. “We try to get together and see them, even though it is bittersweet. It is comforting for them to see each other, even though it is hard.”

The Buzzelli family is thankful that Pasquale Buzzelli was one of the few lucky ones who got out of the towers alive.

“We cherish the time we have together more, knowing that this could have gone a completely different way,” Hope Buzzelli said.

The Buzzellis wrote a book about their experience on that day called “We All Fall Down: The true story of the 9/11 surfer”. It was published in 2012.

Contributed by Louise Buzzelli
Pasquale holds up a picture drawn by Hope. She believes her first word was “daddy.”

Although Pasquale Buzzelli lived, he felt a tremendous amount of survivor’s guilt. He wondered how he made it, but his boss and friends did not. In addition, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It was really hard for him to talk to everyone and remember details. It was hard to revisit the moment,” Louise Buzzelli said. “Instead, he wrote them down, and then gave his recounts to families.”

They decided to write the book to share what happened in those final moments and give closure to the families who lost loved ones.

“[Writing the book] was something we knew we had to do for other families and our own,” Louise Buzzelli said. “We finished the book eleven years later, and that is when we realized that we could finally put this chapter behind us.”


2 Responses to “And then there was Hope”

  1. June Cafarella on September 13th, 2017 12:23 am

    I had never heard of the “9/11 Surfer” before the airing of this documentary. The Buzzelli’s second daughter, Mia, was in my Second grade class the night the documentary was on television. Two nights after the airing of Pasquale’s story, my district held the annual Back-to-School night. When Louise and Pasquale entered my classroom, for the first and only time in my 43 year career, I asked a father if I could give him a hug.
    During the course of the school year the Buzzelli’s and I developed a life-long bond and friendship, Now, whenever I am in Pasquale’s company I am always greeted with a hug and a kiss.
    I am humbled to be part of this wonderful family. Louise and Pasquale continuously set a wonderful example for Hope and Mia. They have a natural generous spirit and through their love, Hope and Mia are sweet and kind young ladies.
    I believe that God spared Pasquale on 9/11 to show us all that there is always hope regardless if the crisis or situation.

  2. Mary Jessica on October 17th, 2017 8:01 pm

    Great piece of writing. Did you get to interview her personally, or was this the written version of what you compiled from videos? Thanks for the inspiring piece.

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