9/11 survivor thanks man that helped him escape from North Tower

Posted: 4:17 PM, Sep 11, 2016
Updated: 2016-09-11 16:17:17-04

“Thank you, Fred, for keeping me as calm as you did and for giving me hope when I needed it.”  

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Jonathan Judd was on his way to the office. It was a few minutes before 9 a.m., and a day of litigation work awaited him on the 85th floor of the North Tower.

Having reached the 78th-floor sky lobby, he transferred to another elevator that should have whisked him to his office, as it did every day.

But on this day, the elevator car stopped on the 83rd floor -- and its doors opened briefly, offering a terrifying view —   an explosion.

Three elevator banks just across the narrow corridor from Jonathan erupted in flames.

Looking back, Jonathan attributes his survival in that instance to sheer luck.

“There was a 50-50 chance that I would have been in one of those three elevators,” he said.

At that moment, two images flashed in his mind: that of his wife, Deborah, and his 6-week-old baby girl, Jordana.

Jonathan, rattled and terrified, ran out of the elevator and into the first office he could find. He encountered a man named Fred Eichler, who told him that he had just seen a plane fly into the neighboring South Tower.

“I was shaking so badly I could hardly stand,” Jonathan said. “I told Fred I had finally gotten married at 36 and had a newborn at home and now wasn't sure whether I'd live.”

The men called the FDNY and were told to stay put. A unit was on its way up to rescue them.

“I had no idea what was going to happen to us,” Jonathan said.

In large part, Fred credits his rescue with the good fortune of hunkering down in an office with glass windows, unlike other offices on those floors with wooden doors.

Though the clear glass door outside the Axelera lobby, Fred noticed the beaming flashlight of firefighters coming to rescue them. Fred shouted for help at the right moment and let the brave rescue workers in.

As the group started their descent, Fred remembers trying to stay focused on one goal: getting out.

“I kept repeating to him: ‘We’re gonna get out,’” Fred said.

Alongside firefighters, Fred helped Jonathan walk down from the 83rd floor, step by step. Jonathan was not injured, but was shell-shocked and needed support.

“Despite being a complete stranger, he did everything he could to keep me calm and reassure me that we would make it out and somehow, miraculously, we did,” Jonathan said.

While the men and rescue workers were making their way down the snaking, treacherous stairways, they heard a loud “whooshing” sound as they neared the 20th floor.

They would later learn that this was the sound of the South Tower collapsing.

Little did they know they did not have much time to escape the similar fate that awaited the North Tower.

Fred remembers thinking: We got so close, but we’re not going to make it. He remembers the air feeling different, too.

It took them approximately 45 minutes to make it down to the North Tower lobby.

The men were separated on the fifth floor, each led to safety through a different passageway.  

Separately, each got out the same way — climbing through the shattered lobby windows and onto the ash-covered streets.

“We really didn’t know what was happening. Everyone just kept yelling at us to run,” Fred said.

They got out with just five minutes to spare. The tower collapsed at 10:28 a.m.

“To say we were extremely lucky is an understatement,” Jonathan said.  

The men did not connect again, at least not that day.

Hours later, Jonathan finally made it home to his wife and baby. He’ll never forget seeing them after the horrific events of that morning.

“I just felt this… unbelievable relief,” he said.

Jonathan Judd's 7-week-old daughter, Jordana.

Jonathan Judd's 7-week-old daughter, Jordana.

He wanted to thank Fred, but had no idea who this steadfast stranger had been.

In the weeks following the attacks, both men’s bosses ended up on the same phone call and began comparing stories of survival, when Jonathan’s telling of that day came up.

They were able to connect the dots, and link Fred Eichler as the man that helped Jonathan Judd on that cloudless September day.

Three weeks later, Jonathan picked up the phone and called Fred, the man he credits with saving his life.

“Hi… this is Jonathan Judd.”

“I...don’t know a Jonathan Judd.”

“I’m the guy whose life you saved on Sept. 11.”

And to this day, the men keep in touch, speaking on the phone every few weeks and meeting in person when possible.

“That connection we have will always be there,” Fred said.

Read Jonathan's letter below: