Claremore Daily Progress


September 11, 2011

10th ANNIVERSARY: Oologah man recalls escape from World Trade Center

CLAREMORE — It was a beautiful September morning when Brock Rowlett looked out the windows of the 61st floor of the World Trade Center to examine the Statue of Liberty. Growing up in Rogers County, the 23-year-old had never seen a view like this one.

Rowlett watched as paper fell from above. 

“I knew that was not normal, but was not concerned until the paper flying through the wind was in flames,” he said.

The view changed quickly as his thoughts shifted. Rowlett and a couple of his coworkers decided they should find a stairway.

“I had no idea where the stairs were located in this huge building,” he said.

Rowlett and five of his colleagues traveled from Tulsa three days earlier. They were attending new employee training classes for six weeks in New York City. All of them were young recent college graduates.

The small group of Morgan Stanley employees decided to walk down the stairs. Within minutes the voices of security officials could be heard through the building intercom system as they announced the building was fine.

“We were instructed to return to the office and that the problem was in the North Tower,” he said.

Only a few people were in the stairs at the time and many of them decided to return to their offices.

“I don't know why, but we decided to stay in the stairway,” he said.

Suddenly an explosion above them rocked the building. Rowlett's senses heightened as the sounds and smells of the moment came over him.

“It felt like the building had turned on its side and all you could hear was debris falling all around,” he said.

The noises sounded as if the building would fall down around him.

He could hear the elevator falling and the impact as it landed.

“I thought I would die,” Rowlett said.

Rowlett stood in the stairway and did not move as he waited for the building to fall.

After a few moments the building stopped moving, but he knew he still needed to get out.

At 9:03 a.m. United Flight 175 had crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center. The plane struck the South Tower hitting the between 77th and 85th floors.

Rowlett and his coworkers were located in the stairway at approximately the 54th floor during the impact. They were completely unaware that a plane had hit the building.

“I looked down the stairway to see thousands of hands on the rails as people flooded the exit,” he said.

Three people were on each step as he began to descend calmly and in everyone in unison.

“Step, stop, step, stop, we moved slowly,” he said

Floor by floor slowly, methodically they moved and only occasionally you would hear someone become upset or scared. Then someone else would stop and console them to reassure them everything was going to be fine.

“We had no idea a plane had hit the building or how severe the situation was,” he said.

Once Rowlett and his coworkers reached the 15th floor the stairway was filled with smoke. The people in the stairs took off their jackets and covered their faces.

“At this moment I thought maybe I would be better off exiting the stairs and wait on one of the floors,” said Rowlett.

They had no idea what they could be walking into, but continued to walk down the stairs. The smoke cleared once they reached the 5th floor.

Finally reaching the bottom of the stairway they found a security door that only allowed one person to exit at a time.

The stairs exited into the mezzanine area. On the right stood a wall of doors to the outdoor space between the two towers.

He walked to the doors only to be stopped by police.

“You cannot use this exit they said and I looked past them to see debris and people falling from the air,” said Rowlett.

He turned around and headed to another bank of turn style doors. As he approached the doors he found only one door was unlocked and people were standing in a long line waiting to exit.

The line moved slowly through the door and Rowlett and his coworkers finally entered the underground mall area. Police directed them through a maze of hallways and doors.

Finally they approached an exit that would bring them to street level. They exited through the Trinity Church outside into the street.

The debris, police and firefighters were everywhere.  A sea of people surrounded the area as if the entire downtown had emptied into the streets.

Rowlett turned around and looked at the buildings for the first time.

“It registered at that moment how bad the situation was as I stopped and looked up. The number of people falling out of the buildings were unimaginable,” he said.

A constant flow of people jumped from the buildings.

“One after another there was always people jumping. As difficult as that is to say, it is the thing that saved my life. I could not just stand there and watch them jump. I turned away and began to walk up the street,” said Rowlett.

He walked through the crowd and looked for a way to call his parents. A man who owned a furniture store let Rowlett use the phone.

“I walked in the shop and called my parents. The conversation was literally five seconds long. I told them I was fine but needed to get out of here,” Rowlett said.

He returned to the street and looked back toward the towers only to witness the South Tower he worked in collapse.

The building was so big and it was surreal to watch it collapse.

“No matter how far away I was it felt like the building was falling on top of me,” he said.

It took Rowlett hours to walk back to his hotel in midtown Manhattan.

F16 military jets flew over Manhattan as Rowlett sat on his bed. The sound offered him comfort as he reflected on the day's events.

Being only 23 years of age Rowlett did not feel that he needed to leave New York City immediately. His father Paul Rowlett offered to drive from Oklahoma to bring him home.

It would be days before he would take a train to Philadelphia and eventually drive home with his coworkers from Tulsa.

Ten years after the attacks of 9/11 Rowlett is still humbled by the experience.

At the time of the attack, he felt he was too young to truly grasp the situation. The events were much harder on my parents according to Rowlett.

Now as a husband and father of two, he understands the heartache his parents experienced.  The day would have affected him differently if it had occurred at a different point in his life.

“I truly feel my age and the fact that I was completely unaware a plane had hit the building made the difference in my ability to deal with the situation and I am grateful for that,” he said. “I was so young I did not know how scared I should have been.”

Sometimes he reflects on decisions that changed his life.   Rowlett looked out the window instead of taking his coffee break down the hall. He took the stairs, not the elevator, and stayed in stairway after he was instructed to leave. He walked away from the building when others watched in horror.

It was a series of decisions that ultimately saved his life. Those split second decisions gave him the opportunity to meet his wife Shaye and become a father to his daughter Olivia and son Conner. These decisions and memories resonate with him. The memory of the people that had to choose between burning or jumping is the most difficult.

To this day he still will not watch television specials that feature the voices of victims that spoke their last words to 911 operators.

“Either the people that jumped from the building or the person on the phone could have been me,” Rowlett said.

His faith has helped him throughout his life but is a sensitive subject regarding 9/11.

“People say to me I am blessed, and I am. They say God has big plans for me. What they don't understand is that I believe God had plans for all those involved in 9/11 survivors and victims alike,” said Rowlett.

“God did not love me any more than the people that died. All the little things that happened that day that helped me survive could be described as the hand of God,” he said.

“I just don't know what God's plan was. I only know he has more planned for me,” said Rowlett. He has a positive outlook on life and refuses to allow 9/11 define him.

“There are events in life that are out of your control; it is better to accept them and not dwell on things you can not change. I will never forget, but remind myself things could always be worse. I have a wonderful life, wonderful children and a wonderful wife. I truly have a great life. I know I am blessed,” said Rowlett.

Rowlett and his family have made several trips back to Ground Zero.

He describes going back as a humbling experience that brings back the reality of the day. Rowlett hopes on this tenth anniversary people remember those who willingly gave their lives to save others.  The firefighters and police officers were the only ones running into the buildings when everyone else was trying to get out, he said.

“The sacrifice they made on 9/11 is no different than the sacrifices firemen, police officers, and our military make everyday for all of us,” he said.

He wants people to reflect on the moments after 9/11 when the country was united. Rowlett encourages people to focus on the things that bring our nation closer together instead of what can divide us.

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