David Schultz, chief executive of institutional asset management at OppenheimerFunds Inc., was heading to his office in the southwest corner of the 34th floor of the World Trade Center's South Tower when he heard the explosion of the first plane. He looked out the window, saw the fiery debris blowing toward his building, and ran.
Since the elevators were still working, a fire warden in the lobby of the 34th floor suggested using them to evacuate the building. "Once I got in, I did have some second thoughts," he said.
Mr. Schultz reached the main floor without incident and ran toward Church Street.
"I was standing near Brooks Brothers (directly across from the World Trade Center) and I heard a roar of engines and saw a second plane come and hit our building," he recalled.
Running for cover, he came across colleagues from the firm, and together they headed north. Mr. Schultz, who lives in the Boston area and was in New York on business, said when the second tower collapsed, he realized he would not fly out of New York that day.
A colleague offered to let him stay at his apartment in uptown Manhattan, but Mr. Schultz was determined to head home. He said he stopped at every car rental place he passed while walking toward the colleague's apartment and finally found a car available at a Hertz site. A stranger in line there - also from the same town in Massachusetts - shared the ride home.
"By that time I was a little shaky, so it was nice to have someone else do the driving," said Mr. Schultz.
"Many of us tended to take each day for granted, and it filled me with great appreciation for just being alive," he said. "It has also made me appreciative of the family-friendly culture at the firm."
For months afterward, he said, people would hug each other at business meetings like long-lost friends. "The only thing we have as an asset in our business is people," he said.