“We can either watch life from the sidelines or actively participate. We can let self-doubt and feelings of inadequacy stop us or we can get in the game.”                                                                                       Christopher Reeve

 September 11, 2001 – World Trade Center, New York: Michael Hingson traveled by train from Westfield, New Jersey, to his office on the 78th floor of World Trade Center Tower One on the beautiful early fall morning. As regional sales manager for Quantum, a Fortune 500 data protection company, he was scheduled to give a sales presentation to 50 people later that morning.

At 8:46 a.m. Michael heard a tremendous boom, then felt the 1,368-foot-tall building shudder and tilt about 10 feet. Fire alarms began blaring and the elevators shut down. The building was on fire and the only way out was down 78 flights of stairs to the street below.

Michael’s escape involved an additional challenge. He was blind. He had been born two months premature in 1950, and at birth was placed in a sealed incubator into which pure oxygen was pumped. The oxygen damaged his eyes resulting in permanent blindness. Ignoring the doctor’s advice to put the baby in a home for the visually impaired, his parents raised him like a normal son.

His father taught him to ride a bike at 5, and Michael was soon riding all over their Palmdale, California, neighborhood. When his mother received calls about her blind son riding his bike in the street, she thanked them for their concern and reassured them that Michael was being safe.

He began learning Braille in kindergarten and graduated from Palmdale High School with a 3.5 grade point average. Along the way, he got his first guide dog at 14 and attained the rank of Eagle Scout. At the University of California – Irvine, Michael made the dean’s list every quarter and graduated with honors earning both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in physics.

In 1978, Michael joined Kurzweil Computer Products, a company that had developed a machine that orally read mail, books, and magazines for the visually impaired. In 2000, he took a job with Quantum and moved to their offices on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center Tower One.

When the American Airlines Boeing 767 crashed into the building 20 floors above Michael, he thought he would die. He grabbed the harness of his guide dog, Roselle, who was asleep under his desk. Despite the chaos of people screaming and running for the exits, Roselle was calm. Michael’s life depended on his remaining calm and trusting Roselle’s judgment to navigate an unfamiliar route and lead him down 1,463 steps and out of the building.

After calling his wife, Michael and Roselle found their way to Stairwell B. Along with others, they began the long walk down, slowly descending the congested stairs. Firefighters coming up the stairs noticed Roselle and Michael and wanted to know what a blind guy was doing in the World Trade Center. “Working,” he shrugged.

It took more than an hour for Roselle to guide Michael down the stairs. As they exited, Tower Two collapsed with a deafening rumble and Michael heard police instructing people to run for cover. They began to run along with hundreds of others. Roselle led Michael to safety, two blocks away in the Fulton Street Subway Station.  

With roads snarled and mass transportation shutdown, Roselle guided Michael 40 blocks to a friend’s apartment. The pair finally made it home to New Jersey late that night. Roselle had saved Michael’s life and won the 2002 American Kennel Club’s Dog of the Year Award for her bravery.

After the tragedy, Michael moved back to California and accepted a job with Guide Dogs for the Blind. He and Roselle traveled the world speaking about trust and the value of guide dogs. In 2011 at age 14, Roselle died with Michael by her side. He wrote a New York Times best-selling book about their adventure, Thunder Dog.

 More than two decades after that disastrous September morning, Michael Hingson still travels the world sharing his 9/11 experience. At his side is his black lab, Alamo, his 8th guide dog.


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