As a part of the 2004 Disability Awareness Week, on Oct. 27, in Crystal Cove Auditorium, UC Irvine alumnus Michael Hingson, who is blind, spoke about his escape from the World Trade Center on Sept. 11.
Not only did Hingson share his story of survival, but also the importance of teamwork, which he learned from years of working with his guide dog, Roselle, especially during the escape from the twin towers.
Hingson received a bachelor’s and a master’s degree in physics from UCI in 1968 and 1975, respectively. After graduating, Hingson became the district sales manager for Quantum Data Protection Division of Irvine.
His job relocated to New Jersey and on Sept. 11, he was at the World Trade Center making a sales presentation to his clients.
When the first airplane hit the 96th floor of Tower One at 8:45 a.m., Hingson was 18 floors beneath the crash.
‘We heard kind of a muffled thump,’ Hingson said.
Hingson’s coworkers started panicking and screaming because of the fire and smoke coming from above.
Roselle, however, remained calm.
‘There was something that I had going for me that David [his coworker] did not have,’ Hingson said. ‘I had a dog sitting next to me wagging her tail, indicating that she was not in danger. She was calm.’
Hingson trusted Roselle’s instincts and remained calm as he evacuated the building.
Hingson emphasized that he and Roselle were a team: he was the navigator giving step-by-step instructions and Roselle was the pilot executing those directions.
Hingson eventually found his way to the emergency staircase. By then, he could hear others trying to escape. In the stairway, he and others smelled burning jet fuel and suspected that an airplane had accidentally crashed into the building.
About 10 floors down from his office, Hingson heard firemen running up the stairs, asking people if they needed assistance. Knowing that the firemen had much more severe situations to take care of, Hingson asked them, ‘How can we help you?’
By 9:45 a.m., Hingson and Roselle made it out of the tower. However, the worse had yet to come. By the time Hingson had escaped from the building and gotten into his co-worker’s car in the nearby parking lot, the second airplane had crashed into Tower Two of the World Trade Center.
When Tower Two fell and smashed into its surroundings, people were immersed in the debris of the building.
According to Hingson, even people with perfect eyesight could not see six inches ahead of them. Although Hingson could not see, he could feel the severity of the situation through the increasing difficulties of breathing.
‘That cloud of debris of dirt and junk and garbage in the air … was so thick that we were breathing in more substance of that series of particles than we were breathing in air,’ Hingson said.
However, Hingson trusted Roselle’s ability to guide him.
‘I had the experience that many of you have read about, that peace that comes from knowing and following directions and I knew that if I focused on working with Roselle, I would be OK,’ Hingson said.
Through teamwork, Hingson came out of the building with only a few minor cuts while Roselle came out without a scratch.
Since Sept. 11, Hingson quit his job with Quantum Corp. and began working for Guide Dogs for the Blind, an organization that helps to raise and train guide dogs. He wanted to share his experience as a blind person with the rest of the world, expanding people’s knowledge on disability.
Hingson remembered that when he was young his mother told him that ‘blindness is not the handicap. Attitudes and misconceptions people have of blindness are.’
Each year, the UCI Disability Services Center presents Disability Awareness Week, increasing students’ awareness of handicapped people.