Passanante witnesses real-life drama at World Trade Center

by Maggie Hessel-Mial

Jean Passanante was on her way to what she believed would be an average day at work as a writer for the soap opera “As the World Turns.” She had no idea at the time she would become an eyewitness to what is now known as the worst act of terrorism the United States has ever seen.

Passanante’s day began normally enough in Maplewood, N.J., where she lives with her husband Jack and 15-year-old daughter Ruth. She took a train into Penn Station in Manhattan and then stepped outside to get into the limousine that would take her to Brooklyn, where the show is taped.

“We were stopped at a light,” Passanante said. “I heard a very low-flying plane and remember thinking that it was very odd.”

Immediately following, she said she heard a “horrifyingly loud collision.”

“The next thing I knew,” Passanante said, “I saw stuff falling through the air. The sky filled with paper, it looked like it was snowing.”

Both Passanante and the limo driver said they couldn’t believe what had happened.

“I saw fire,” she said. “It became clear that the people inside were in serious trouble.”

Passanante convinced her driver to do a U-turn and get out of the area. She described the scene as bedlam. Hordes of people bolted down the street, screaming and talking into their cell phones.

“At this point I was terrified,” she said. “We heard sirens from every direction. They were deafening.”

It wasn’t until they had crossed the Hudson Bay across the Brooklyn Bridge that they could see the World Trade Center again.

“We were stopped at another light and I saw the other plane hit,” Passanante said. “All we could hear was screaming.”

What kept running through her mind was what would have happened if she hadn’t asked her driver to make a U-turn back in Manhattan.

“We would have driven right into the path of it,” Passanante said. “I narrowly escaped something bad.”

When she got to work after an hour and a half of sitting in traffic, she heard about the Pentagon disaster. Because the subway was closed, she and her co-workers were stuck in Brooklyn until 3 p.m., when Mayor Rudy Giuliani made an announcement that some trains had begun to run again.

Passanante took the subway to midtown Manhattan where she went to the train station to get back to New Jersey.

“It was dead silent,” she said. “No traffic, no cars, and no people were talking.”

The Navy fighter planes she heard buzzing overhead offered a little solace, she said.

On the ride back to New Jersey, Passanante was surprised by the amount of talking and camaraderie in the train, which was usually quiet.

Passanante said the disaster has left her feeling vulnerable.

“It feels like something very big has changed and there is no way to come back from it,” she said.

Until she returns to work Tuesday, Passanante said she is spending time with her family and trying to work via e-mail.

“I just wanted to be home with my family,” Passanante said. “I don’t really want to go anywhere for awhile.”


Maggie Hessel-Mial welcomes comments at [email protected]