Dearborn native recalls narrow escape from 61st floor of World Trade Center

For the Saleh family, escaping from the World Trade Center meant a new chance at life for two Dearborn brothers.

DEARBORN, Mich. – Saturday marks 20 years since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Nearly 3,000 people were killed that day in New York, at the Pentagon, and in Shanksville, Pennsylvania

For the Saleh family, escaping from the World Trade Center meant a new chance at life for two Dearborn brothers.

Read: 9/11 Memorial & Museum to host touching commemoration on 20th anniversary of attacks

David and Robert Saleh are the grandsons of Lebanese immigrants.

Sept. 11, 2001 was David Saleh’s second day of training for a new job at the South Tower.

“I was sitting in front of that window and admiring everything and looking at a yacht. I was thinking to myself, ‘Wow, that is so big,’” Saleh recalled. “I just saw a fireball and heard a thump -- there was debris flying around.”

There was a lot of confusion at first. Everyone was urged to stay calm and stay in their offices, but Saleh said his instinct told him to run. He grabbed his things and headed for a stairwell, where he said it felt like everything was in slow motion.

He descended from the 61st floor to the 24th floor when he felt the United Airlines plane hit the tower above him.

“There was a sense of urgency, but it was very ordered. It was a lot of fear,” Saleh said. “And I think the fear was more had more to do with our normal was going out.”

He remembers seeing firefighters run past him in the other direction as he raced to get outside.

Outside, he ran for blocks before finding a phone to call his family. Minutes later, he saw the South Tower collapse.

His family, like so many others, panicked and feared the worst.

“Listening to my mom screaming and crying over my voice -- If you ever want to know what your mom sounds like if she thinks you’re dead, it’s horrific,” Saleh said. “It was a very horrifying sound.”

He drove home to Dearborn the next day. His brother, Robert Saleh, said David’s terrifying ordeal was the moment that transformed him and inspired him to pursue his own dreams. He left his banking job and decided to pursue his passion for football.

David and Robert Saleh both played football, like their father, and after several stops crisscrossing the country, Robert Saleh is the first Muslim head coach in NFL history. He works for the New York Jets.

Read: Dearborn native Robert Saleh’s hiring by Jets source of pride for Muslim Americans

David Saleh said he plans to take the day off on Saturday, like he always does, and use it as a day to reflect and pray for all the families impacted.

Read: More Sept. 11 attacks 20 years later coverage

About the Authors:

Dane is a producer and media enthusiast. He previously worked freelance video production and writing jobs in Michigan, Georgia and Massachusetts. Dane graduated from the Specs Howard School of Media Arts.