10 People Who Survived the Impossible


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Buried Under World Trade Center Rubble
Rescue workers search for survivors as smoke rises from the rubble of the World Trade Center in New York, 2001. Genelle Guzman-McMillan was the last person pulled out alive. BETH A. KEISER/AFP/Getty Images

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Genelle Guzman-McMillan was at work in her office on the 64th floor of the World Trade Center's North Tower, when the building was struck by American Airlines Flight 11 [sources: CNN, Otis]. As Guzman-McMillan later recalled in a newspaper interview, at first there wasn't any smoke or fire. The company she worked for told her to stay put and wait for help but after an hour she decided to head to the stairwell.

When she descended to the 13th floor, Guzman-McMillan bent over to take off her shoe, and then suddenly, a wall collapsed on her. Her feet were pinned, with her head trapped between two pieces of concrete. The only thing she could move was her left hand. She opened her eyes, but everything around her was black. Time seemed to stand still, and she remembers praying for a respite from the pain. After 27 hours, she heard a voice of a man named Paul telling her to remain calm, that rescuers were on the way [source: Otis]. Guzman-McMillan had been spotted by one of the 300 search-and-rescue dogs deployed after the disaster. She was the final living person rescued from the wreckage [source: Marcus].

Guzman-McMillan tried to find "Paul" afterward to thank him, but no one knew who he was.

Author's Note: 10 People Who Survived the Impossible

I've long been fascinated with the adventures of people who survived extreme hardships and escaped from difficult situations, ever since I saw the movie "The Great Escape" as a child. In high school, I remember reading "Papillion," the supposedly true tale of Henry Charrière, a wrongly-convicted Frenchman who escaped from Devil's Island, and found it utterly compelling — even though the author was later accused of having fabricated his saga.

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