Owings Mills Man Retells Escape From Trade Center Nightmare

March 01, 1993|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Staff Writer

Just as Charles Kronsberg sat down to admire the Statue of Liberty from the 55th floor of New York's World Trade Center, the lights went out, the windows rattled, and the dramatic view was blurred.

"The whole building shook. It was like it had been hit by an earthquake," said Mr. Kronsberg of Owings Mills, who was participating in an international trade institute at the 110-story office complex when the bomb exploded in an underground parking garage Friday.

For three hours, the 29-year-old treasury worker with Black & Decker Corp. in Towson was trapped inside the dark, smoke-filled skyscraper. He covered his face with a scarf, but emerged gasping and covered with soot. Yesterday, he was still coughing while he talked on the phone.

In the initial confusion, Mr. Kronsberg said, he and the other participants in the trade seminar stared out the window to see whether the surrounding buildings also were shaking. Then the group began a perilous descent into the smoky, pitch-black stairwell.

"You couldn't see your hands in front of you," Mr. Kronsberg said yesterday from his hotel room in New York. "It was hairy."

The procession ground to a halt on the 48th floor. Some people began climbing back up the stairs, while others shouted instructions to continue down to the next flight. People panicked and were screaming and sobbing.

Mr. Kronsberg escaped into a nearby room until acrid smoke began seeping inside. More than 300 people were milling around in confusion on the 48th floor, he said.

"Nobody knew what to do. Some people were saying we should smash open the windows, but then others were saying it would attract more smoke."

Eventually, he escaped into another room and huddled on the floor near a file cabinet.

A man was guarding the door at first, and wouldn't let others in because the room was still relatively free of smoke, Mr. Kronsberg said. "It was like something you would see in a movie. They had stuffed a coat under the door, and every time somebody went out, people would scream, 'Close the door. Close the door.' "

When the smoke became heavier, he headed back to the crowded, dark stairs. He groped his way down each flight until he saw the welcome beam of firefighters' flashlights on the 25th floor.

With thousands of others, he emerged shakily onto the sidewalk in Lower Manhattan late Friday after noon. For a long moment, he said, he just sucked in a deep breath of air.

Though his flight was a nightmare, Mr. Kronsberg said, he managed to stay calm by simply focusing on getting out safely. Four men and a woman died, and a reported 1,042 people were injured by the blast that tore a 100-foot crater beneath the complex.

Mr. Kronsberg, who was staying at the Vista Hotel at the World Trade Center, was relocated with other guests to a Marriott Hotel three blocks away.

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