By Wendy Gragg
Killeen Daily Herald
BELTON Three years ago, Stanley Praimnaith looked directly into the wing of American Airlines Flight 11 as it tore through his office on the 81st floor of Two World Trade Center. He prayed to God and dove under a desk, setting in motion a chain of events that would lead him to safety.
The Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C., prompted the rallying cry, We will not forget.
Praimnaith has devoted his life to remembering and sharing his personal tale of survival and salvation.
He took his story to a rapt audience of about 1,200 at Fridays chapel service at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor.
Eyes welled with tears as he recalled the events of the day, the terror and heartbreak of it all. But woven through Praimnaiths speech was also a story of hope and faith a story he says he will spread as long as he has strength to do so.
The chapel service began with snapshots from 9/11 a waterfall of cement and steel crashing to the street, dazed and debris-covered survivors, smoke hugging the New York City skyline which set the scene for Praimnaiths story.
He recounted his day, which began normally enough, with a ride from his home on Long Island, into the city and up the elevators to the 81st floor, where he worked as an assistant vice president in the Loans Operations Department for Fuji State Bank.
The sight of fireballs falling outside his window sent him fleeing downstairs, but a security guards assurance of tower twos safety sent him back to work. Half-heartedly, he boarded the express elevator with co-workers whom he was destined to never see again.
Back in his office he fielded a phone call from Chicago, the caller begging him to leave the building. He glanced out the window just before the plane struck. At that moment, he said, he turned everything over to God, taking cover under the desk where his Bible lay.
With the 82nd floor nearly collapsed over him, sparks flying and cement dust covering everything, Praimnaith said he couldnt believe he was alive.
This is not logical. In the real sense of things, if a plane crashes, everybody dies; nobody lives, he said. Im screaming, Lord, I dont want to die! What will befall my two children? Send someone to help me!
A flashlight beam and scream from across the room were his answer.
Covered in blood and already black and blue, Praimnaith traversed the obstacle course that was once his office, making his way toward the light. One wall stood between him and escape, but he was able to punch through the wall and was pulled free by a man named Brian, who would become Praimnaiths brother through the tragedy.
I gave him a giant kiss and said, Youre my guardian angel, Praimnaith said.
Praimnaith and Brian made their way down the stairs, checking for survivors as they went and having to pass one man whose back was too badly injured for them to move.
I see that man every night before I go to sleep. He said, Please tell my wife and our baby that I love them, Praimnaith said.
Praimnaith said he remembers firefighters, police officers and EMS workers directing them to run to Liberty Street once they reached the bottom floor.
They were cheering us on, Go! Run to Liberty. At that time Liberty was just a street today it is total freedom, he said.
Fire lay before him, Praimnaith said, but, soaking wet from the sprinkler system, he was able to run through unscorched.
Finally out of the building, a bloody and battered Praimnaith still faced the hell that broke loose when the buildings crumpled, a journey over the Brooklyn Bridge to track down his wife and the long ride home to his family.
Praimnaiths story was told with energy and even humor in some places. But he slowed down when he got to the part where he was reunited with his wife and young daughters. With damp cheeks and a handkerchief in hand he remembered his wifes disbelief at hearing his voice on the phone.
No, the Lord took care of me, Im coming home, Praimnaith told her.
Through his miraculous escape and the trauma afterwards, Praimnaith said he wavered in and out of sanity and consciousness. But watching news footage of the attacks one day brought him back. As the second plane hit, he said, it tilted, as if an invisible hand moved it. Praimnaith wondered if that fateful tilt happened at the moment that he asked the Lord for help and dove under the desk.
The God I call on, you can call on this same God, Praimnaith told the crowd. We are all survivors here. Rest assured God is there just waiting for you to give your heart and call to him.
Praimnaith prayed with students and visitors at chapel, encouraging them to take the leap and accept Christ into their lives. Seven people answered, standing with bowed heads.
Dr. George Loutherback, UMHB assistant vice president for student life, said he brought Praimnaith to chapel because of his specific perspective as a survivor.
He approached it from, Look what God did to help me get out, Loutherback said. I believe God has recruited him and blessed him to take this message. 9/11 was a disaster, but even out of that, some positive things could come.
Contact Wendy Gragg at firstname.lastname@example.org