Piggott never looked so good to Staples

Wednesday, September 19, 2001

Times News Staff

Piggott never looked so good to Adam Staples when he arrived home last Thursday after the experience of a lifetime.

"When I got here yesterday afternoon, Piggott was the coolest place on earth," he said during a press conference Friday afternoon at the home of his parents, Frank and Donna Staples. "To see my neighbors and friends and family...that was great."

Adam escaped from Building 2 of the World Trade Center in New York City after it was hit by terrorists on Tuesday, Sept. 11.

An employee with Morgan Stanley in Jonesboro, Adam had just begun his second day in New York City, where he was undergoing financial planning training at the company's corporate offices. (Morgan Stanley was the largest leaser of office space in the tower with 21 floors, according to Time magazine.)

At the time of the attack, Adam said he was on the 61st floor, and the hijacked aircraft, used as a makeshift bomb by the terrorists, collided and exploded on the upper floors. (ABC News reported the passenger jet hit floors 98 to 105 of the 110-story building.)

Adam said the day's first speaker had just concluded a presentation at 8:30 a.m. (eastern standard time), and Adam decided to head downstairs.

"I'd gone downstairs to the 43rd floor to get some breakfast," he said and later went back up to the 44th floor to catch an elevator to the 61st. When he arrived on the 61st floor, Adam said everyone was ordered to go back downstairs.

"They told us a plane had hit Building 1," he said.

A few minutes later, the intercom announced "Building 1 was struck by an aircraft. Building 2 is secure."

Still unaware of the tragic events that were unfolding, Adam went back up to the 61st floor and got his camera to take photos of the damage to Building 1.

"I thought a personal plane had gotten too close to the building and had clipped it," he said.

Adam was taking photos of the damage to that structure when Building 2 was hit.

"I was standing with my hand on the wall, leaning out the window," he said, when his building began shaking, the lights went out, and ceiling tiles fell. By this time worry was beginning to set in.

"I thought a media helicopter had gotten too close," he said. "My second thought was that we were under a terrorist attack."

Adam said he made his way downstairs through the stairwells, which were still lit.

"The first 20 or so flights were easy," he said, but then the flow of people slowed down.

At the 40's floor levels, he had to change to a different stairwell and joined a large crowd that was also trying to get to the bottom.

"Given the situation, it couldn't have been a more organized effort to get out of there," Adam said.

He said he managed to remain calm as he tried to get to the bottom floor.

"Several times I thought I wasn't going to get out alive, but panicking wasn't going to help anything," he said. "I was calm but not comfortable."

Adam said he felt better when he made it the stairs, unsettled by the sound of the building's creaking support beams.

On the side where he exited the building, Adam said it was "fairly clean," unmarred by fallen debris.

"It wasn't the war zone that you see on TV," he said, noting the buildings were still standing at that point.

Adam feels employees were probably directed away from the areas where the damage was worse. He said he saw police, firemen and assessment personnel rush in to help as well as one injured man, who was also trying to aid others.

"I wonder how long they stayed," Adam said quietly. "I wonder if they got out. That's been on my mind."

He and co-workers Dale, Michael, Chris, Terry and Nathan (from Little Rock, Fort Smith and St. Louis) began walking back to the hotel and, when they were half a mile away, he turned back and "saw my building collapse." (Time magazine said Building 2 was the first to collapse although it had sustained the second strike.)

Adam was trying to find a cell phone to call home and, as they were walking, heard a radio at a sidewalk restaurant reporting the Pentagon had also been hit.

"I thought the whole country was done. I thought we'd all be dead by noon," he said, fearing a nuclear strike was imminent.

Adam said he and the co-workers continued the almost four and one-half mile walk back to their hotel.

"We just went on," he said about their activities during the rest of the day. "We ate dinner. We talked about it. We talked about how we were going to get home."

The next night Adam said they went for a walk in Times Square.

"It was really, really eerie being there," he said. "There were thousands and thousands and thousands of people (in the city), but it was deathly quiet."

Adam said they were able to rent a van at Alamo outside the Newark airport and drove 18 and a half hours to get home, stopping only to refuel and for a 30-minute meal break in Pennsylvania.

Adam said the ordeal hasn't entirely "sunk in yet."

"I guess what really drove it home for me was when it (attack) was mentioned in the same sentence as Pearl Harbor," he said.

In a somewhat chilling prophecy of things to come, Adam said he was awakened the previous night by his hotel roommate screaming.

"Get out of the way! Get out of the way!" the roommate yelled in his sleep.

Adam said the roommate had dreamed a bus had dropped through the hotel room.

Adam said there were over 280 people in his financial planning class, and he believes all of them were able to get of the building safely.

"I'm deeply, deeply sorry for the people that did lose loved ones," Adam said.

He said he was happy to be alive during the first day of his ordeal, but "survivor's guilt" has begun to sink in. He thinks about the family in Batesville, who lost their daughter, Sara Low, a flight attendant on one of the aircraft that crashed.

"I know they have to see me and Dale and Terry and Nate and wonder how we got out, and she didn't," Adam said.

He said he will talk to any of the family members to help them with their grieving.

"You think Someone was watching out for you?" Donna asked her son.

"Definitely," Adam said.

He said he had prayed and wrote in his Bible, "Today, I survived the World Trade Center attack."

"It's just been phenomenal," Donna said the outpouring of support for Adam. She said prayer chains were organized in several places, including Fort Worth, Texas, and in Kentucky.

Adam said the experience has changed his life.

"I'll tell the people I love more freely that I love them," he said. "I think I'll be a little more free to tell people about my faith. You realize how short life is."

Adam has tried to get back into his normal routine. A former track star at Piggott High School and Arkansas State University, he had stopped running but has resumed to get back into physical shape.

"Today, I just wanted to run. I just wanted to do something normal," he said. "That's as normal as breathing for me."

"Everybody in Piggott will see you run and know everything's back to normal," Frank said. "Everybody's always watched you run."

Adam also "walked a loop" with his sister, Stephanie, a carrier for the Piggott Post Office.

He said he had bought 10 World Trade Center postcards to send to family and friends and had addressed two of them that morning.

"They were still sitting on the desk, where I left them," he said.

Adam also lost his beloved ASU Sun Belt Conference backpack, which is equivalent to receiving a letterman's jacket.

When he first began his professional career, Adam opted not to carry a briefcase but to instead use his ASU backpack "even in someplace where your image is key."

"If they didn't like my backpack, I didn't want to do business with them anyway," he said with a grin. "I guess now I'll have to get a briefcase."

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