‘I feel fortunate that I survived’: VB native in South Tower on 9/11 remembers tragedy

Virginia Beach

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – There are certain events in history that you always remember.

“You know people talk about ‘I know where I was when JFK was killed,’” said Ryan Delle-Tezze.

One of those days happened 19 years ago, and Virginia Beach native Ryan Delle-Tezze knows exactly where he was.

“I’ll never forget as it exploded,” said Delle-Tezze.  “I was standing in it.”

Delle-Tezze was a babyfaced 23-year-old fresh out of college.

“I was hired by Morgan Stanley to become a financial adviser,” he said.

He was a rookie on the job in the South Tower in New York City.

“I was so hung over,” Delle-Tezze recalled.  “It was not a bright idea on your second day of work.  God it was going to be such a long day.”

The night before, he and co-workers saw Michael Jackson at Madison Square Garden.

“We started our meeting at 7:30 (a.m.),” he added.  “There were 286 people on my floor.”

He would soon forget about that hangover as America was about to get one that would never go away.

“I could see fire falling from every side of the windows,” Delle-Tezze said.

Delle-Tezze was on the 61st floor.  He knew something wasn’t right.

“There was an announcement that was going off over-and-over, almost automated, that said there is a fire in the North Tower and the South Tower is secure,” he remembers.

Even so, he decided it was time to get out of the building.  He made his way down the 61 flights of stairs.

“It was on floor 22 when the staircase rumbled and broke apart,” he said.  “People were panicking.”

Delle-Tezze and the others were unaware of the tragedy that was unfolding.

“We still didn’t know it was a plane,” he added. “We didn’t know it was a plane until 6 p.m.”

He continued on and ended up under the buildings in the World Trade Center plaza.

“There was firefighters, paramedics and people everywhere,” he said.  “A female paramedic handed me a woman and said ‘can you please carry her out.  I have to go further in; she just needs assistance getting out.’”

That woman, 63-year-old Sophie Saperstone, was another Morgan Stanley employee.  Together they headed outside where it was raining fire. 

“Balls of fire,” Delle-Tezze said.  “Like desks.  Like your office desk falling from the sky in a cloud of fire.  Just chunks of it coming down.”

As they were walking away, the emergency workers were running into the burning building.

“We knew something has exploded, because there was glass and fire and smoke everywhere. I don’t even know how to describe it.  You didn’t even know which way you were going.  It was just gray and brown,” said Delle-Tezze.

Just then the ground started to rumble as the second tower fell to the ground.

“It blew us forward and that’s how we were injured,” Delle-Tezze said.

Delle-Tezze suffered broken bones he didn’t know about until days after.

“Your adrenaline is going so much you don’t even think about,” he added.  “People say that and it’s true.”

Ryan and Sophie walked the five miles back to his apartment where he was finally able to call his mom back home.

“I called her and I just lost it,” he said.  “She was hysterical and I told her I was okay.  They were planning my funeral.”

19 years later, the memories are still so vivid.

“In someways if feels like a lifetime ago and then in someways it is yesterday,” he added.  “I feel very fortunate.  I feel fortunate that I survived.”

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