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Rescued window-washers recall 'terrifying' ordeal outside 1WTC

Juan Lizama, left, and Juan Lopez, window washers

Juan Lizama, left, and Juan Lopez, window washers who were trapped on the side of the World Trade Center, comment about their experience Friday, Nov. 14, 2104, about getting trapped and then rescued near the 68th floor of the building Wednesday. Photo Credit: Craig Ruttle

The two window washers rescued from 1 World Trade Center on Wednesday had begun their workday at the 43rd floor, ascending more than 20 floors before their rig malfunctioned.

And as they hung stranded outside the 68th floor, tethered into the scaffolding with their tools, there were a few moments of panic, said Juan Lopez and his partner Juan Lizama.

The high-wire drama outside the nation's tallest building began about 12:42 p.m. when fire officials said they received a 911 call. The window-washers' rig was tilted into an almost vertical angle, with one worker at each end of the platform as it swayed outside the 68th and 69th floors, officials said.

"When the situation was happening, it was definitely terrifying," said Juan Lopez, a four-year veteran.

But, he said, after a few minutes he relaxed and waited to get saved.

Lopez, 33, of the Bronx, said he felt a "calmness," adding that "everybody was safe around us, beneath us."

The two men, who were rescued after about 90 minutes by FDNY crews who were inside the building on the 68th floor, recounted their harrowing ordeal at a news conference at the Manhattan offices of their union, Service Employees International Union Local 32BJ.

"At the moment that the scaffold tilted, he was a little panicked, but they got control of situation and they were always in control of the situation because of their training and their experience," said Shirley Aldebol, union vice president who translated for Lizama, 41, of West New York, New Jersey.

After the malfunction, the men said they checked their equipment, making sure everything was still tethered, Aldebol said.

Firefighters used a diamond-tooth circular saw to cut a door-size hole through two layers of glass and one of protective material so the workers could be gingerly pulled to safety from the rocking rig, officials said.

Lizama, a native of El Salvador, said he called his wife to tell her he was OK and said to call their son, Kevin, at school.

Lopez said he was afraid his phone would drop if he answered it, Aldebol said in an interview.

She said the men go through a rigorous training, including 18 months of classroom work and an apprenticeship. Less-experienced window washers are paired with veterans, she said.

Lizama, 24-year veteran, has been a union member for 14 years, he said. He said his job has fed his family.

"God bless America," he said.

Lizama said safety was a priority. "One mistake, no story here," he said.

Union officials declined to answer questions about the functioning of the rig, saying the incident is under investigation.

The men had worked together at 1 World Trade Center for two weeks.

"Thank you everybody," Lizama said, listing his union and fire department.

Lopez said he doesn't recall the men speaking much during their ordeal.

When he saw firefighters, he thought: "Thank God," Lopez said.

Lizama said he would return to window cleaning as soon as he is able.

Lopez said, "It's difficult to say yes." He said there are other options, like "ground-floor jobs."

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