Thanks to two strangers, a man can still tell his story

Robert Dall with his grandchildren, Martha Dall (right) and Ivy Dall (left). Photo courtesy of the Dall family

BY ALINE REYNOLDS  |  As the 10th anniversary of 9/11 approaches, memories of the day continue to haunt many, including those who made it out of the Twin Towers just in time.

Take for example investment banker Robert Dall. At around 8:30 a.m. on the morning of 9/11, Dall, who worked on the 59th floor of the North Tower, moseyed into the cafeteria two floors down to get his usual egg sandwich.

All of a sudden, he heard an explosion.

“I didn’t know what the bang was. I thought maybe it was one of the [kitchen] ovens that had blown up,” said the 76-year-old man from his midtown-East apartment.

The 1993 bombing at the World Trade Center also crossed his mind. Without probing, Dall instinctively headed toward the emergency stairwell.

The stairs were jam-packed but orderly, Dall recalled.

“If there was any memory I have [while going down the stairs,] it’s of a pregnant woman being carried down by guys in the crowd. They were being very careful with her. I thought it was an amazing sight,” Dall said.

Dall also saw firefighters rushing up the stairs, cause for him to continue descending as quickly as possible. He managed to walk down nearly 50 flights of stairs before his legs gave out on the fifth floor. He was working out regularly at the time, but a case of foot neuropathy made strenuous exercise difficult.

“I was tired, so I decided I was going to sit down,” said Dall.

Little did he know that the building was on the verge of collapse. As fate would have it, two husky men, one in his 20s and the other in his 30s, carried Dall to the lobby of the building.

“They said, ‘We’re going to get you out of here,’ and they just dragged me out,” Dall recalled.

Minutes later, Dall was in the lobby of the building, where he phoned his wife to let her know he was okay. He was then transported via stretcher to a covered loading dock in front of the former 7 W.T.C. building.

Moments later, Dall heard what was the falling of the North Tower. He still didn’t know what was happening.

“I hear this noise that sounded like an approaching subway station. It got louder and louder and louder.” Then, Dall said, there was a boom and “all hell broke loose.”

Dall left 7 W.T.C. in a state of confusion and began running down West Street.

“I looked back and I saw smoke and people that were hurt. It was the first time I knew anything was going on,” said Dall.

Relying on his instincts again, he hopped into an ambulance, which took him to St. Vincent’s hospital. St. Vincent’s released him soon after his arrival since he wasn’t injured. Dall then bribed an off-duty cab to take him home to the Upper West Side.

Every September 11th, Dall, a Roman Catholic, attends a memorial ceremony held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral to thank God for still being alive and to pray for those that didn’t make it. Looking back, he said he feels incredibly lucky to have escaped the towers unscathed, particularly since he knew several people who suffered another fate.

“It was an extraordinary set of events. To pray for that kind of blessing would be something else,” said Dall. “I’m almost embarrassed to say that I was in there and emerged completely unharmed by all of it.”

In early 2002, Dall found new office space in midtown east. He stayed away from Ground Zero for a good few years.

“I refused to go back Downtown. I just didn’t want any evocation of the memory,” said Dall.

To this day, Dall vows never to work in the new W.T.C. office towers, fearful they are an automatic target for another terrorist attack.

Dall is no stranger to accidents. In the late 1970s, he was evacuated from One New York Plaza during an electrical fire, which also entailed walking down dozens of sets of stairs. He has also survived five car crashes. The 9/11 experience, however, left a larger emotional imprint than the others, making it uncomfortable for Dall to retell the story of his fortuitous escape at dinners and other social functions.

“It’s just a topic of conversation for [others]. For me, it’s a very deep pain,” said Dall.

Dall hasn’t suffered from post-traumatic stress, as many survivors have, though specific sights trigger unpleasant memories of his near-death experience, such as seeing a firefighter or looking at the memorial plaque of Richard Lynch, (son of ex-football player Dick Lynch), which is mounted on a wall at the New York Athletic Club.

Over the years, Dall’s two rescuers have called him periodically, and the three men will meet for an occasional meal. Dall fondly recalled encountering the men in St. Patrick’s Cathedral on the first anniversary of 9/11. It was the first time he had seen them since the day they saved his life.

“I reminded them… of what they had done,” said Dall. “It was a ‘thank you,’ but in my own way.”