The lessons of tragedy

Chris Hardej

From Woodstock Times, September 13, 2001:

Chris Hardej, of Bensonhurst, was sitting at his computer with his back to the window on the 82nd floor of Tower No. 1 at the World Trade Center Tuesday morning when he heard a “semi-long swooooosh, like an air rush and it rocked the building, like a thump, but didn’t knock me out of my seat.”

The 41-year-old Hardej, a Senior Transportation Analyst with the State Department of Transportation, and the brother-in-law of Shandaken resident Vinnie Cortina, turned to look out the window, which did not shatter, and saw what he recalls as a lot of paper and metal fragments, shards, floating down.

“I’m also a military person. Instinctively, I recalled that I should hit the deck,” saidHardej on Wednesday,“to protect myself from anything that would come through the window. So I crawled to the middle of the office, to get away from the window.


One of my co-workers tripped over me and he said, let’s head for the exit. The lights were still on at this time. I suspect the plane entered somewhere in the upper 80s, low 90s. Being a flyer, I did not hear the engine noise. I knew the weather was beautiful, so it wasn’t an accident but I don’t recall actively hearing the engines.


“Somehow I remember Wednesday is your deadline,” laughs Chris Hardej (pronounced Hardy) on the phone five days before the tenth anniversary of the horrendous, history changing event that was the subject of our last conversation. We had spoken, amazingly, the following morning, after the now 51 year old Brooklynite had walked down 82 stories, 82 flights of stairs in 1 World Trade Center, reaching the lobby as building 2 collapsed, forced a tremendous rush of air and debris that blew out store windows and threatened to collapse the ceiling before he escaped, on foot, over the Brooklyn Bridge.

He’s postponed the conversation with me from earlier in the morning so he could go perform one of his regular activities — giving tours of Ground Zero, even as the redevelopment of the site, which includes the nearly complete Memorial to those who perished at the event, and to the lives of those who were lucky enough to have lived through it.

“About four times a month, I give a tour,” says Hardej. “It’s part of the healing process, but I do it more to keep the memory of 9/11 alive. Something I probably didn’t tell you last time is that three of my co-workers did not make it out. This is a way for me to share my story with a lot of people. Typically we’ll have 20-25 people on the tour, spend an hour or so on the site, talking about the 9/11 experience.” Tribute is project of the 9/11 Family Association, which sponsors the tours. “People needed direct connections, or had a direct story to share.”