FDNY Heroes Reunite With Office Workers One Year Later After Narrow Escape

September 3, 2002 -- Fire Lt. Girard Owens spent nearly a year wondering if the two people he helped out of the World Trade Center had survived - or if they were killed when the north tower fell moments after they fled the building.

Now, after months of searching, he knows the answer: They made it out, thanks to his efforts and the help of another fireman, John Morabito.

And he knows something more: The man and woman he rescued have been tormented by a similar question - did the firemen who saved their lives get out alive, too?

"The therapists always ask me, ‘What's the thing that haunts you the most?' It's the faces of the firemen going up the stairs as we were going down," said Muyiwa Onigbogi, after he was reunited with the two firefighters last week.

The firemen, Onigbogi and co-worker Daphne Carlisle fled the lobby of the north tower onto West Street just moments before it fell.

"We were the last people out," Morabito said. "I looked back, and nobody else came out."

Owens took his search public this summer, when The Post printed a series of photos showing him leaving the north tower with an unidentified man and woman.

The 23-year FDNY veteran has struggled since Sept. 11 with guilt and depression, asking himself why he survived when so many perished.

One of the things that worried him was the fate of the two people who left the building with him - and he felt that if he could solve that mystery, he might be able to put a piece of the nightmare behind him.

Several weeks after the pictures appeared in the paper, a relative of Carlisle called The Post and provided the link that led to some peace.

"It brings a little light to a very bad situation," Owens said during last week's reunion, which was marked by more smiles than tears.

"Everybody's happy. We'll probably be friends forever. Nobody else knows what we went through."

On Sept. 11, Onigbogi and Carlisle were at work on the 82nd floor of the north tower - in a Port Authority real-estate office - when the first plane hit several floors above them.

Along with thousands of others, they began the long trek downstairs.

They were on the last flight of steps to the lobby when the south tower fell.

The north tower lobby was enveloped in darkness. Onigbogi and Carlisle were stuck on the stairs, disoriented and scarcely able to breathe.

At the same time, Owens was in the north tower's basement. He was thrown against the ceiling, breaking a rib and injuring his hand. But he managed to find the stairs and stagger up to the lobby.

That's where he heard a woman screaming and praying. It was Carlisle, huddled beside Onigbogi.

"We're going to get out of here," Owens told her. "We're either going to live together or die together."

Then, in the intense blackness, they saw a speck of light.

When the south tower went down, Morabito was in the north tower's lobby. Suddenly, he was lifted and slammed to the ground.

In the blackness, he reached for the small flashlight clipped to his jacket and turned it on. That simple act saved three lives.

"Could you believe a little light like that could make this happen?" Carlisle marveled last week. "A beam from heaven."

Owens dragged Onigbogi and Carlisle toward the light.

Morabito knew the towers well and led the group out of the building.

The firefighters took Carlisle and Onigbogi to an ambulance. Then they looked up and saw the last tower coming down, and they ran - never knowing if the man and woman whose names they'd never had time to ask had gotten away.

But Onigbogi and Carlisle ran, too - and in some ways, they haven't stopped.

"I'm still struggling," said Carlisle, 43, who has been unable to return to work. "We all are. We all listen for the planes. Elevators are bad. Nothing like this has ever happened before. A friend told me I am a casualty of war."

Morabito is back fighting fires. But Owens, 49, is retiring from a job he never thought he'd leave.

"Deep down in my heart, I wish I was with them, the guys who died. They're not suffering anymore," Owens said.

Onigbogi, 46, still has trouble breathing. He hasn't been able to work since the attack.

Like Owens, he has trouble sleeping.

"It's like you are trapped in your own experience, because you don't have somebody who knows what you felt," Onigbogi said.

Now he does.

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