Michael Hingson and Roselle, his service dog, were on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower on September 11, 2001.
Michael was born with a vision impairment. His reliable guide and Labrador Retriever, Roselle, was always by his side.
Michael traveled from Westfield, New Jersey to the WTC Path Train Station on September 11, 2001. He arrived early to set up for a seminar that he and his colleague David Frank were hosting in their offices at 1 World Trade.
For his guests, Michael recalls ordering a substantial breakfast platter that included some of the finest croissants available in New York City. He returned to his desk and prepared for his presentation after setting up the conference room.
Then, at precisely 8:46 a.m., a deafening boom shook the structure.
A Boeing 767, American Airlines Flight 11, had struck the North Tower, cutting through floors 93 through 99 at a speed of 500 miles per hour.
It was an instant inferno.
Roselle woke up and looked around. It was clear to Michael that she did not sense any immediate danger.
“Roselle was sitting there, yawning and waggling her tail like, ‘Who woke me up?'” That made me realize that we could try to evacuate in a calm manner and that freaking out wouldn’t help,” Michael said.
Michael could see that his guide dog had not picked up on any impending danger.
Michael and his colleague decided that the elevators were no longer safe, so they led their visitors to the staircase, went back and searched the office for any lingering guests, and then started descending the arduous 1,463 steps to safety.
Michael claimed that on that particular day, his readiness and resolve helped him maintain his composure.
“When you go in somewhere, you do it from a standpoint of eyesight…you look at the signs,” he said. “Well I know that doesn’t really work for me — signs and I don’t get along very well. And so I spent time once I started going in to the WTC, learning the complex.”
It was mostly quiet as people poured into the stairway. Each person stuck to the right. No shoving or pushing took place. Even though they were still unsure of what was happening, they knew that moving forward, one step at a time, would give them the best chance of surviving.
The fact that I kept complimenting Roselle on her work as he descended the stairs, he claimed, “helped a lot of other people, because they saw me focusing and being in control of my situation.”
Nearly nine o’clock in the morning, Michael, Roselle, his colleague, and their five guests all made it out of the North Tower alive, though they were exhausted, parched, and still in shock over what had occurred less than thirty minutes earlier.
When they entered the lobby, an NYPD officer standing nearby greeted them and told them to take cover after warning them that the building was about to collapse.
Roselle led Michael as they ran through the Lower Manhattan streets that were covered in dust, eventually leading him to safety inside a subway station.
Michael remarked that Roselle had stopped by the Fulton Street station stairs to assist them in escaping the dust and debris cloud created when the towers fell. “She did exactly what she was supposed to do,” Michael said.
She never wavered from her task because he never let go of her leash.
The two made their way back to their New Jersey home that evening, where Michael began to make sense of the unbelievable events of the day.
Today, Michael works for accessiBe, a product that makes websites more accessible for the blind, speaks publicly, writes best-sellers, and is a best-selling author. He serves as their chief visionary.
Michael still recalls Roselle as being one of the most laid-back dogs he had ever met.
She worked when necessary and played when she could.
She also always treated her job with respect.
Looking back, Michael says he is grateful for his four-legged guide dog, the one who kept him and others calm, while guiding her human down 78 grueling flights of stairs.
Roselle lived until age 14. She died in the summer of 2011, 12 years ago.