September 11th 2001, a date which everyone remembers for its horrific act of terrorism against the World Trade Center in New York City. But not everyone is familiar with the story of Roselle, a guide dog for a blind businessman named Michael Hingson, who worked as a sales manager for Quantum, a fortune 500 company. He and his team were getting to work finalizing preparations for a seminar later that day.
Sleeping under her owners desk on the 78th floor of Tower 1, at 8:46am Roselle is awakened by an explosion from an impact so great that it caused the entire building to lean over 20 feet. Fifteen floors above them, a plane had just slammed into the North Tower and send a bone-chilling shudder down the building, Michael’s normally mundane office began to vibrate violently. He and his coworkers began to scream and panic in fear of losing their lives, as burning debris started to fall past the windows of their offices.
As this was going on, Roselle had awoken but did not seem afraid of the noise or fiery impact, “While everything was happening, the explosion, the burning debris, the people in the conference room screaming, Roselle sat next to me as calm as ever,” Michael said.
Because of their location just below the blast, they did have time to evacuate, but not much. “I had always paid attention to fire drills and I knew to avoid the elevators, take the stairs and not to panic.” he said.
“She didn’t sense any danger in the smoke and flames, everything happening around us.” “If she had sensed danger she would have acted differently, but she didn’t. Roselle and I were a team and I trusted her.”
Standing up, Michael gave out the customary command, “Forward!” and Roselle calmly began making her way to the stairs.
Moving past the elevators with Michael and his coworkers in tow, Roselle took them to stairway B, the marble trim around the elevator was beginning to warp as 3,000 degree heat made its way down the shaft.
They encountered confused workers from other offices and told them to follow to the stairway to try and escape, “Roselle stayed calm, even with things falling on top of her, and she guided me through the debris.”
Reaching the stairway, more people had joined Michael’s group, and hurriedly they began descending the steps choking on smoke and in increasingly poor visibility.
1,463. The number of steps from the 78th floor to the ground. Moving in silence, the group made their way down one floor at a time, 19 steps separated into two flights. As they descended, a distinct smell followed them, Michael soon recognized what it was.
“We started to walk down and I noticed a strong smell, a little like kerosene,” he said. “Suddenly I realized what it was. As a salesman I’d flown all over the world and I’d smelled it on runways. It was the smell of jet fuel. Then I thought– what if a plane had hit the building?”
Michael was listening out for Roselle’s breathing rhythm, and she seemed to be doing well given the circumstances, soon Michael had to concentrate on his own breathing, by the time they reached the 70th floor, the smell of kerosene was so strong it was burning their eyes.
“She stroked Roselle and that seemed to relax her.”
Roselle pressed on, floors and floors kept going by as if there was never going to be an end to the dizzying steps.It had taken just 20 minutes to reach the 30th floor, but here is where progress slowed. At this point firemen began going past them going back up. They had no idea what kind of terrifying inferno was above them. Many would never return.
By the 20th floor, they had to slow down further, the steps were slippery with water from sprinklers, and Michael was cautious, “I was worried in case Roselle slipped, and I needed to be aware of her every move.”
“By the sixth floor, I needed to get out. My legs were about to give way, and I wanted to call my wife, Karen”
Finally, they reached the lobby of the North Tower, FBI agents and firefighters were evacuating workers in the pristine lobby that was normally so calm but now looked like a war zone.
“The descent had taken an hour, almost exactly,” he said. “David looked up and said there was a fire in Tower 2, up high. We were confused, and could only assume that the fire had jumped across. I tried to phone my wife, but still couldn’t get through. I learned later that this was due to all the people still trapped calling loved ones to say goodbye.”
We hadn’t even taken a breath from our hurried escape when an offer began to shout “get away, she’s coming down.”
“I heard the sound of glass breaking, of metal twisting, and terrified screams. I will never forget the sound as long as I live,” said Michael.
The tower took just 10 seconds to collapse onto itself.
“The street felt like a trampoline,” he said. “David shouts ‘oh my God’ and starts running. I picked Roselle up, spun 180 degrees, and we started running. No one was helping anyone any more. We were all running for our lives.”
“Then we were engulfed by a monstrous cloud of sand and gravel. It filled my throat and lungs and I was drowning, trying to breathe. But we kept running, and Roselle kept guiding me perfectly.”
Eventually, they reached the safety of a subway station and escaped the choking cloud of dust that enveloped the streets around the World Trade Center.
“She didn’t stop once. Roselle and I are a team, and I was not about to let her go.”
Michael survived the September 11th attacks and owes his life to Roselle, along with 30 other people who followed her to safety. In return, Roselle, along with another dog, Salty, who rescued his owner from the 71st floor, were awarded the Dickin medal, the canine equivalent of a Victoria cross.
Their citation reads: “For remaining loyally at the side of their blind owners, courageously leading them down more than 70 floors of the World Trade Center and to a place of safety following the terrorist attack on New York on 11 September 2001.”
Roselle passed away on June 26th 2011, and was posthumously named American Hero Dog of the Year in 2011 in a vote that saw more than 400,000 members of the public take part. Roselle will be forever remembered as the calm canine companion that saved the lives of over 30 people on one of the worst days in history.