Rick Rescorla saw the gravity of the situation when American Airlines Flight 11 slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001.
As Morgan Stanley’s director of security, he had survived the 1993 World Trade Center attack and realized that it could happen again. Rescorla was last seen on the 10th floor, bravely looking for survivors during the chaotic evacuation of the twin towers.
Rescorla, who was born in the United Kingdom in 1939 and served in both the British and US armies, moved to New Jersey in 1985. Every day, he took the 6:10 a.m. train to New York City, arriving at his World Trade Center workplace by 7:30 a.m.
After terrorists detonated a truck bomb at the World Trade Center in 1993, killing six people, Rescorla allegedly suggested that Morgan Stanley workers relocate to a less dangerous region, such as New Jersey. However, the company’s lease ran until 2006, thus no relocation was planned.
Rescorla, who was stranded at the World Trade Center at the time, focused on developing extensive safety practices in case of another assault. He made it a requirement that all Morgan Stanley employees practice evacuations carefully, down one story at a time in pairs through the emergency stairwells, guaranteeing a clear path for first responders to climb.
Despite some employees’ reservations about what appeared to be excessive security drills, Rescorla insisted on being prepared for worst-case scenarios, a choice that would save lives less than a decade later.
Rescorla’s preparations proved vital on September 11, 2001, when two hijacked jets crashed into the World Trade Center’s twin towers. He had prepared the Morgan Stanley personnel for whom he was accountable to the best of his ability. Rescorla kept control while the structure lost power and shook after the explosion.
“Stay calm. Move towards the other stairwell and watch out for each other. Today is a day to be proud to be an American,” he said.
Rescorla began singing the same songs that had resonated with his soldiers 36 years ago during the Vietnam War as thousands of employees climbed the dark stairs in pairs.
Rescorla managed to call his friend Dan Hill momentarily while co-ordinating the evacuation. Hill recognized Rescorla’s voice and asked him to leave the building, both understanding that the terrorist attack was designed to bring the towers down.
“I’ve got people to take care of,” Rescorla responded.
He urged Hill to be there for his wife in the following days, and suddenly the connection was cut. The south tower fell minutes later, trapping Rescorla within.
Rescorla was later credited for saving the lives of almost 2,600 south tower personnel. During his contact with Hill, Rescorla indicated that the Port Authority had advised people to stay at their workstations rather than evacuate, but he chose to disregard that advice and stick to the complete plan he had devised.
Without Rescorla’s diligent planning and unselfish actions on September 11, 2001, the death toll would very certainly have been far higher.
The events surrounding Rescorla’s death were recounted in The New Yorker by James B. Stewart in 2002. This was later turned into a book.
In 2002, one of Rescorla’s former comrades paid tribute to the fallen soldier and 9/11 hero: “We lost one of the best men we’ve ever known. For those of you who don’t know Rick Rescorla, he was a warrior, a leader, and a friend. He was the bravest man I ever saw.”
What an incredible tale of bravery and selflessness. We are offering our condolences to the families of those who died on 9/11.