September 11, 2001 began as any other day for Joanne ‘Jojo’ Capestro. Despite not feeling well, she went to work in her office on the 87th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
Not long after arriving, Capestro, then aged 39, was planning to go downstairs with a co-worker but stopped because her desk phone rang. While on the call, hijacked American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower – six floors above Capestro’s office for the May Davis Group where she was an assistant secretary.
After finding the only available stairwell exit, Capestro rushed down the 87 flights of stairs, part of the way in high heels, before running out of the North Tower all within 22 minutes. Moments later the tower collapsed.
Covered in toxic dust and debris from the scene, Capestro was captured in a photo taken by acclaimed photographer Phil Penman, who grabbed his camera and rushed to the scene when he found out a plane hit the North Tower.
He spent much of the day taking photos of those who survived the terrorist attacks along with harrowing photos of rescue workers and civilians helping the thousands affected. Penman eventually donated the photo he captured of Capestro along with others to be displayed inside the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
To his surprise, staff there immediately recognized Capestro in his image and united Penman with her three years ago.
Six weeks ago, at her request, he was the photographer at her August 11 wedding.
Speaking to DailyMail.com about her life changing experience that occurred 17 years ago today, Capestro said: ‘Phil and I stayed in touch all of these years. Six weeks ago he was the photographer at my wedding. Phil was with me on the best day of my life and the worst day of my life.’
The September 11th terrorist attacks left 2,996 people dead and more than 6,000 others injured in the United States. The fateful day has since been known as the worst domestic attack America has ever experienced.
Capestro, who visits the memorial in lower Manhattan every year to recognize those who died including her co-worker Harry Ramos, explained in vivid detail how she survived.
‘That was a regular day for me, when I woke up in the morning I didn’t feel well, but I still went to work,’ Capestro said. ‘And I was standing at my desk with one of my co-workers because we were going to go downstairs. But the phone rang and he answered, then the plane hit five or six floors above us.
‘The impact was so strong and the building was shaking until all of a sudden it stopped.’
She said her and her colleagues realized two of the three stairwell exits were inaccessible because they were damaged from the crash and ‘melting’.
They rushed to a third stairwell that was completely empty at the moment.
‘The third exit we never really used so we were lucky to even find that exit. We didn’t get to exit off the 87th floor until the second plane went into the other building,’ she recalled.
‘I remember it was like it was yesterday to be honest with you. You know, we had to make face masks. Then we proceeded to go down the steps and I have to be honest with you, there was nobody coming from upstairs to go.
‘I thought that everybody must have left already from above because I thought it was going to be crowded, when they didn’t have a chance to make it out.’
Capestro added that once they reached the 64th floor she began to notice more people crowding into the stairwell to escape.
Within 22 minutes, Capestro made it a few steps out of the North Tower when it began collapsing and she started running and screaming “God help me”.
At some point while trying to escape from the horrific scene, Capestro was unknowingly captured in a photo with one of her co-workers covered in dust and debris by Penman.
In the gripping image, Capestro looks completely shell-shocked while staring into the direction of the camera lens while walking barefoot and holding her heels and purse in one hand.
She explained that she didn’t recall Penman at the scene and didn’t know he took that photo of her until three years ago when she was connected with the photographer by staff members at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum.
‘When we met, he came into my office and just looked at me and I looked at him and just started crying,’ Capestro said of the moment she met Penman for the first time.
‘That’s how it all started and we stayed in touch for all of these years. Now here we are today and six weeks ago, on August 11th, he was the photographer at my wedding.
‘He was with me for the best day of my life and the worst day of my life.’
She added that it was ‘an amazing experience’ to have him present when she married the love of her life, Robert Vasquez.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.