Pasquale Buzzelli, a structural engineer with Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, kissed his eight-month pregnant wife goodbye on the morning of September 11, 2001 and headed to work on the 64th floor of the North Tower of the World Trade Center. A little while later, he said he was “surfing” debris as the tower collapsed after being hit by a plane.
“We felt the building shudder, which was actually the South Tower collapsing, but we had no idea, we couldn’t see it. We started to make our way down the stairs, I got to the 22nd floor when everything started to vibrate and there was a rumbling from above,” Buzzelli told FOX411’s Pop Tarts column. “I dove into the corner and curled myself into a fetal position. I felt the wall crack open, and I started to fall from the 22nd floor… The thoughts that go through your mind, I just couldn’t believe that this was how I was going to die.”
'I opened my eyes and I thought I was dead. I was looking at the clear sky, I thought that this was the afterlife'
- Pasquale Buzzelli
As the one-hour Discovery episode entitled “The 9/11 Surfer” details, in those moments he prayed for his pregnant wife and their unborn daughter, and saw a bright flash come before him as he hit the surface. Buzzelli’s next memory was waking up surrounded by a mound of twisted steel and rubble, his feet dangling, unable to move.
“I opened my eyes and I thought I was dead. I was looking at the clear sky, I thought that this was the afterlife,” he recalled. “And then I heard the voice of firemen in the distance.”
“The 9/11 Surfer” includes interviews with Buzzelli’s wife Louise, the firefighters who braved the danger to rescue him, and forensic scientists and physicists who dissect the technical elements that led to his ability to make it through alive. (Several stories involving people who said they survived significant falls through the debris and came out alive emerged following the terrorist attack, many of which were later debunked.)
Buzelli said after his ordeal, he felt anything but gratitude and happiness.
“Everyone kept saying how lucky and blessed I was, but the aftermath – particularly with my family – was very challenging. I suffered very badly with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PSTD) and a tremendous amount of guilt as to why I had survived when so many others lost their lives,” he continued. “I wasn’t able to experience the joy of my children being born. I wanted so badly to feel happiness, but whenever I did I immediately felt guilt and anger for feeling that way. I felt like I was faking life… It has taken a long time to be able to enjoy living once again.”
And while not a day goes by that Buzzelli doesn’t ruminate on the cataclysmic events of that fateful day, he now feels grateful for every passing moment, is able to be a real father for his two daughters, and hopes his story will lift up others.
“I feel so fortunate that I am here,” he added. “I hope that viewers, regardless of what hard times they are going through, will realize that there is help out there. I hope my story can inspire people.”
“The 9/11 Surfer” airs on Discovery September 11 at 8PM ET/PT. Buzzelli’s book “We All Fall Down: The True Story of the 9/11 Surfer” is in stores.