CHESTER, N.J. (CBSNewYork) — One of very few people to survive being buried in the rubble of Ground Zero is telling his story.
Will Jimeno was buried alive under 30 feet of rubble when he and his fellow Port Authority officers ran to Ground Zero to help survivors escape.READ MORE: Bald Eagle Spotted At Central Park Reservoir
CBS2’s Jessica Moore sat down with him at his home in New Jersey.
“September 11th started out like any other day,” Jimeno said.
When the rookie Port Authority police officer woke up on that beautiful Tuesday in 2001, he kissed his pregnant wife, Allison, and his 4-year-old daughter, Bianca.
He had no idea how his life was about to change.
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“We were just doing a normal day’s routine job. We didn’t know what was coming,” Jimeno said.
Within minutes of clocking in at his Midtown precinct, the first plane crashed into the North Tower.
Jimeno and his fellow officers boarded a bus and drove into what he calls “the mouth of Hell.”
“I was scared. I was scared,” he said.
“Take me back to the moment when the bus pulls up to the Trade Center. The first plane has hit. You’re walking off the bus. What are you seeing? What are you feeling?” Moore asked.
“It just looked like Armageddon. Paper flying everywhere, dust flying, pieces of the plane on the street, concrete. It was a moment I never thought I’d see on U.S. soil. It was war,” Jimeno said. “As I saw people jumping from the building, all I could think about was, I took an oath to protect and serve. We felt so small that day. It was like standing in front of the ocean.”
As Jimeno, Sgt. John McLoughlin and the team made their way through the shopping mall beneath the buildings, the second plane hit and the South Tower suddenly began to collapse above them.
“I just held on for dear life, and at that point, it seemed like for a long time, thousands of pounds of concrete raining down, and then just silence and we found ourselves in a very dark place,” Jimeno said.
Jimeno, McLoughlin and Dominic Pazullo were suddenly buried alive in a cocoon of concrete, 30 feet beneath the pile of debris.READ MORE: Landmarks Preservation Commission OKs Designs For Delacorte Theater Makeover
“At that point, it really became a struggle for survival, and as the hours progressed, fire balls started falling into the hole, burning my arm. I was yelling, ‘Sarge, I’m going to burn alive,'” Jimeno said.
Pazullo soon died and Jimeno assumed he was next.
“All I knew was, I think we’re not going to make it, so what I did was, I always tell my daughters I love them [using sign language], so I took both hands and put them over my shoulder [in the sign for ‘I love you’] so that if they found me, my wife would know I was thinking of her,” Jimeno said.
But 13 hours later, there was a glimmer of hope.
“At eight o’clock, I heard U.S. Marines say, ‘Can anybody hear us?'” Jimeno said. “They jumped into this hole we were in, a gravesite. It took three hours to get me out. They were told many times to leave us and they said, ‘We’ll die with these guys. We’re not going to let them die.'”
“The first time I cried was when they pulled me out, I could see the moon, the sky, but I didn’t see the buildings,” Jimeno continued. “I said, ‘Where is everything?’ A firefighter said, ‘It’s all gone, kid.'”
Jimeno and McLoughlin were the only two people to be pulled out of the rubble alive.
In the hospital, Jimeno flatlined twice, underwent 13 surgeries and spent weeks in the ICU. He made it out just in time to see the birth of his second daughter, Olivia.
Today, Jimeno dedicates his life to helping others, using 9/11 as his ultimate inspiration.
“It’s evidence to the strength of the human spirit. We all have our own World Trade Centers. Ours was 222 stories that fell on us. But if we can make it out of 220 stories, they can make it out of whatever struggles they have in their lifetime,” he said.
Jimeno has since written two books about his experience, including a children’s book designed to help even the youngest among us know that they are not alone.
That’s his message — that the power of the human spirit can withstand even the greatest of challenges.MORE NEWS: Suffolk County Police Officer Reunites With Mother, Baby He Helped Deliver On Christmas Eve
Jimeno also consulted on the Oliver Stone film “World Trade Center” and was instrumental in having actual members of the FDNY cast in the movie.