By Ray O’Hanlon
It was the Kerry version of Irish luck.
Peter Kiely and his nephew Patrick Donovan were both in the South Tower of the world Trade Center Tuesday when terror struck from the skies.
Peter, a 60-year-old financial consultant originally from Tarbert was working on the 55th floor.
Patrick, a 21-year-old carpenter, was working on the 85th floor.
Neither knew the other was in the building. Neither knew that within a few minutes on a beautiful early autumn morning they would stare death in the face and live to tell the tale.
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When the first plane struck the North Tower, Peter Kiely had no doubt in his mind that death had come calling.
“I thought a bomb had gone off and I ran to the window,” said Kiely, whose brother Dan is a member of the Irish Senate.
“There was smoke and debris all over the place outside. I thought the top of our building had come off.”
Kiely called on his fellow workers to quit the office and head for the stairs.
He remembers one colleague who stubbornly refused to leave his desk. He does not know that man’s fate.
Kiely, who says he keeps himself fit, was now in a race for his life along with thousands of others in the South Tower.
Using the stairs, he moved as fast as he could to the ground floor. He ignored advice on the public address system to stay in the building in order to avoid debris in the street.
Something in his mind, in his gut, told him to keep going.
“Everybody was running, crying and screaming,” he said.
Kiely made it to the ground floor and emerged into a scene of unspeakable horror on Church Street, in the shadow of the great towers.
He was staring at the burning North Tower when a huge shape flashed across his line of sight. It was the second airliner flying straight into the South Tower, only feet above his office.
“It was hell,” he said. “I ran for my life.”
Also moving fast for his life was Peter’s nephew Patrick. He, too, knew that all things were not well and safe despite the assurances over the PA system.
“Many people were in a panic but some kept their cool and really it was they who made sure that so many people got out. It was hell in the stairwell, hell, mayhem.”
Patrick remembers everybody stopping at one point to listen to the PA. At this point he had made to the 54th floor, one floor below his uncle’s office.
“They were telling us to stay in the building but suddenly there was a huge bang. The building shook and people were thrown flat on the stairs.
There was no stopping now. “I didn’t think I was going to make it out. There were a lot of older people and some heavy people who were stopping.”
Patrick did get out. It was one family’s double stroke of luck. All too many other families were not so fortunate.