Ari Schonbrun Truth is Stranger Than Fiction (Surviving 9-11 My Interview With Trish Jenkins) Part 1

by Ari Schonbrun

 Ari Schonbrun Truth is Stranger Than Fiction (Surviving 9-11 My Interview With Trish Jenkins) Part 1


Today I wanted to share an interview I did on Trish Jenkin’s podcast the other day. I share my story and the different events that came together that made it so I am able to share my story with you today. It is a wild story that shows that the truth is sometimes stranger than fiction.


Episode Transcription:


Intro plays

Ari: Welcome to whispers and breaks. My name is Ari Shomer. And I’m your host. A while back, I interviewed Trish Jenkins from Australia. She had an amazing story. And it was the third highest ranking episode of my podcast. It was called Trish Jenkins a rollercoaster life. Well, a few days ago, I had the honor and privilege of being interviewed by Trish on her podcast. And it was amazing. It was done live. And we had some great questions and comments from the audience. So today, as a special episode, I’m going to play that interview. I’m going to take you back to 911. And my story with never before revealed information and feelings that I had that day. And the month following. This was a long interview. So I broke it down into two parts. This is part one. So sit down, buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride.


Trish: Good evening, everyone, Trish Jenkins  here. Welcome to Trish TV, where we talk about resilience. And we get to meet amazing people who have great stories of resilience, and the things that help them through it that we can learn from. And today, I’m superduper excited that we have got Ari schonbrunn here. And he is in fact a 911 Twin Towers survivor. It’s a it’s a fascinating story. Ari schonbrunn, what a thrill to meet you. Welcome to the show.


Ari: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so excited Australia. Like I made it.


Trish: You have you’re looking into the future. It’s tomorrow. It’s Wow. And I it’s just great to be able to connect with you. And we met through both of us being speakers, we happen to cross paths through another group. And we both thrilled to meet each other because we’ve both been through very dark times very different. But how people react in adversity and in threatening situations, everybody reacts differently, but but there are some commonalities. And that’s why I was so fascinated by your story. Ari, thank you for agreeing to talk with us. And I’d love to start by and by the way, if you’re watching, feel free to comment and like and share, share the page with your friends on Facebook or wherever you’re watching, whether it be on YouTube or LinkedIn. So let people know to jump on. And feel free to make a comment in the comment section. I will see it in my side panel here and I’ll be able to share it on the screen. So that’d be great. Give Ari some encouragement, because it’s not easy to share a story that’s really hard. But he’s been doing it. And and I don’t just want to hear the story, we’re going to go into a little bit more about what it was really like and how he felt and the things that lifted him up. Because we know we hear heroic stories, but we don’t always get what’s really going on in them. And Ari has been so gracious and brave and saying Yep, Trish, you can ask me anything. And I’m like, wow. So we’ll, we’ll see how we go with that. And so Ari, well just tell us a little bit about your background and how you came to be working where you were.


Ari: Sure. And before I even go into that, Trish, I’m so excited that you actually asked me to come and be on your show. And, you know, from the for the first time that we met, it was like, you know, I knew there was this some this commonality between us and I was I was very, very excited. You know, when we got to talking and you know, comparing stories and notes and the like, and I’m so happy that you know, we’ve maintained that friendship and the friendship has really, really grown and, and I’m so happy about it. And hopefully one day we will see each other in person and not over zoom and the like either I’ll come to Australia, you’ll come here or we’ll meet somewhere in the middle. But hopefully that they will come soon. Now as far as my story goes, I’m a Wall Street guy. I started my career back in 1981. Started working for a bank, put my 10 years in at the bank, went to a commodity trading house for a couple of years and then from there I went to Cantor Fitzgerald you was I knew the the CEO of the company. And I was at a crossroads at the time. And he offered me a position and I liked the you know what he was doing. And I accepted. And I worked there for the better part of 23 years. And I left about four years ago, just to pursue full time my speaking career, and my podcast and my academy and the like. But it within that 23 years, obviously 911 happened. And, you know, and look, everybody knows Cantor Fitzgerald. Alright, we got hit the hardest, we occupy the top five floors of Tower One. We lost 658 employees out of 900 out of 960 We lost 658 It was tough. It was very, very tough. Um,


Trish: so hey, you were. A banking guy? You’re an ordinary person. Well, I’m you you’re talented and good at your job, but very burst. Yeah, to everyday person minding your own business, doing your career in finance, in banking, normal, strong industry, you go to work every day, you love your family, you do your thing. And so, you know, you, you could be any one of us. Any one of us could have been you going to our regular Joe jobs.


Ari: Correct? Absolutely. Absolutely. And, you know, it was it was something that I never expected, obviously. But it turned my life around that changed it my whole life changed. Alright, you can’t go through something like that without having a you know, without without a life changing experience. It was, you know, it was funny because the reality is, I should have been at my desk at eight o’clock in the morning. Because I was there at eight o’clock in the morning. I was there at eight o’clock in the morning, every day.


On this screen, tell me because it was morning, which it was late at night where we are in Australia, right? You want a


Ari: very simple. My morning routine was very simple. You know, I got up in the morning at 530. I go to Services. I’m an Orthodox Jew. And I go to services in the morning. And then I leave my house around I was leaving my house around, call at 630 quarter to seven something like that. And, and I and I used to get to the World Trade Center at about eight o’clock. Alright, it was an hour and change. The ride was Mauer and change with the subway and the railroad etc. And on this particular day, it was it was the beginning of September. It was right before the High Holidays. Were coming up on us. My wife was a school principal and she had just opened school she’s principal in a private school in a ishiba Girls yeshiva and she had just opened school and she was like super busy besides getting ready with the holidays, the cooking and the meals and everything else keep the house in order you know, we had four kids it was it was lively. Um but on that particular day my as I was walking out the door my wife yelled down to me and she said to me, did you do Barak’s book order? Now? I when I when I tell my story it’s I get a lot of chuckles out of this because I don’t know if they haven’t in Australia Scholastic Book orders. But in the States, you know, they have this the Scholastic Book order, which is the teacher hands out these pamphlets, which has a list of books and games on it. The kids was right. You know that story? Right? Yeah. Well, my kid was no different than any other eight year old. He was eight years old at the time. And he wanted like every game and or, you know, 100 bucks, which was never going to read and you know, and my wife didn’t want to deal with him. So she said to me, you know, it’s your job. You need to deal with it. And I said, Okay, well, now I was supposed to do it the night before. But the reality is that I was just I got home there. I was getting home very late, because the holidays were coming up in the middle of the week, and I was I was gonna be out of work. I wasn’t gonna not be at work for the next you know, over the next four weeks. I was going to be working like two and a half days a week. So I needed to get in as early as I could to get my work so I shouldn’t fall too far behind. And so I was supposed to do with him but I didn’t and she said to me You’re not leaving the house until you do that book order with him. So I went put my briefcase down, put my cup of coffee down, walked into my kitchen proceeded to negotiate with my eight year old for the next 20 minutes. Interestingly enough, I will come down to two books. And interestingly enough, the two books were from a series called survivor. True story. When the books came like two weeks later, I had a shiver down my spine. Unreal. Wow. So because of that, I wound up running very late. And I didn’t get to the Trade Center till 20 minutes tonight.


Trish Wow, you will light up. We’ve got Sharon Marilyn. She’s watching us. Hi, Sharon. Wow, yeah. Wow. All right, that’s for sure. Yeah. Oh, my goodness. Yeah.


Ari: Now, here’s, here’s the kicker, you’re ready for this. The book order, the book order was due on Monday. But my son left his pamphlet in school on Friday. If he would have bought that pamphlet, home on Friday, I would have done the book order with him on Sunday. Right day off, I would have been one of them on Sunday. And I would have been sitting at my desk on Tuesday morning at 8am. And right now, you’d be interviewing somebody else to somebody else would be standing here telling you a different story, because I’d be dead. Before because he left that pamphlet in school on Friday. I’m here to talk to you today. Well, you think God was smiling upon me that day? I think so.


Trish: You know, and we can be grumbling and complaining in a moment where we’re getting delayed. But we don’t know whether that delay. You know, what,


Ari: 100% or 2%? Yeah. So when I got when I got to the building in 2009, you know, my office was on the 101st floor. But you couldn’t take an elevator all the way up to 101, you took an express to 78. And the 78th floor was a sky lobby. And then you change on the 78th floor for the elevators to take you up to the higher floors. I was literally in between those elevators. No. And the first plane hit 15 seconds earlier or later. You’d be talking to somebody else, because I’d be dead.


Trish: I just need to I just needed to absorb that. Wow. Wow. Just as Sharon saying Amazing how all those events aligned for you to survive that day.


Ari: Sharon, you’re 100% rate. Good, right.


My goodness. Well,


yeah. So when I was under 70, a floor in between the elevators when the plane hit it was, I tell you, I thought a bomb had gone off in the elevator. That’s what I thought. That’s the way I felt the entire building shock. The lights went out the place filled with smoke, and that was literally thrown off my feet. I was on the floor. Whoa, literally.


And how many people who are around you in that 78 floor. So that’s


the 78th floor. I don’t remember at the top when it happened. I don’t remember how many people were actually around me. But I bumped into a co worker of mine, Virginia, who is on the elevator that I was about to get on the plane head to go up to one on one. She was acquired. And she suffered third degree burns because as she explained it to me, you know she was in the elevator the doors started to close and they jammed when the plane hit. And because of the impact the walls in the elevator collapse the ceiling collapse. There was a cable in the in the ceiling that that that snapped and was sparking in the elevator. The jet fuel came down the size of the elevator was ignited by the spark and there was a wall of fire.


Oh my goodness, and she got


she jumped through the fire to get out and she suffered third degree burns. Wow. And you know there were three people in the elevator there was Virginia Roy Bell and Rene Roy Bell was the first one to jump out he suffered second degree burns. Virginia jumped after him and she suffered third degree burns. And Renee who was the last one out she died because of her burns. So when I saw her in the when I saw her in the in the in a in the hall in the hallway she said to me Ari, thank God please help me I’m in so much pain and whatever you do, please don’t leave me and I said to Virginia, I promise I will not leave you we will get out of here. Now here’s the irony. Virginia and I were not good friends. Oh really? Oh really. She was hired the year before. By Cantor as an internal auditor The first department she audited was mine. And she almost got me fired. Whoa. And there we were. On that day, she and I, you know, I’ll be honest, it was a decision that I needed to make, I could have said to heck with you, lady, you know, I, you know, I’m gonna find my own way out and I’m gone. But, you know, that’s not who I am. And I know that’s not who you are. You know, we’re different. We’re different types of people where I said to her, our past did not matter. She was another human being, and she was in trouble. And I was the guy that God put there. And it was literally I looked back, I said, that was a test. And he said to me, what are you going to do? And I did the only thing I knew, that was to help him. And we went down 78 flights of stairs, we walked down 78 flights of stairs.


And where were the other two people?


Oh, so one of them was with us. In other words, there’s a whole lot more to the story, but there just isn’t time. But it was there was there were there were four main characters in this. In this scenario here. There was the fire award. No, I didn’t talk about really unimportant, but he was he he went first. Then Roy Bell was one of the guys on the elevator who jumped through first. He was with us. It was me and it was Virginia. And we walked down like as a group. Now there were six, there were about six or eight other people that were with us. All right, that were there with us. Yeah, yeah. And we started to head down, we headed down. And, uh, you know, it was a day of miracles for me. You know, it was a lot of bad stuff happened. But for me, it was a day of miracles. And I say one of the biggest miracles happened to me. When I was in the stairwell I was on we started on 78. We got down three flights, that 75th floor. And when we get down to the 75th floor, my cell phone rang. I have to remember something in the in the towers, you could never ever get reception on your cell phone. And your mobile you could was impossible. I remember standing up I remember being in my office with my you know, next to the window going Hello, can you hear me? Can you hear me? You know, I’m saying they never got and here I was in the middle of a stairwell in the middle of the building. On a day where there was no mobile service. And my phone rang. I picked it up. I was so shocked that went Hello. It was my wife on the other end of that phone. And she was crying and she was telling me something about a plane going into the building. I had no idea what she was talking about. I sit there Joyce. I’m on the 75th floor. I’m in a stairwell a moto a down the house. Not a good time. I said I’ll call you when I get out of the building. And


my goodness, ah, well, at least she heard your voice. Yeah, wow. Absolutely. Sharon’s just asking was the stairwell smoke filled as well. Down or


by the time we by the time we started heading down because it was we didn’t run down right away. It was there was a period of time there that we were, you know, trying to figure out where to go and how to go. Oh, by that time, the smoke had started to dissipate certainly in the in the stairwell. Okay, because remember this, the doors were closed. You know, there was, you know, it wasn’t like an open area.


It was a terrorist attack, you would have just thought


we did not know when my wife told me something about a plane going into the building. My feeling was remember I was on the 100 and first floor of my office, and I look out my window. I used to see these little airplanes flying below us. You know, these little Piper Cubs, these little small little airplanes. That’s what we thought went into the building. We thought it was an accident, some little plane went in. And that that was that wasn’t until we got out of the building that I found out that it was a terrorist attack.


Trish: Wow. That’s incredible. Just incredible. Goodness me. So you’re heading down that would have been a really difficult job heading down all those floors with somebody who was badly hurt.


Ari: We got let me tell you something. When we got to the 50th floor, Virginia said to me, I can’t go on. And you know, my first instinct was I’m going to have a sit down, rest a little bit, and then we’ll move on. And then I said, You know what, if she sits down, she may never get up. And if she doesn’t get up, she’s definitely going to die. And I went like Well, that’s not on my agenda for the day. So I said no, Virginia you can do this and there were a couple of people with us and we had bottles of Poland spring waters, so we gave it a drink. And and we put it on our arms to try and give a relief from the burns. And now I’m coaching I’m counting the floors down you know as we go all right 4846 4542 Doing great, you’re doing great. And we were doing great until 38. When we hit the 38th floor, it was backed up with people. What happened was the firefighters that stopped me from going down because they were coming up. So they, they put a hold on us, right? And I remember thinking to myself, you know, this is not good, you know, we need to keep going. So I started to yell out, you know, is there a paramedic in the building? I said, I’ve got a burn victim here. If you’re a paramedic, we need help. If not, please step to the right and let us through. And people did they squeezed over as much as possible to still literally open a path so that we can continue going down.




We got it. We got out of the building. And you know, I stopped the cop task and we you know, have a burn victim buddy, because everybody was running. Everybody was just running uptown. You know, everybody was guy was it was ma’am. I said I got a burn victim. Where do we go? It goes go across the street in front of the millennium Hotel. There’s going to be a triage center there. That’s going to be ambulances there, take her there. And I did. I took her there, an ambulance pulls up, we get her into the ambulance. I breathe a sigh of relief because up until now the only thing I was doing was keeping our spirits up. But I couldn’t help her medically. Right. So now fine. She’s getting medical attention. I’m going thank God. You know, I turn around. I looked up the building was a guy standing next to me. I said to him, how are you building to get on fire? The guy looks at me like I’m crazy. This is what he talked about to jetliners went into the buildings. They’re calling it a terrorist attack. Oh, okay. I’m like, he’s crazy. I’m going, What are you talking about? What a terrorist attack? That’s when I found out it was a terrorist attack. Now, here’s the kicker. All right. They didn’t let the aliens leave until they filled it up. Now, that was once Virginia was in there. I thought they were gonna leave. They weren’t they weren’t leaving they had they put like six or seven people into the ambulance, because they were expecting a huge amount of casualties. When the ambulance was ready to roll. I said, you know, all right, Virginia, your mom’s gonna make sure that she goes our you’re coming with us. Oh, and I’ll be honest with you, I didn’t want to go, I didn’t want to leave the scene. I’m still looking for friends and co workers. I’m looking to help. You know, I didn’t really want to go. She turned to the ambulance driver. She says we’re not leaving was he comes with us. Okay. So he looked at me, I looked at him and he goes, happened to the front. I get into the front of that ambulance, and we pulled away. We were one of only a few ambulances that actually got away from the scene that day.


Is that because they were all blocked in


from because then because the buildings collapsed? They did


didn’t say, yeah, oh, you got away


before the buildings collapsed, you know? Oh, thanks, me. She thanked me every single day for saving her life. And I say to her, you got it all wrong. Who saved whose life if she wouldn’t have insisted that I get into that ambulance, I would have been standing at the base of that building when it came down and I’d be dead, there’s no doubt in my mind. Wow, she insisted. And that’s why I’m here today to tell your story.


Trish: That’s just, I just need to pause and it’s just incredible. Just just incredible. Because all we you know, we could only see what the news footage was showing. And it was the middle of the night here. So we didn’t really, you know, we kind of didn’t really know what was going on. until well into it. And my goodness, just the serendipity of it the distance without doubt. And I, I believe that you’re there’s something about being focused on helping someone else that takes the brain away from worrying about self, there’s a bit of self preservation in it. But when you’re about helping someone else, there’s less focus on your own trauma, which I think can be a good thing, because it helps you to think clearly and to function. Whereas when you’re on your own, it’s a bit harder, I think, to just think about yourself,


Ari: I agree with you. 100% you know, when you’re by yourself, then you know, you’ve got all kinds of deaths creeping into your mind, but when you’re responsible for another human being, alright, you better you better be there. You gotta be there 100% You know, and the reality is, the reality is Trish that you know, I am, I was just a normal guy, right doing normal things, alright. But I happen to be put in a situation where nobody was stepping up. There was no leadership. There was no leader there was no nobody take charge nothing and I went like you know what we You got to do something and nobody else is doing it. So I did it, you know, not that I’m such a great guy or, or this hero or anything else, because I know I really, I’m not a hero, I just did something, you know, what they say here was, you know, an ordinary person doing extraordinary things, not only God, it was extraordinary. But the reality is somebody needed to take charge, and nobody was doing it. So I did. That’s all. That’s all there is to it.


I, you know, the human spirit is such an incredible thing. And it’s, you, you step up when you’re the person who has to step up. And it reminds me a little of, you know, when I first moved out of home, I used to rely on my parents to do things like set the mouse traps, and you know, like, they were the ones taking care of me. And then I moved in with a girlfriend who had a little child. And suddenly, I was the one setting the mousetraps, and figuratively Oh, actually, and in real life, but it’s like, you’re in a situation where you you’re the one who just has to has to do it. And, and that tells me that every person has it in them to step up, and we can fall into these roles of I need looking after. Or we can be the one will, we’ve got to make the best of it. You know what now? You know? I mean, I don’t know how I would have reacted in the situation, I’d like to think I would be heroic. I don’t know. You know, I’ve been in different situations where I’ve had to, you know, forgive like that lady that, that. I love the irony of it that this is someone that you didn’t get along with didn’t like had given you a hard time. And she’s the very one


that you might help with. I love


that. And well, I haven’t been


approved. You know, they say, all right. Truth is stranger than fiction.


It is. And there’s always like a divine interference there like, right. You know,


if you would write this if you would write my story as a script, people would go. That’s yeah, that’s so far fetched. But it wasn’t. You been listening to whispers and bricks and I’m your host Iris Schoenbrunn. Stay tuned for part two of this amazing interview coming soon. Until next time, listen to the whispers avoid the bricks and never give up on your dreams. Bye for now.