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CNN Live Event/Special

Interview With David Lim

Aired September 11, 2002 - 12:58   ET


AARON BROWN, CNN ANCHOR: Our next hero story, and it is -- a good one, I think about Port Authority officers, one who got out and one who did not. Partners, I think, we can fairly say we are about as close as partners could get, but there is, in fact, a punchline to the introduction.
David Lim worked with a bomb sniffing dog named Sirius. David joins us this morning -- or this afternoon, we should say from near ground zero -- David, it is good to see you, and does this year -- not only lost your partner in the dog, but Port Authority took terrible hit as well -- does the year marker mean anything in particular to you?

DAVID LIM, OFFICER, PORT AUTHORITY: Oh, I don't know, I need to say that it means a lot to me. This year has gone by so quickly. And I have said this to many of my coworkers today, it seems like it just happened yesterday. With the exception of the wind today, it was a beautiful day like today, and all we can do is just think about all of our lost comrades that day, 37 Port Authority police officers didn't come home that night, as well as my dog, and it's something we are never going to forget.

BROWN: I -- you actually have extraordinary story of survival to tell, but I don't want to get to it until we have talked about the dog for a second. As I remember your story, you heard this -- this crashing noise, and you said to Sirius, I'll be back, stay where you are. Is that about how it went?

LIM: Well at first, I thought that somebody had gotten a package upstairs. Our job is to check the trucks as they come into the World Trade Center, and I thought maybe something had slipped by. I should never have doubted my dog, of course, but basically I told him I had to go help the people, and I put him in his kennel, and I closed the door, and the last time I saw him alive.

BROWN: And you then made your way through the building, and it is fair to say, I think, that you are a very lucky man to be talking to anybody today?

LIM: Almost certainly. I'm very fortunate. I ended up surviving in the fourth floor of the B staircase in tower number one for about five hours before we got out, myself, Ladder Company 6 (ph) and Josephine Harris (ph).

BROWN: I remember somewhere reading that at some period in this it is -- it is if the whole world went silent, that there was this kind of absolute stillness around you. LIM: Yes. After the collapse was an eerie sort of silence. At first I thought that I was dead and this was what death was because there was not a sound and I couldn't see anything. And I just felt that this was the end. But then I heard a voice yell out whose here, and then I realized that I was still alive and I would still have that opportunity to see my wife and kids again who I had just thought about.

BROWN: And how long a -- how long a period is that from the time that you think this is in fact what death is to the time when you realized you were a little ahead of yourself?

LIM: That's one way of putting it. I guess it's hard to put into a timeframe. I -- you know time seems to work kind of funny when you're in a situation like that. It was probably no more than a few minutes, I guess, and that would be a guess.

BROWN: I'll bet it's a long few minutes.

You're back on the job. And I gather you're back in the same business you were in before, which is to keep what you gently referred to as packages out of the -- out of places they shouldn't be, bombs. You got a new partner?

LIM: Yes, I have a new partner now, Sprig (ph), and much sooner to the consternation of my wife, of course. Coming back after surviving and getting another bomb dog, you know, but she's a -- she's a wonderful woman, my wife, Diane (ph), my kids, Deborah (ph) and Michael (ph). They're great support, and they support anything that I -- that I do when it comes to this. I mean people ask me if I should have retired, since I have more than 20 years, but I feel that I will set my own retirement date. And when I'm ready, I'll retire on my own terms.

BROWN: David, be as honest with me as you can about this, do you feel any guilt for having survived?

LIM: I'll be honest, initially I did. I mean it's very hard to put into perspective the only 1 of maybe 18 people that survived the actual collapse of the Trade Center. I'm no special than anybody else. I did no more than anybody else. There were police and fire and civilians doing all kinds of good work that day. And I don't think I did any more or less than anybody else. So it was -- it was hard for me to deal with that fact. But I've come now to realize that I did survive and that I'm going to make the most of that. And maybe (UNINTELLIGIBLE) be a little bit closer to my family and friends and maybe not take life so seriously at all the time.

BROWN: That's a great way to put it.

On the subject of your friends, one of them is with you, a relatively new friend I know, William Rodriguez (ph). If Mr. Rodriguez (ph) is actually close enough, we've got a mike on him, just tell the story of how -- William, tell the story of how the two of you met. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, no, we knew each other for many years. We work at the -- I work at the building. I personally in charge of all the stairs, of all the maintenance of the stairs in the building. And I knew David for probably 15, 16 years.

And at that terrible day when I took people out of the office, one of them totally burned because he was standing in front of the freight elevator and the ball of fire came down the duct of the elevator itself, I put him on the ambulance. And I came back running into the building. And the only person that I found there was Officer David Lim. And the first thing that he told me was, Willie (ph), do you have the key. Meaning if I had the master key to the building, which I have and I still have. It's over here. This is the key that opened all the doors on the staircase. It's called a T2 (ph) key. And he said let's go.

And we went up, he opened the door on the lobby. We went on the basement, number one. And there when we opened the door, the fire department was there waiting in front of the 50 car elevator, which was already gone, because the airplane, when he came through the building, broke all the cables and practically destroyed the elevator because the elevator went down seven flights of floors. And, he said to the -- to the firemen, follow me, we know the best way to go up and we have the access key. So we started going up the stairs and opening all the doors.

We got to remember that the World Trade Center was a Class A building which had three doors that did not open and one that did open. And we have to go floor by floor and opening all the doors. We were in front of the fire department. We were at the vanguard of what was happening and David was -- I remember it was so difficult because he has so much equipment on that going up the stair, we were sweating bullets. It was so hard. And then the amount of people that was coming down the stairs were actually bumping against us. And we -- we were having a terrible time.

One person told us that there was a...

BROWN: Mr. Rodriguez (ph), did you ever think to yourself, what the heck am I doing running up these stairs when anyone in their right mind would be running down?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, not really, because in a moment of an emergency, we have been training a way that you have to do what it takes when it comes to an emergency. And I remembered seeing David personally going through the process of the exercises of (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because they brought people from the Port Authority to do bomb training with the -- with the dogs and stuff like that. And so I knew that that was the thing to do.

BROWN: Mr. Rodriguez (ph) and Officer Lim, it's terribly trite to say, but it's really nice to see you both. It's really nice to see you both. We hope -- we hope all of the wounds heal. Thank you both for your work and thank you for joining us on this important day.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Thank you. LIM: Thank you.

BROWN: Thank you.

PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Almost a reflective action on their part to say we just did what we were trained to do.


ZAHN: How many times have we heard that in the course of covering this story this past year?

BROWN: And I'm not sure, but I think I heard a technical term, we were sweating bullets. I think that's a technical term, well perhaps not.