Escaping the Towers: Roanoke-native Josh Mattox recalls evacuating World Trade Center on 9/11

Remembering 9/11

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — On Sept. 11, 2001, Josh Mattox was in New York City, training with Morgan Stanley at the World Trade Center.

The Roanoke College graduate was on his way to becoming a financial advisor. It was only the second day of a three-week trip to the Big Apple when hijacked planes struck the Twin Towers.

Twenty years later, he sat down with WFXR News to reflect and remember.

“It was crystal clear. A crystal clear day,” Mattox said. “There was no humidity. It was an absolutely gorgeous fall day.”

And two decades later, the day is still as fresh as yesterday.

“It is hard to believe it’s been 20 years,” Mattox said.

Mattox still works for Morgan Stanley, based in his native-Roanoke, as a financial consultant. But on that dark day, he was just a 22-year-old in New York City and was in the South Tower of the World Trade Center.

“I was standing at a window looking out at the statue of Liberty,” Mattox said. “It was so clear. Standing there with 15 or 20 people looking at it like ‘Wow, look at that.’ How beautiful it is and just, we’re in New York. Really it was my very first time to look at the city and see it.”

Mattox was on the 61st floor of the South Tower at 8:46 a.m. when American Airlines Flight 11 hit the North Tower.

“We heard it. It was like a big boom and then we saw all this fire and pieces of paper and small debris were blowing up against our window and we thought, what is this? Nobody was panicked,” Mattox recalled. “It wasn’t about a minute later, Morgan Stanley security came in and said ‘evacuate’. That the head of Morgan Stanley security was that on top of things to evacuate that quickly, I think that saved so many lives. It’s just unbelievable.”

Making his way down the stairs, Mattox got to the 57th floor when United Airlines Flight 175 hit the South Tower at 9:03 a.m.

“They started making an announcement on the intercom system. And it said, ‘you’re in the south tower, it’s okay, go ahead and return back to your floor. No need to evacuate.’ And we’re like ‘What? This is odd. What’s going on?’,” Mattox said. “We had no time to think about it when the plane hit the building. And you felt it. Within 20 feet of me, one of those red construction beams just popped out of the wall. There was nothing. The ceiling started collapsing. You thought it was a bomb — is what we thought. It was like ‘oh no.'”

It took 45 minutes for Mattox to evacuate the South Tower. And it wasn’t until he got out that he realized planes had hit the World Trade Center.

“I decided — ok, I should get away from the building. There were hundreds of people around the building taking pictures. Looking at it. No one thought it was going to fall,” Mattox said.

Five minutes after making that decision, the South Tower collapsed.

“I firmly believe that getting that head start on getting through those people allowed me to get away from the building falling. So that was a key decision,” Mattox said.

Mattox escaped what became Ground Zero and eventually made it back to Virginia that night. But not before he found a payphone in the city.

“I waited my turn and called the office at Morgan Stanley because I knew somebody would be there and they could call my parents instead of trying to track down my parents and I’ll never forget when they answered,” Mattox said. “They said, ‘Morgan Stanley’ and I said ‘this is Josh.’ She goes, ‘it’s Josh, he made it!’ And I could hear the whole office scream. And to this day, I can’t tell that without getting goosebumps and I’ll never forget that. Their joy to know that I was alive.”

He’s gained a lot of perspective on that day as the years passed. Now with a wife and two kids, Mattox realizes how lucky he is to be able to tell his story, knowing how many did not make it home that day.

“The biggest thing to me that I don’t think I’ll ever ever get past is just thinking how many days in every year, how many minutes in every day, how many hours — how in the world did you have to be standing on that floor the one day that a plane was going to crash into the middle of it? Like what are the odds of that?” Mattox said.

“Like — you’ve got to be kidding me. Man I’m really glad it worked out. That’s just overwhelming. I can not wrap my head around it.”

Mattox said he had a light bulb moment realizing he’ll be telling this story for the rest of his life. But he doesn’t mind.

“The realization of that is, this is a piece of American history. You’re going to be telling this when you’re 80. 90, however long you live.”

You can watch the extended interview with Josh Mattox in the video below.

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