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Subway Operator Recalls 9/11 Cortlandt Street Stop Rescue

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Hector Ramirez, a subway train operator, defied orders on September 11th and rescued many stranded New Yorkers at the Cortlandt Street stop in what he calls the quickest boarding in history. NY1’s Tina Redwine filed the following report.

Hector Ramirez was operating the last R train into Manhattan a decade ago after the towers were hit on September 11th. As he neared the Cortlandt Street stop, he saw smoke filling the station.

"This smelled different and it was like nothing I had ever smelled before," says Ramirez.

He says all operators were told to bypass the station. As he reached the platform, he tapped his horn signaling he would not stop.

"There was a woman. My eyes locked on her eyes for a brief second. She had a piece of cloth. You couldn't see her mouth, nose or expression, but I could see her eyes and it was pure fear. Never seen that kind of fear, ever," says Ramirez.

That's when Ramirez, who now directs two programs for the union, defied orders.

"There was no way I was going to leave those people there. I'd deal with consequences later," says Ramirez.

Ramirez said it was the quickest boarding in history.

"It was like a vacuum. Everybody got sucked into the train. They didn't care where I was going," says Ramirez. "I could hear some people in my car sobbing."

Ramirez, a second-generation transit worker, wanted to stop the train to call his wife, who was possibly at the World Trade Center, but he stayed behind the wheel.

It wasn't until hours later that he found out she was safe.

"When I couldn't be there for my wife, there were other transit workers who got her out of harm's way and home, and I don't know how to thank them for that,” says Ramirez.

Ramirez says there was also some good to come out of that evil day.

"After 9/11, people regained their humanity. They'd acknowledge each other, say good morning to strangers. They'd hold doors for each other,” says Ramirez.

On this anniversary, Ramirez wishes New Yorkers would open their hearts to acting that way again.

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