On a sunny September morning in New York 20 years ago, Phil Penman was about to relax. It was the photographer’s first day off in a long time after spending months working nonstop.
Joanne Capestro, meanwhile, was getting ready for another day of work in the city. Even though she wasn’t feeling well that day, she still decided to go to work. “On the morning of September 11, I woke up, I wasn’t feeling well. I thought about whether or not I should go to the office. I said, ‘You know what, let me in’,” a recounted Capestro on TODAY with Hoda & Jenna on Friday.
Capestro, then 39, worked at the World Trade Center on the 87th floor of the North Tower. She was there that fateful morning when American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into her office building at 8:46 a.m. between floors 93 and 99.
“I was standing by my desk and boom, the plane hit,” Capestro recalls.
Shortly thereafter, Penman, then 24, received a phone call.
“The phone rings, I think there’s no way I’m working again today. It just went on voicemail,” Penman said TODAY. He didn’t pick up, but he checked the message anyway. It was then that he learned that a plane had struck one of the Twin Towers.
Penman abandoned his plans and rushed downtown. Once there, he started to capture what was going on.
“I’m looking at the tower and taking these photos,” Penman said. “Then all of a sudden you hear that rumble and the building crumbles as I shoot.”
At 9:03 a.m., United Airlines Flight 175 crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center.
“Our building shook. At that point, I really felt like someone jumped inside me and said ‘Jo, Jo, you have to go’,” Capestro said about of his decision to descend 87 floors.
But the situation worsened once she got out of the North Tower.
“I wasn’t even outside the 30 seconds and the construction of tower two started to fall on me,” she said before reuniting with a colleague, who had also managed to leave. “My girlfriend was screaming ‘Joey, Joey’ and I turned around and I saw her and I was like ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do now?'”
Penman was nearby and captured Capestro and his colleague, Dominique Davis, as they escaped from the World Trade Center.
“All of a sudden, you just start to see the emergence of people coming your way,” Penman said.
The photo taken by Penman of Capestro and Davis was one of many taken on that fateful day. Years later, Penman’s photos were shown at the National 9/11 Memorial and Museum in a 2015 exhibit. It was the museum’s curator who recognized Capestro and put her in touch with Penman.
A close friendship blossomed after their first meeting. Capestro even thanks the photographer for helping her heal from the traumatic consequences of September 11.
“I felt really different from that point on and it took me many years to heal,” Capestro said. “Post-traumatic stress disorder is not easy. Living with the guilt of a survivor has not been easy. But I have to say that when I took the turn, I owe it a lot to Phil Penman. “
For Capestro, Penman’s photo meant a lot. “I tell him all the time, ‘I love you, Phil, you know, you gave me my life back.’ Just in a single image. ‘
“No one could understand that because they weren’t there. But when they see this picture, they say, ‘Well, now I know what she went through.’ The photo tells us a thousand words, ”Capestro explained.
“For me, looking at the footage over the last 20 years has kind of helped me deal with this better,” Penman said. “You start to reevaluate everything in life, which is important to you.”
Capestro added, “I love that I can call someone who’s been through what I’ve been through, and he understands, and he’s always there for me. Phil is someone I’ll be friends with for the better. rest of my life. “
Since reconnecting, Capestro and Penman have stayed in touch, talking on the phone and meeting often.
“After many years, I decided, ‘I want to get married.’ So I said, ‘Hmm, I know who’s going to film my wedding.’ “Capestro said. “So Phil filmed me the worst day of my life. And the best day of my life.”
“Not many people have gone through what we have gone through and survived. And it is a link. It is a link that cannot be broken,” she added. Penman agreed with Capestro on the bond and friendship that developed between them.
“That’s the only good thing that came out of it, I think for me… developing that bond. Friends,” Penman said.
Capestro’s story is featured in the new documentary “Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11”, a NBC News Studios and Yard 44 co-production. “Memory Box: Echoes of 9/11” airs on MSNBC Saturday and Sunday. at 10 p.m. ET and will be available to stream exclusively on Peacock. MSNBC and Peacock are part of our parent company, NBCUniversal.