NEW YORK — A window washer who was left dangling from a tilting World Trade Center scaffold said that he would go back tomorrow if asked, but his co-worker said he would prefer a more earthbound assignment.
“This job’s given me everything for my family, everything for me,” Juan Lizama said when asked if he would go back to washing windows at the nation’s tallest skyscraper after being stuck there on Nov. 12. “That’s why I say God bless America. I’m very happy to be here.”
Lizama’s co-worker Juan Lopez noted that not every window washer has to work hundreds of feet in the air. “Ground-floor jobs. … I will probably do that,” Lopez said.
The scaffold carrying Lizama and Lopez plunged into an almost vertical position outside the 104-floor tower when a cable suddenly loosened.
Firefighters used diamond cutters to saw through a double-layered window and pull the men to safety after more than an hour. Lizama and Lopez were examined at a hospital and released.
The dramatic rescue came a little more than a week after the building officially opened. Both men said they panicked at first but knew they would be safe once they saw firefighters.
“At the moment that we realized one side was tilting and the other one wasn’t, once the panic came in, my instinct was survival,” Lopez said. “First instinct: emergency stop. That didn’t work. For whatever reason.”
He added, “We knew everything and everybody was safe around us, beneath us. Once I saw the fire department and the New York police inside, it was just a matter of time.”
Lizama said he panicked a little when the scaffold started tilting 68 stories up, but “we were always in control of the situation.” Lizama said he used his cellphone to call his wife and tell her he was fine.
Lizama, 41, and Lopez, 33, spoke in both English and Spanish at the news conference at the offices of their union, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union.
They stressed the importance of their safety training. “I know, this job, safety No. 1,” the El Salvador-born Lizama said. “One mistake, no estoy here.”
Asked if he looked down, Lopez said he couldn’t help it because of the angle, adding, “I’m used to that view.” Union officials deflected questions about the cause of the accident, which is under investigation.
John McDermott, head of the contractor that employs Lizama and Lopez, Upgrade Services LLC, said that by following safety protocols the men protected everyone on the ground as well as themselves.
“Not a single item fell off of that rig,” McDermott said. “All of the men’s equipment is tethered to that rig to ensure that nothing can fall and injure somebody below.