Michael Hingson felt a sense of calmness as he walked floor by floor — exiting the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001.
Hingson has been blind since birth and he, with his former guide dog, Roselle, had to work as a team to find their way to safety.
Hingson, the author of “Thunder Dog: The True Story of a Blind Man, His Guide Dog and the Triumph of Trust,” recently shared his story at Saint Leo University.
He was accompanied by his current guide dog, Alamo.
During his talk, Hingson detailed what happened on Sept. 11, 2001, but also shared experiences from throughout his life that gave him the instincts to survive that devastating day.
On 9/11, Hingson said he and his business partner, David Frank, were working for the Artecon corporation on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower.
As they prepared for an important presentation, Hingson said, “suddenly we heard a muffled explosion, the building shook.
“Then it began to tip. We moved about 20 feet, I think,” he said.
Frank began shouting for everyone to leave the office, imploring Hingson to come along.
Hingson, and his guide dog, Roselle, evacuated with everyone.
Hingson remained calm and tried to assure Frank to do the same.
He said he was able to contain his emotions because he previously had developed a mindset that kicked in automatically.
Before the day of the attacks, he said: “I kept thinking almost every day I went in, ‘What if there’s an emergency today? What do I do?’
So, when he had to suddenly leave the building, he said, “I was prepared.”
As people descended the stairs, Hingson noticed a familiar smell – jet fuel.
He had not yet learned that a commercial airplane had slammed into the North Tower, just floors above his office.
The South Tower had already been hit by a second plane when Hingson and others exited from the North Tower.
He and his business partner were still in the vicinity when the South Tower began collapsing.
“As I started to run, the first thought I had in my brain was: ‘God I can’t believe that you got us out of a building just to have it fall on us.’
“I heard a voice that said, ‘Don’t worry about what you can’t control. Focus on running with Roselle and the rest will take care of its self.’”
With the assistance of his guide dog, Hingson found shelter in a subway station — where he found others who had gone underground to keep safe.
They were escorted out by a police officer and Hingson was later reunited with his wife, Karen.
Hingson told the audience that his ability to navigate through the world — even though he is blind — began when he was just a little boy.
“I was born two months premature and was put in an incubator,” Hingson said, explaining that a pure oxygen environment can cause blindness.
When he was four months old, his aunt noticed he wasn’t reacting to sunlight.
The doctor confirmed the baby was blind and said nothing could be done.
The doctor went on to tell Hingson’s parents that the infant wouldn’t amount to anything and should be placed in a special home.
But, his parents didn’t accept that prediction.
They believed their son could live a productive and successful life.
Their attitude was: “Blindness isn’t going to be the problem,” Hingson said, and that made all of the difference.
When he was 5, the family moved from Chicago to California.
He began to learn braille in kindergarten and his parents got him a braille writing machine.
They also gave him freedom to go outdoors, like his older brother, Ellery.
Even though Hingson was blind, he frequently walked to the candy store, and rode his bike on his own, he recalled.
“It wasn’t even scary for me,” he said. “What it did teach me though, was how to be aware of my surroundings.”
Neighbors, however, would express concern about his safety.
But, Hingson said he didn’t want to be treated differently from other kids.
The issue, Hingson said, is people’s misconception that “eyesight is the only game in town.”
When he was 14, he received his first guide dog – a golden retriever.
He developed an interest for electronics and magnetism, which led to a master’s degree in physics, at the University of California-Irvine.
During his career, he sold machines that could read print to the blind.
He also sold data entry machines to companies, lawyers and banks, too.
He joined The National Federation of the Blind, advocating for civil rights.
And, he married.
While working for the Artecon corporation, Hingson was transferred to New York where he opened up another branch.
That is why he was working in the North Tower of the Twin Towers on Sept. 11, 2001, when it was struck by a commercial airliner that had been hijacked by terrorists.
The 9/11 terror attack involved a total of four commercial airliners. Two were crashed into the Twin Towers, another was crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth never reached its intended target because it was forced down by its crew and passengers in a field outside of Shanksville, Pennsylvania.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks caused a total of 2,977 fatalities.
But, Hingson and his guide dog, Roselle, made it out.
Hingson appreciates the teamwork between him and Roselle that led to their survival. He thinks so highly of Roselle, who has since died, that he dedicated his book to the dog.
“When I work with a guide dog, it’s all about creating a team. It’s all about all of us working together to accomplish a task,” said Hingson, who travels across the country, to share his experiences.
While he appreciates the bond that he has shared with his guide dogs, Hingson reminded the crowd that people can experience special bonds, too.
“We each have to show each other how we add value to what the other does,” Hingson said.
Published March 4, 2020