Fifteen years after the deadliest terrorist attack on U.S. soil, Stanley Praimnath still remembers the event as if it happened yesterday. While the Sept. 11, 2001, hijacking and subsequent crashes of four commercial jets are seared in the memories of Americans, Praimnath had a graphic up-close view.
As he sat at his 81st floor desk in the south tower of the World Trade Center, the bottom wing of United Airlines Flight 175 plunged through a doorway, only 20 feet from his office space as assistant vice president of loan operations at Fuji Bank Ltd. In the ensuing minutes, Praimnath wended his way through the rubble, down the smoked-filled stairs, reaching the outdoors moments before the building collapsed.
By escaping the likelihood of being crushed by falling concrete, electrocuted, or incinerated, Praimnath became the most notable Assemblies of God constituent to survive the Sept. 11 plot by radical Muslim extremists.
Praimnath continues to work full-time in midtown Manhattan, for the past 13 years as loan administrator for another Japanese firm, Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corp. He still speaks regularly at churches, colleges, and other venues around the nation.
“I have never stopped thinking about that day in all these years,” Praimnath says. “There is one image that I can never shake and it still haunts me.”
Praimnath escaped his trapped office with help from Brian Clark, who worked at a brokerage firm on the 84th floor. Arm in arm, the two men descended 1,620 steps. Around the 46th floor, they encountered a man with a broken back, lying in a pool of blood. A security guard stayed with the man and urged Praimnath and Clark to send help once they reached outside. Praimnath told the guard the building would blow up, but the guard responded that steel wouldn’t burn.
The unidentified wounded man told Praimnath to tell his wife and baby that he loved them.
“I hear that cry every night before I go to sleep, and the image is vivid in my mind,” Praimnath says. “I could not help that man. The security guard could have chosen to escape, but he stayed with that man. They both perished.”
Of course at the time Praimnath’s wife, Jennifer, thought her husband had died in the tragedy as well. She worked in the New York Stock Exchange legal department, and heard co-workers shouting as they saw the disintegration of the south tower, where Stanley worked.
“I thought there’s no way he could make it out,” recalls Jennifer, now an administrative assistant at New York Life. “How could he get down all those stairs? No way in my wildest imagination did I think he would be alive.”
Initially numbed by the news, Jennifer says a peace came over her that everything would be all right. Later that day, a bruised, cut, and swollen Stanley, his tattered clothes covered with dust, arrived home safely.
Praimnath has repeated the account of God’s protection hundreds of times. His testimony has a twin purpose of evangelizing the unsaved and providing comfort to the afflicted.
“I honestly feel with all my fiber and being that I have a job to do, a task to perform, that has not ended yet,” Praimnath says. “Everybody needs to hear that good story of grace, unmerited love, and deliverance, and I am that person who can say it like nobody else because I lived through the destruction.”
When the jetliners hijacked by Islamic terrorists struck the Twin Towers, Praimnath served as a deacon and Sunday School superintendent at Bethel Assembly of God in South Ozone Park in Queens, New York. Today, he is associate pastor at the ethnically Guyanese church, pioneered by his father-in-law, Jim Persram.
Praimnath obtained Assemblies of God ministerial credentials in an effort to be more qualified to share his story in pulpits across the land. He never asks to go anywhere; churches have extended all invitations.
As a survivor, Praimnath had free sessions of counseling available to him from a company medical plan, but he went to only three. After he told his tale of escape to the counselor at the first session she wound up in tears, and he had to comfort her. Praimnath says the Lord healed him of the trauma he experienced.
“My job is to bring comfort to souls in distress,” Praimnath says.
With much gusto and joy in the Lord, Praimnath offers solace to the troubled. Despite a full-time financial industry job, a part-time pastoral position, and a weekend traveling schedule, the 59-year-old Praimnath seems to have boundless vigor.
“He has a lot of energy,” Jennifer says. “He encourages people to get traumatic stories off their chest. It’s healing for them, and it’s his way of healing, too.”
Praimnath maintains a friendship with Clark. When Praimnath’s daughter Stephanie wed Ryan Teekasingh in July, Clark attended the wedding. Praimnath introduced Clark at the reception as the man who saved his life. The Praimnaths’ younger daughter Caitlin is about to start her second year at Hunter College in New York.
On Sunday, the 15th anniversary of the assault, Praimnath naturally will be speaking at an Assemblies of God church, Calvary Christian Center in Yuba City, California.