Death by embarrassment

There was an interesting documentary on Channel 4 last night called The Miracle Survivor.

It told the story of a 9/11 man, Pasquale Buzzelli, who was on the 22nd floor of the North Tower when it came crashing down on top of him.

Experts believe that he was saved through being cosseted and lifted at crucial moments by the hurricane force winds generated by the falling building.

Fair enough but what I found astonishing about the documentary was the lead up to the moment when Buzzelli found himself facing almost certain death.

He and his colleagues had just arrived for work on the 64th floor when the first plane hit their tower above their location.

Buzzelli and his colleagues decided not to immediately evacuate because as employees of the owners of the building they thought it right that everybody else should be allowed to flee first.

Instead Buzzelli phoned his wife, who was seven months pregnant with their first child, and asked her to switch on the television and tell him what was happening.

Obviously she was deeply shocked and screamed at him – What are you still doing there?

Buzzelli assured her that he was ok and that all was calm on his floor.

So he and the lads hung around for a while until the second plane hit the South Tower.

Still they didn’t evacuate even though most people in the North Tower were safely out of the building.

Again, Buzzelli rang his wife to reassure her that he was ok and returned to hanging out with the lads while the building burned.

Eventually, he took one of his colleagues aside and asked:

What do you think we should do?

Finally, common sense made an appearance.

I want to get the fuck out of here.

Sadly, only Buzzelli made it, all his colleagues paid the ultimate price for their indecision.

I don’t believe these men put themselves in mortal danger because they thought they might clog up the emergency stairs and thus prevent other getting out.

I think it was a psychological mix of embarrassment and male machismo that overrode their critical flight or fight mechanism.

I saw this phenomenon in a documentary some years ago when a group of people, who thought they were in a room waiting for interview, were actually part of a scientific test to observe their reaction to potential danger.

Smoke, in ever increasing volumes, was pumped under the door of the waiting room. Nobody moved, they all continued looking at the ceiling, picking their noses or reading ten-year old magazines.

The fire alarm sounded and still nobody moved; they were all waiting for somebody else to make the first move.

In effect, they were all prepared to put themselves in potentially mortal danger rather than risk embarrassment.

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