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Forgotten Heroes: Blind Man, Dog Raised In Santa Barbara Team Up To Lead Others Out Of World Trade Center Tower On 9/11

Michael Hingson
Michael Hingson and his guide dog, Roselle made it down 78 stories from the burning World Trade Center's North Tower on 9/11.

Duo walked down 78 floors in the North Tower, getting themselves and others to safety.

It started off like a normal day at the office for electronics executive Michael Hingson. But, it wasn't. It was September 11, 2001.

Hingson was in his office on the 78th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower working on a sales presentation with his business partner, David Frank.

"We heard kind of a muffled thud," said Hingson. "Kind of an explosion for us, but not very loud, and then the building tipped."

But, Hingson remained calm, even though his situation was more precarious than others on the 78th floor. Hingson has been blind since birth. When he first rented offices for his company about two years earlier, he took the time to learn escape routes, and the stair system backwards and forwards.

And, he had help, in the form of his guide dog, Roselle. Roselle came from of all places, Santa Barbara.

"When we moved to Santa Barbara, my wife was interested in raising service dogs." said Ted Stern. "We contacted Guide Dogs for the Blind, and it turned out they had this lovely yellow lab they wanted to have raised."

He and his wife Kay gave Roselle her initial training.

"She was the sweetest, most rambunctious puppy," said Kay Stern. "We were always hoping she would be a guide dog."

Roselle made it through the guide dog program, and on the morning of September 11, was asleep under Michael Hingson’s desk when the plane hit the World Trade Center’s North Tower.

Hingson says Roselle was calm as they rounded up the people in their office, and started heading down the 78 flights of stairs.

He says he worked hard to reassure his guide dog as the stair well became more and more congested.

They passed a number of firefighters going up, many of whom would die in the building’s collapse. Finally, they made it out of the building.

But, a few minutes later, as they were trying to leave the scene, they were caught in the huge dust, and debris clouds from the collapse of the towers.

Hingson and his guide dog Roselle made it through the traumatic experience. He was worried about how the dog might be affected by the experience, but got his answer as soon as he got home. She immediately got one of her favorite toys, and started playing with the family's other dog.

Sadly, Roselle developed a respiratory problem in 2004, and had to be retired. Hingson believes it was from toxic dust from the Trade Center collapse. She died in 2011.

The Sterns say they are proud of how Michael and Roselle, the dog they helped raise, worked together to not only save themselves, but to help guide others out of the World Trade Center.

Hingson wrote a book about the 9/11 experience called “Thunder Dog: The True Story Of A Blind Man, His Guide Dog, and the Triumph of Trust.”
He says as we commemorate the 20th anniversary on 9/11, he hopes America can recapture some of that spirit, and togetherness we had in the days and weeks following the attacks.

Lance Orozco has been News Director of KCLU since 2001, providing award-winning coverage of some of the biggest news events in the region, including the Thomas and Woolsey brush fires, the deadly Montecito debris flow, the Borderline Bar and Grill attack, and Ronald Reagan's funeral.