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Terrorist attack survivor is living life to the fullest

'I'll never forget that helpless feeling'

By Loni Ingraham, lingraham@patuxent.com

11:31 AM EDT, September 11, 2011

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He doesn't dream about it, never did dream about it.

He's been blessed that way, said Cockeysville resident Steve Peck, a 50-year-old executive with the global software corporation SAP who travels extensively in the United States and Europe for his job.

On Aug. 31 of this year, Peck was at Ground Zero in New York, admiring the 9/11 tribute center.

But nine years, 11 months and 354 days before that, he was an executive with another firm, Adaytum, and was in a conference room on the 63rd floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center, gripping the arms of his chair for dear life.

The jolt from what he would later learn came from a plane hitting the building was "incredibly violent," he said.

"My first assumption for 15 seconds was the tower was going to go down," he said. "I'll never forget that helpless feeling."

When the building didn't collapse, everybody dashed from the room and headed for the closest stairwell — thanks to those who knew where it was.

He will never enter an unfamiliar building again without locating the emergency exits, Peck said.

It took him and his team just five minutes to get to the 37th floor, and then 35 more minutes to get down to ground level because of sharing the stairwell with police and firefighters laden with gear and heading in the opposite direction — up the stairs.

People were scared and sobbing, but nobody thought the building would collapse, he said. He took a moment to use his cell phone to leave a message for his wife, Tricia.

He and a colleague ran 10 blocks before the second tower imploded.

It took him a taxi, a train and a seven-hour drive in a rented car through the back roads of Pennsylvania to get home to Baltimore County.

He never looked back, and he didn't allow himself to weep until he saw the Padonia Road exit sign on Interstate 83, and knew his wife and their 3-year-old daughter, Morgan, and their 17-month-old son, Noah, would be waiting in the driveway.

"I was lucky to get out, and to be around to see my children grow," he said last Wednesday. "But my heart goes out to the nearly 3,000 people whose lives were cut short, and to their loved ones."

Among the dead were 343 firefighters and 75 police officers.

"I have such a deep respect for firefighters and for everybody trying to keep this country safe," Peck said. "The anniversary reminds us of not just what they did during 9/11 but what they do every day."

He and his family always spend the anniversary together, he said.

"My mom grew up in Austria during World War II and had to leave her home. She taught us to always appreciate what you have when you have it, because it could be taken away in a minute."

People so often postpone things because they assume they have time, "but you never know when your number is going to be up.

"Why not do it today? Make up after an argument, open up that bottle of wine you've been saving, go see the friends and relatives you usually only catch at weddings and funerals.

"We do that a lot now."

He has no hesitation about boarding a plane, he said.

"The biggest obligation any of us have is to live our lives to the fullest," he said. "If we let the terrorists impact what we do and make us fearful, they win."