NEW YORK >> Two window washers who were left dangling from a tilting World Trade Center scaffold said Friday that they knew they would be safe once they saw firefighters.
“In the beginning it was panic,” said Juan Lopez, who was trapped in the malfunctioning scaffold with Juan Lizama for more than an hour Wednesday.
But Lopez said he then focused on his safety training.
“We knew everything and everybody was safe around us, beneath us,” he said Friday at a news conference. “Once I saw the fire department and the New York police inside, it was just a matter of time.”
Lizama said he panicked a little when the scaffold started tilting 68 stories up the nation’s tallest skyscraper, but “we were always in control of the situation.” Lizama said he used his cellphone to call his wife and tell her he was fine.
On Wednesday, their scaffold plunged into an almost vertical position outside the 104-floor tower when a cable suddenly loosened. Firefighters used diamond cutters to saw through a double-layered window and pull the men to safety. Lizama and Lopez were examined at a hospital and released.
The dramatic rescue came a little more than a week after the building officially opened.
Lizama, 41, said that despite his ordeal he would go back to 1 World Trade Center tomorrow if asked.
“This job’s given me everything for my family, everything for me. That’s why I say God bless America,” he said. “I’m very happy to be here.”
Lopez, 33, said he might prefer an earthbound assignment.
“There’s other options for window washers,” he said. “Ground-floor jobs. … I will probably do that.”
Lizama and Lopez spoke in both English and Spanish at the news conference at the offices of their union, Local 32BJ of the Service Employees International Union.
They stressed the importance of their safety training.
“I know, this job, safety No. 1,” the El Salvador-born Lizama said. “One mistake, no estoy here.”
Officials haven’t determined what caused the cable problem.
Union officials deflected questions about the cause of the accident, which is under investigation.
John McDermott, head of the contractor that employs Lizama and Lopez, Upgrade Services LLC, said that by following safety protocols the men protected everyone on the ground as well as themselves.
“Not a single item fell off of that rig,” McDermott said. “All of the men’s equipment is tethered to that rig to ensure that nothing can fall and injure somebody below.”