John McLoughlin: The Survivor

Four-year-old Erin looks up at her father, 49-year-old Port Authority Police Sgt. John McLoughlin at Helen Hayes Hospital in NY
where the officer was being released after major rehabilitation therapy for injuries sustained when he was buried for 22 hours under
debris at the World Trade Center.

By Georgina Brennan, Contributor
April / May 2002

The primary jurisdiction of the Port Authority police lies within a 25-mile radius of the Statue of Liberty. The PAPD is responsible for law enforcement, firefighting and rescue operations coveting the airports, ports, bridges and runnels in both New York and New Jersey. They also provided security for the World Trade Center, which housed the Port Authority’s executive offices and a police station. On September 11, the PAPD suffered tremendous losses — 37 died.

Sergeant John McLoughlin, 49, a 22-year veteran of the PAPD, was one of the last survivors. He was pulled from the rubble after being buried for 22 hours. He sustained severe injuries and was in critical condition, but he was alive.

Assigned to the Port Authority bus terminal on September 11, McLoughlin was sent to the rescue and recovery effort when the first plane hit.

Speaking to Irish America from his home several days after being released from a three-month stay in hospital, he recounts what happened.

“We were on the concourse getting emergency equipment to start recovery in the towers. We were between both towers when debris started to fall. We didn’t know the building was coming down. Three of us ran down by the freight elevator hallway to get away.”

The freight elevator trapped McLoughlin and two other officers. Then Tower One came down. One of the officers with McLoughlin was killed.

McLoughlin was pinned from the hips down. “I had a pretty big slab of concrete trapping me,” he offers.

During his ordeal, McLoughlin never lost hope. The debris that had fallen on him was causing him great pain. “It was hard to concentrate on anything other than the pain, it was so severe,” he says. “But, I thought about my family. I had to get out for them.”

He could talk to his buffed colleague, Officer William Jimeno, and eventually their cries were heard. Both were saved, but it took rescue crews eight hours to pull McLoughlin free. He was buried more than 30 feet below the rescue workers. Both his legs were crushed and he had compartment syndrome where the chemicals inside the body began to destroy the tissues in his upper body. “They didn’t know if I would make it the first night. I had to have skin grafts on three-quarters of my body. I had no feeling in my feet or ankles,” he says, pain resounding in his voice.

Still, McLoughlin has a powerfully strong spirit. “I can stand. I can walk some. But I am still confined to a wheelchair. They do expect I will get some feeling back.”

In therapy five days a week, McLoughlin endures arduous workouts to strengthen his muscles. “My leg muscles were so messed up that it takes every bit of strength I have just to stand,” he says, admitting that it is difficult. “I push myself as hard as I can. It is a hard workout but it is good; being sore I know that my body is restoring itself again.”

Despite his arduous straggle, McLoughlin conveys a determined hope. “I am much stronger than I was. I just look at it as a matter of time,” he says adamantly.

McLoughlin’s strength comes from his family: His wife Donna and what he calls his “fine Irish children,” 15-year-old Steven, 11-year-old Caitlin, nine-year-old John, and four-year-old Erin.

“Without my family’s support I’d be in a worse mental state,” he admits. “Erin likes to play doctor,” he laughs, grateful to be alive. ♦

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