Four months on, the victim who wouldn't die reclaims her life

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The Independent US

A woman who suffered severe burns over most of her body when two hijacked airliners slammed into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre on 11 September was released from hospital yesterday after four months of treatment.

"I want to get back to who I was," Elaine Duch, 49, told reporters at the Weill Cornell hospital in New York City.

Her cheeks and chin were still swathed in bandages and her face glistened under a coating of protective ointment. A fire department baseball cap sat a little awkwardly on her head. But, once or twice, she smiled.

"I thank God that I'm here today," said Ms Duch, explaining that she had been 88 floors up in the south tower. "Because when I got hurt on 88, I said, 'God save me' and he did."

Ms Duch, an administrative assistant with the New York Port Authority's real estate department, was the 11th burn victim from the terror attack to be discharged from hospital. So few are the survivors from the uppermost floors of the towers that New York stops to celebrate the story of anyone who comes through.

Among those with Ms Duch yesterday was Paul Adams, an emergency medical technician. He was among a small group that rescued Ms Duch and took her down to ground level before the tower collapsed. She told how they managed to take an elevator down to the 44th floor and walked the rest of the way down to street level.

So serious were her injuries – burns covered 77 per cent of her body – that she was given the last rites by a priest before being taken to hospital. "She is a big inspiration," Mr Adams said. "Elaine is definitely special – one in a million."

Ms Duch said that one of the things she wanted to do was to take a trip to Atlantic City, the gambling centre on the New Jersey coast. "Paul's going to take me," she declared.

She could not recall exactly what happened on the 88th floor, other than that she was in a hallway near her office when "all of a sudden" she saw fire. It was only a month ago that she began to understand what had occurred on that Tuesday, she said, adding: "I can't believe the towers are gone."

Dr Palmer Bessy, of the hospital's burn centre, said: "This is a far happier, more beautiful Tuesday in New York than the first Tuesday when we met Ms Duch. She was critically ill on the ventilator and many other forms of life support, she had burns over 77 per cent of her body, and she also had a severe injury of her lungs."

Some experts have said that fireballs of burning jet fuel in the twin towers reached at least 1,000F (538C), enough to incinerate a human body almost instantly. "I don't know if I was on fire," Ms Duch said. "I didn't want to die."