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10 Famous People Who Avoided Death on 9/11

by Patrick Weidinger
fact checked by Alex Hanton

The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, in New York City, Washington DC, and Shanksville, Pennsylvania, need no introduction. Over 3,000 people lost their lives that day, either on one of the four hijacked planes or on the ground and in buildings. I recently wrote a Listverse list on “Ten People Who Did Not Board the Titanic”. Some comments on that list asked for a list of people who narrowly avoided death on September 11, 2001, just as those lucky few did not board the Titanic on her ill-fated maiden voyage in April 1912. I decided that would be an excellent follow-up list to the Titanic list and set out straight away to start research on writing it. I was amazed just how many stories there are of people who, for whatever reason, narrowly missed being at the World Trade Center buildings, at the Pentagon, or on one of those four flights. I was even more amazed to find stories relating to celebrities and famous people (some more famous than others) who were in the right place at the right time on September 11, 2001, and thus did not die in the attacks. Here are ten famous people who avoided death on September 11, 2001.

SEE ALSO: 10 Disturbing Raw Videos From 9/11


Larry Silverstein


Larry Silverstein, the wealthy property owner and developer who held the lease on the World Trade Center properties, was due to work that morning of September 11, 2001, in the temporary offices of his company, Silverstein Properties, on the 88th floor of the North Tower. But he had a problem; he had a dermatologist appointment that morning, too. According to Silverstein, his wife “laid down the law” and told him he could not miss the doctor’s appointment. Therefore, Silverstein was not at the World Trade Center when the planes hit. Two of Silverstein’s children, his son, Roger, and daughter, Lisa, would regularly attend meetings with important clients at Windows on the World. That morning, they too were running late and were not at Windows when the planes hit. All three Silverstein’s survived, leading conspiracy theorists to assume that they had advanced knowledge of the attacks and deliberately stayed away from the WTC buildings that day. Silverstein did lose four employees in the attack; two of them had just been hired.

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Michael Lomonaco

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Chef Michael Lomonaco had one of the best jobs in the world, as head chef for Windows on the World at the famous World Trade Center, located on the 106th and 107th floors of the building. On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, he was heading up to his office at Windows on the World at around 8:15 am, when he made a decision. He had an appointment to get his glasses repaired at noon at the Lens Crafters located in the lobby of World Trade Center Building 1 but decided to stop to see if he could get his glasses repaired earlier. This delay of about 30 minutes probably saved his life.

As he left to start going up to floors 106 and 107, he heard a rumble in the lobby. “It was a feeling like I’ve never felt before,” he remembers. “I couldn’t really hear anything, but this rumble was unusual. Later I would realize it was the impact of the first plane.” “When I got out a few minutes later, I could see that where Windows on the World was, there was a fire. The extent of it was hard to tell, but I immediately began to take stock of who was up there working.” He was heading toward the fire exits to see if he could help when he saw the second plane hit. “I saw it happen,” he says, incredulously. “It was really incredibly shocking, a moment I’ll never forget. I wasn’t watching TV, I was on the street. I was there.”


Gwyneth Paltrow

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Actress Gwyneth Paltrow did not, herself, narrowly survive being killed in the attacks of September 11, 2001. But a chance meeting between Paltrow and a total stranger, Lara Lundstrom Clarke, probably saved Clarke. Both had been exercising that morning, Paltrow taking in an early yoga class, Clarke rollerblading along the Hudson. While Clarke was crossing in the middle of a West Village street in New York, Paltrow was driving in her silver Mercedes SUV. Suddenly, Clarke looked over and realized who was in the SUV. Clarke and Paltrow each stopped, and the two of them exchanged greetings. This small delay made Clarke miss her train to the World Trade Center building 2, where she worked on the 77th floor. At the time, Clarke recalled being excited to tell her coworkers who she had just seen. She caught the next train and stepped off the platform just in time to see the first plane fly into Tower One. “If I had made that train I would have been at my desk on the 77th floor of 2 World Trade Center,” Clarke said.

Ten years later, Clarke contacted Paltrow to once again connect and discuss their chance encounter and what it meant to Clarke. Paltrow commented: “It still gives me chills,” she said. “I can’t quite believe how many other people changed the course of strangers’ lives that day.”


Patti Austin


Grammy award-winning singer Patti Austin was booked on United Flight 93 on September 11, 2001, from Boston to San Francisco. However, she had to change the flight to a day earlier because her mother had a stroke. Therefore, she was moved from performing the second night of the Michael Jackson Tribute Concert in New York City to the first night. “That’s what saved my life,” Austin recalls.

Had Austin boarded Flight 93, she would have died with all of the other passengers when they stormed the cockpit and tried to take back control of the plane from the hijackers. The plane crashed in a field near Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Austin later said: “I felt that my life had been saved for some specific reason.” “I have yet to figure that out, but I do a lot of charity work now, which I was doing before, but I do a lot more.”


Julie Stoffer

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In 2000, Julie Stoffer was a cast member on MTV’s reality television series The Real World: New Orleans, the ninth season of the series. She was the first Mormon featured on The Real World. Growing up a strict Mormon, she was not allowed to watch MTV and had to watch the show at a friend’s house. She decided to audition for the show in LA, along with 35,000 others. It just so happened that the show’s directors were looking for a “faithful Mormon” to cast, and they selected Stoffer.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Stoffer was booked on American Airlines Flight 11, from Boston to LA. But due to a fight with her boyfriend, Stoffer missed the flight. Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, killing everyone on board.


Michael Jackson

Eight years before the King of Pop passed away, the world nearly lost him in the 9/11 attacks. Michael Jackson was also one of the stars who could have died in the tragic incident—if it wasn’t for his mother. He was due to attend a meeting atop the World Trade Center but had overslept as he stayed up late talking to his mother, Katherine, and sister, Rebbie, the previous night. Jermaine Jackson revealed the details in his biography, titled You Are Not Alone: Michael: Through a Brother’s Eyes.

“Thankfully, none of us had had a clue that Michael was due at a meeting that morning at the top of one of the Twin Towers,” he wrote. “We only discovered this when Mother phoned his hotel to make sure he was okay. She, Rebbie [Jackson], and a few others had left him there around 3 am. ‘Mother, I’m okay, thanks to you. You kept me up talking so late that I overslept and missed my appointment,’” he told his mother.


Jim Pierce

(Photo by  Patrick Campbell/University of Colorado)

Jim Pierce was the managing director of New York City-based AON Corporations in September 2001. He also happened to be the cousin of President George H.W. Bush. On September 11, 2001, Pierce was scheduled to attend a business conference on the 105th floor of the South Tower. However, due to the size of the crowd wishing to attend the conference, the location was switched to the Millennium Hotel (across the street from the World Trade Center) and a bigger room.

In her book Reflections: Life After the White House, Barbara Bush recalled what happened: “I also learned later that my nephew Jim Pierce narrowly escaped injury or possible death. He was scheduled to attend a meeting on the 102nd floor of the South Tower, which was the second building hit. However, the night before, the meeting was moved to an adjacent building because the group had outgrown the conference room. Jim later learned that twelve people were in the room where he was supposed to be; eleven died.”


Mark Wahlberg

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Actor and former rapper Mark Wahlberg was born and raised near Boston, Massachusetts. He went on to star in such films as The Perfect Storm and Boogie Nights. On September 11, 2001, he and some friends were scheduled to fly on American Airlines Flight 11, from Boston to Los Angeles. At the last minute, they changed their plans and decided to charter a plane to Toronto, Canada, for a film festival. From Toronto, they flew on to Los Angeles. This near brush with death still haunts his dreams. Wahlberg recalled what might have been had he and his buddies been on that flight: “We certainly would have tried to do something to fight. I’ve had probably over 50 dreams about it.”

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Sarah Ferguson

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The Duchess of York, Sarah Ferguson, was in New York City on September 11, 2001. She was at the NBC studios being interviewed by Matt Lauer when the first plane hit. Lauer later recalled his director told him that a plane had just hit the WTC, and they would be cutting away from the interview with Ferguson. Ferguson’s charity, “Chances for Children,” was located on the 101st floor of 1 World Trade Center. She was scheduled to be in the building with the charity, but she was running late. None of the charity’s employees were trapped in the building, but nearly 700 employees of Cantor Fitzgerald, the financial firm providing free office space to the duchess’ charity, were killed in the aftermath of the attack.


Seth MacFarlane

Seth MacFarlane has made millions laugh as an animator, writer, producer, director, and voice of cartoons such as Family Guy, American Dad, and The Cleveland Show. However, if it had not been for a mix-up in his travel itinerary on September 11, 2001, MacFarlane would never have had the chance to create American Dad or The Cleveland Show.

On September 11, 2001, he was scheduled to return to Los Angeles on American Airlines Flight 11, after being a keynote speaker at his alma mater, the Rhode Island School of Design. Fortunately for MacFarlane, his travel agent told him his flight would leave Logan Airport at 8:15 am when it was actually scheduled to depart at 7:45 am. MacFarlane arrived at Boston Logan Airport a few minutes after boarding was stopped on his flight, and he was told he would have to wait for the next flight. An hour later, Flight 11 was flown into the North Tower of the World Trade Center, killing everyone on the plane. MacFarlane quickly contacted his parents after the plane hit the WTC to tell them he was not on it and was alive.

In an interview, MacFarlane recalled what happened with his usual sense of humor: “I was booked on that flight and I was drinking the night before and hungover and I missed the plane by about 10 minutes. It was a very close call for me.” He also jokingly stated, “alcohol is our friend. I think that’s the moral of that story.” He also said that he thanked God that his travel agent had screwed up the departure time, or he would have been on board, and he wouldn’t have known what to do when the terrorists took over the plane.

On February 10, 2011, MacFarlane announced he was directing his first feature-length film Ted. The film stars Mark Wahlberg, who also survived by missing Flight 11 on that fateful day.

fact checked by Alex Hanton