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9/11 20 Years Later: Survivors Gather For First Time To Share Painful Experiences, Memories

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Today, we hear from 9/11 survivors brought together for the first time to share their experiences.

The group is not only battling with memories of that fateful day, but also illnesses that followed.

Sitting side by side are very different people — a priest, an actress, a steel welder — strangers who share something significant; they each have an emotional 9/11 story.

"I think it's very important to keep the story alive," survivor Fred Eichler told CBS2's Jenna DeAngelis.

Eichler was on the 83rd floor of the North Tower.

He watched a plane fly into the building and was trapped.

"Debris was falling, fires were breaking out and about at 9:35, a fireman and a building worker happened to wander onto our floor and rescue us," Eichler said.

Complete Coverage9/11 Twenty Years Later

Father Paul Wierichs, who was an FBI chaplain on 9/11, got emotional sharing his memories.

"The face of God was in the firefighters. Many of those older firefighters knew they were gonna die, but they still ran in," he said.

Among those heroes was FDNY firefighter Michael Lynch. His son was only 3 years old.

"He was told to go to this elevator that had free fallen. People were burning alive in it, and he opened up the elevator and saved people," said Lynch's son.

His widow holds onto their last phone call that morning.

"I told him be careful and that I loved him so much," Denise Lynch said.

She, like many others, returned to Ground Zero in the days following.

"I cried and cried and just kept walking and hoping that they would find him," she said.

For weeks, actress Christina Huie and steel welder Scott Bartels volunteered at Ground Zero.

"It was just unbelievable," Bartels said.

Both have cancer. They are among patients now being treated for 9/11-related illnesses through Northwell's World Trade Center Health Program.

"A recent study has shown that individuals in the World Trade Center program have 30% less death from cancer and 36% less mortality than would be expected from all causes," said Dr. Jaqueline Moline, director of the WTC program.

"If I didn't have them to guide me, I don't know where I would be today," Huie said.

They're a beacon of light for those who faced darkness, hoping for a brighter future for us all.

The group of survivors says it's so important to continue sharing these stories, so we truly never forget.

Northwell's World Trade Center Health Program is federally funded.

The program is still open and accepting new enrollees. For more information, click here. You can also find out more about the program from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention by clicking here.

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