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NYC Subway Motorman Reflects On 9/11 -- The Day He Was Thrust Into Heroic Role

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Over the past decade we have heard countless stories about acts of heroism during the 9/11 terror attacks.

But here's one you probably never heard about. It's the untold story of a brave motorman and his selfless act that saved hundreds of lives, reports CBS 2's Hazel Sanchez.

When we think about the heroes of 9/11 we often think of firefighters, police and first responders. But we have the story of an underground hero that risked his life on the rails to save hundreds of straphangers.

At 8:46 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2001, motorman Joe Irizarry was driving an "R" train into the Cortlandt Street subway stop in the shadow of the World Trade Center towers. Seconds later the first plane hit.

Irizarry said he knew something was terribly wrong.

"It actually shook my train," Irizarry said.

Normally Irizarry would keep the train doors open no more than 30 seconds, but on that day he kept them open for several minutes, taking on as many passengers the train could hold as toxic dust and debris showered over lower Manhattan.

"The smoke was coming down so I had no idea what was going on in the streets. I just wanted to make sure the people were safe," Irizarry said.

Irizarry stayed as long as he could and then floored it out of the station.

"When we arrived at Continental Avenue I went toward the crew room and....and that's when I heard the first tower had fallen," Irizarry said.

Only then did he realize what he and his passengers narrowly escaped.

Linda DeSilvio was onboard that train and said she'll never forget Irizarry's bravery.

"He really kept everybody under control and in charge. Joe was … you know … the brick there," DeSilvio said.

A decade later, DeSilvio reunited with the heroic motorman who steered her and countless passengers to safety.

The impact of that tragic day still sticks with them.

"I still get welled up when I see you," DeSilvio told Irizarry.

"I did my job just like … just like the police officers, just like the firemen, just like the EMTs, just like the people in the towers just across the street did," Irizarry said. "I got to live, and all those people that perished. Why am I the lucky one? You know? God has a reason for everything, but you just have to accept it."

Getting past that day has not been easy for Irizarry. He now suffers from post traumatic stress disorder. Last summer he took disability retirement and walked away from his job. Irizarry said the attacks left him traumatized after losing several close friends that were volunteer firefighters and instructors at the Nassau County Fire Service Academy.

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