9/11 survivor honors first responders every Sept. 11

Updated: Sep. 10, 2018 at 10:11 PM CDT
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Merchant runs a restaurant and food truck in Auburn called Philly Connection. (Source: WSFA 12...
Merchant runs a restaurant and food truck in Auburn called Philly Connection. (Source: WSFA 12 News)

AUBURN, AL (WSFA) - A 9/11 survivor in Auburn is speaking out 17 years after the terrorist attacks.

Sunel Merchant was working on the 49th floor of the North World Trade Center when the building was hit by an airplane. He remembers the day like it was yesterday.

"I saw a plane far off in the horizon coming in and we'd seen a lot of planes go by, but this one looked pretty low," Merchant said.

He was right. The plane was headed towards the building he was in.

"I remember I was standing just like this and the impact happened," Merchant demonstrated. "We started running towards the stairwell."

As he was running for his life, he could only think of one thing, his family.

"I realized that I had been working for the family, but I was never with the family," Merchant said.

That's when he saw something he'll never forget.

"While I was going down the staircase the, firefighter was going up the staircase. When I was running away from the World Trade Center, the police were going towards the world trade center," Merchant said.

He calls the first responders his heroes, and credits them for giving him a second chance at life.

"It's not the Spiderman, but it's the firemen that climb the building. It is not the Superman, but our policemen that take the bullets for us. It's not the Captain America, but it's the armed forces that fight for our country and for our honor," Merchant said. "Life is too short. You never know when the next thing could happen."

That's why he's now doing something he loves. Nowadays, Merchant can be seen running a restaurant and food truck in Auburn, and spending more time with his family.

"I would rather earn less and spend more time with the family," Merchant said.

Every year on Sept. 11, Merchant remembers the brave men and women who saved his life. Since 2005, he has given away free food at his restaurant, Philly Connection, to all first responders.

If you are a first responder who would like to receive a free meal from Merchant, go to Philly Connection in Auburn on Sept. 11. This offer is only available at the restaurant, not the food truck.

Copyright 2018 WSFA 12 News. All rights reserved.