NEW YORK (AP) _ An engineer who helped build the World Trade Center scratched his way out a dead elevator with a car key in the hours after an explosion knocked out power to the 110-story twin towers.

Eugene Fasullo, chief engineer of the Port Authority, which owns and operates the Trade Center, was headed to lunch with four fellow engineers Friday when the elevator got stuck somewhere near floor 44.

Soon they noticed smoke billowing through the cracks in the car. Within an hour, the elevator's emergency power had run out, casting them into darkness.

The engineers pulled panel walls off the elevator, only to find themselves surrounded by steel. So they forced open the elevator doors, only to encounter a wall.

But because Fasullo, 62, had helped build the World Trade Center, he knew that the wall consisted of only two 1-inch-thick plaster boards.

So Fasullo pulled out a car key, a woman pulled out a nail file, and others grabbed for any makeshift tool they could find in their pockets. Everyone began to scratch away with only the dim light of three beepers to guide them.

''My fingers were all bleeding,'' Fasullo said, displaying his swollen fingers during an interview Saturday.

The job was made easier when one of them ripped off an elevator door to use as a makeshift battering ram. The first small hole in the wall brought fresh air, and with it, encouragement.

''That was the first time I thought that we would survive,'' he said.

Finally, the engineers bashed a large hole through a wall into a bathroom. Most in the group of eight were able to wiggle through the hole, except for one portly man identified only as Vinny. Some pushed the man by his feet as others pulled him by his head in the darkness, Fasullo said.

''It was like a childbirth. I envisioned I was in the womb of a woman delivering a child,'' Fasullo said.

The group then descended 44 floors though darkness to end their three-hour odyssey. As the others went to a hospital for smoke inhalation treatment, Fasullo, a 33-year Port Authority veteran, headed to work at the blast site - only to learn that his car was one of the many parked in the underground garage demolished by the explosion.

''I'm still suffering from smoke inhalation myself,'' he said Saturday. ''Please excuse my voice, it's cracking.''