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9/11 hero retires after 34-year police career

NEW YORK (CBS) -- Lieutenant David Lim, one of 16 people to survive the collapse of the North Tower on 9/11, retired from the Port Authority Police Department in New York Thursday. His family and fellow officers gathered at LaGuardia Airport to thank and bid farewell to Lim, who most recently served as a member of the elite K-9 unit at the airport.

Lim, a 34-year veteran of the police department, was the K-9 unit officer on duty at the World Trade Center on the morning that it was attacked.

"You hear the floors pancaking on top of each other," Lim said, remembering being inside the tower, "and you can feel the wind as the air compresses throughout the building."

Lim and his dog, a golden retriever named Sirius, were responsible for searching trucks that entered the World Trade Center's loading docks for explosives.

That morning, Lim heard a radio call about an explosion on the upper levels of the North Tower from his office in the South Tower. His first thought, he said, was fear that he and Sirius had failed to prevent a dangerous package from getting upstairs.

Lim was among the first to enter the North Tower to search for and rescue survivors - heading up a stairwell to the upper floors as most fled them. He was still in the stairwell at 10:28 a.m., the moment that the building collapsed.

"I more or less thought that I was dead," he said. "It's a matter of seconds now."

It was five hours before Lim and 15 others - 12 firefighters and 3 civilians - were rescued. Lim didn't know then how few had survived the attack.

"I assumed there were more pockets of people everywhere but there were none," he said. "It just kept on growing on me that, 'oh my God, I'm one of the only few people to actually live through this?"

Soon after 9/11, Lim says he was asked if he would retire. Sirius was killed in the attack.

"My first reaction was I'm not going to let some knucklehead in a cave in Afghanistan dictate when I'm going to retire," he said, "and in my heart, I sure as heck wasn't going to retire until we got him. That was my way of living up to what had happened to my fellow officers."

Thirty-seven Port Authority Police officers died in the line of duty on 9/11.

Nearly 13 years later, Lim remembers the day as a "seminal moment" in his career, though he stops short of saying that it defined it.

"It's the end of a career, one that I hope was a good one," he said. "History will have to dictate that, I guess. Or if the cops throw me a party."

(c) 2014 CBS Interactive Inc. All Rights Reserved.

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