World Trade Center: an interview with survivor Jim Campbell

by Hammer. An Italian translation is available here.

Today Undicisettembre offers its readers the account of survivor Jim Campbell, who on 9/11 was in New York for a business trip and was on the 64th floor of the South Tower when the first plane hit.

Campbell's account not only provides further insight into the events of that day but also provides important details on how security worked in the World Trade Center, confirming once again that it would have been impossible for any conspirators to place explosives without being noticed.

We wish to thank Jim Campbell for his kindness and willingness to share his story.

Undicisettembre: Can you give us a general account of what you saw and experienced on that day?

Jim Campbell: I flew to New York the night before and stayed across the street from the Twin Towers, I stayed up till one o'clock checking email and doing stuff, set the alarm for 6:15. The next morning I woke up and I went to the mall below the Twin Towers, I had a bagel and cream cheese and watched everybody streaming through, I ended up making my way to the lobby of both towers. When you go through the lobby you had to get your picture taken and they were giving you a card with your picture and the date and what floors you were supposed to be on, with that card you could go to the elevators and go to whatever floor you were designated to. They really had good security at the World Trade Center. I went up to the 64th floor of the South Tower, I talked to the receptionist and she brought me to the conference room where my meeting was meant to begin at 8 o'clock, I think we started a little bit late like 8:05.

I was looking out of the windows and watching New York, it was probably the best view I've even seen: the Brooklyn Bridge to the right, the Empire State Building, Central Park. It was an amazing view! We proceeded with our meeting and we were kind of at the end, wrapping up our decisions at 8:52 or 8:53 when I heard a jet engine very loud, and then a crash and an explosion. We looked at each other and out of the window and the sky was filled with paper. We were looking at the east side of the North Tower and from there it didn't look as bad as from the north side, which I've seen afterward, because there were maybe 14 or 15 broken windows with flames in them. Morgan Stanley had been trained that if anything happened to either tower we had to get out, so Sandy, the woman I was with, began running around the floor telling everybody to get out and go down. So I picked up my stuff and followed her, I actually left my computer there thinking we'd come back like in a fire drill.

So we started going down the stairs, but it was like a fire drill, people were laughing and joking. When we were at the 30th floor our tower got hit, the whole building swayed about 10 feet and it began rocking back and forth and settled back in. It swayed for about seven or eight seconds or so. At the point everybody got pretty freaked out and people started walking faster and it got very quicker to get down. We got down to the mall below the towers and there were policemen and Port Authority officers were pushing us around to get us out, everyone was streaming out as they were pushing us up to the stairs that took us to the lobby level which overlooked the roof of the mall. It looked like a war zone, there were pieces of yellow fiberglass from the airplane, there were shoes, there was a pile of ooze that looked like a person pulled inside-out. They kept us away from the windows and marching to walk out. We ended up at the City Hall which is one block away, we were thousands of people just standing there and looking up while both towers were on fire.

This was the first I heard that the towers had been hit by airplanes because the woman in front of me was on the 44th floor of the north tower and looking out of the window when she saw the plane fly right above her. At that point people began to jump and I made the decision not to watch that, so I walked away around City Hall, which is a big complex, and I walked into a store to get a coke, I put my cup under the coke machine to get ice and when I did that the whole building shook and the South Tower came down. I came out of the store, looked around the street and I could smell the debris and the dust. I continued to walk towards west and that was when the firemen were staging, they had firetrucks up and down the road with a single line of firemen walking towards the Towers: that was an amazing sight.

For some reason I thought I should get back to my hotel but the road was blocked, they wouldn't let you get back there. I stood on West End and spent ten to fifteen minutes in line for a phone booth because cellphones were not working, and that was when the North Tower fell. I watched it fall and I proceeded to walk north. I arrived in midtown Manhattan and as I was walking there were cars with the radio on and doors open with a circle of people listening, they were talking about another plane coming in New York, and a plane in D.C. We didn't know what was true and what was not.

There were cars with the radio on and people listening every quarter or third of mile. I ended up in a bar called Barney Macs which had two payphones, I got a beer and called my wife first to tell her I was fine and I asked her to locate Nate, an employee of mine who was in New York, and inform him of where I was. Then I called my company to tell them also where I was. I spent the rest of the day there, running the company, trying to deal with what was going on, trying to figure out the rest of my day, calling the people I was going to see to tell them I could not see them now.

Undicisettembre: Where did you stay that night?

Jim Campbell: We walked around and found a little hotel that had a room I shared with Nate. We got a room there but they only had vacancy for one night so the next night we walked to Times Square to check in at the Marriott and we spent there the next two nights.

Undicisettembre: How long did you stay in New York before going home?

Jim Campbell: Till Friday morning when they opened the trains so you could get out of the city. There was a couple that I knew in New Jersey, so I took a train to New Jersey and they picked me up and I went to their house. But at that time I realized I had to make progress towards home, I called the airport to see if I could get a car, the only car they had was a small one. But that was okay for me. They drove me to the airport, the woman at the car rental asked me if I wanted an upgrade and I said of course, she ended up giving me a Cadillac, so I could drive across the country with no miles or drop-off charge; I don't think she understood I would be driving to San Francisco. So I got the car and began to go west. I made New Jersey, Pennsylvania and stopped for the first night in Ohio.

Undicisettembre: Going back to 9/11, what are your thoughts about the firefighters and the rescuers who risked their lives to save others?

Jim Campbell: That was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen. I've heard about things like this in the past, my uncle was on the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor, he survived the initial attack and his commander asked for volunteers to go down to flood the ammo area. My uncle went down and never came back up. So I've heard about heroism like that but I had never seen it, so the firemen were amazing. Some of them were kids probably between 20 and 22 years old, and some of them were veterans.

When I moved to Tucson, one of the first relationships that I made was with the head of the Fire Union, on the anniversary we put twin lights on a mountain here [pictured left] and we did the tenth anniversary there as well. I've kept in touch with them and I've been supporting them here.

Before 9/11 I thought being a firefighter was a pretty simple job with seven days on and seven days off. But watching them marching forward and punching forward while the other building had already fallen was the most amazing thing I've ever seen.

Undicisettembre: Did you suffer from post traumatic stress?

Jim Campbell: I did for about a week. It took me three and half days to get to San Francisco and in those days when I woke up in the morning and took a shower I would cry, I didn't know why I was crying, I was just crying. The emotions were under my skin.

On my way home I stopped at the Notre Dame Cathedral and while walking back to my car I saw a Fire Station striped in black, there were two firemen hopping on a truck and I walked to them. They said “What can we do for you?” and I said “I am coming from New York, I was in the World Trade Center, I watched your brothers walk in into the buildings and it was the most amazing thing I've ever seen. I just wanted to say thank you.” I had tears rolling down my face, I looked at them and they were both crying.

When I came back to San Francisco the tears went on for four or five days, but at night I had very bizarre dreams, like dark dreams. One of the things that helped me get through it was writing down my story. At the time I was running a company of 150 people, so when I got back to the company instead of telling my story to everybody over and over and over again I sent out my written story so whenever I talked to somebody that gave me the opportunity to talk to them about how I was, because I didn't have to tell them the story. That really helped me.

Undicisettembre: How long did it take to get back to normalcy?

Jim Campbell: I picked up my life and moved. I quit my job and moved with my family to another town. So there was no going back, it was moving forward. For one year I did not do anything, I did house remodeling for the new house. I didn't restart working until the summer of 2003. As soon as I began to work I started to get used to going to work and come home afterward. I took me a while to get to where I thought I landed.

Undicisettembre: What do you think about conspiracy theories that claim that 9/11 was an inside job?

Jim Campbell: I have friends and one of my employees that talk about that, it frustrates me. I read almost every book about 9/11, the Commission Report, the New York Times for a year, the Popular Mechanics book and the fact of the matter is if you were there you saw and felt what happened: there were no explosives in the buildings. No small airplane crashed into the Pentagon.

I tend to ignore these people.

Undicisettembre: You said that while entering the WTC they were taking a picture of you. So this means that if there was a conspiracy also the doorman must be part of it because no one can have planted explosives without being detected while entering.

Jim Campbell: Yes, you have to have an ID card. So that guy must also be part of the plot and Port Authority who lost many officers must be part of the conspiracy, because they were responsible for security, which makes no sense at all.

Undicisettembre: Did you ever try to debate these people you know that believe conspiracy theories?

Jim Campbell: I did. But it's hard to debate because they have no facts. You can try to tell them about the temperature of the steel, I'm an engineer so I can try to explain them that the weight above that part of the steel gets to the point where it collapses and what the momentum does after that, but it doesn't matter with them. They are only able to say “Bush or Cheney or the FBI or Wall Street did it.”

It's hard to argue. They believe so much what they say that they are always going to believe what they please. I've had those discussions, but they were frustrating to me, so I try to ignore them.

Undicisettembre: Having witnessed the second collapse, can you confirm there were no explosions during the collapse?

Jim Campbell: Yes. You can actually see the top of the building tilted above where the plane had hit, and then the building started to collapse upon itself. As an engineer it's pretty obvious to me that a part of the floor structure failed and then all of a sudden you have all this weight coming down. It can be very clearly seen.

Undicisettembre: Do you think the country is still living in fear or has it regained its standing in the world?

Jim Campbell: 9/11 brought the nation and the western world together. I think George W. Bush did a good job bringing the nation together. Now I don't agree with what is being done and I don't feel safe, I fear the Middle East might fall apart and ISIS is getting stronger and stronger.

I think the nation is split around that and that can be a huge part of the upcoming elections. We have to make a decision about what kind of nation we want to be.

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