Alan Ocampo's Personal Website

World Trade Center - September 11, 2001

The following is my personal account of the attacks on the World Trade Center buildings on September 11, 2001.


Life is precious. Everybody knows that; everybody should know that. I had known this for a long time but never really took it to heart. Until today…

It was an ordinary workday for me. I was at work at the usual time, around 8 a.m., at the 68th floor of the World Trade Center 2 (WTC2) building in New York City. I am a web developer/programmer working as a consultant for a financial firm. I started my day as usual, checking emails and lining up a list of tasks. It was going to be a slow day for me; or so I thought.

At around 8:45 my expectations for what the day had in store for me suddenly changed. A loud explosion was heard outside our building. It sounded like a bomb went off. I went about my business unmindful of the event but some co-workers had already gone to look out the windows to see what had happened. Presumably, the explosion caused a huge hole in the upper levels of World Trade Center 1 (WTC1). It was on fire, and paper and all kinds of debris started to fill the air around it. Moments later I was shocked to witness at least three people jumping out of the damaged area, plunging to their death. That started a bit of a panic in me but I tried to keep it to myself as much as possible. We figured out later that an airplane had crashed into the building. At this point I thought it was a small plane and that it was an accident. We heard the sirens of police and firemen arriving shortly.

My boss was very cool and calm. He told us that we were free to leave if we wanted to but he was going to stay. An announcement over our building’s public address system reassured me that we were safe. The announcement confirmed that an airplane had crashed into WTC1 but we were unaffected and that WTC2 is secure. It continued to say that we could calmly get out of the building if we wanted to, or we could stay. I decided to stick around, feeling reassured, trusting in my boss’s good judgment and the announcement I just heard.

A few minutes later, another explosion occurred. This time I felt it was a direct hit on our building . I felt the floor shake like there was an earthquake. I was terrified. I thought anytime the floor under me would collapse and open and “swallow” me in an instant. I thought the end for me was near. This time I had no time to think but had to act on instinct --- survival instinct. It only took a few seconds for me to grab my knapsack and run towards the door. When I got out, I saw that there was already fire and smoke on the opposite end of our office, causing me to be more alarmed. I thought that this time the explosion happened not far from our office. I hurried out and followed another person heading towards the stairs. We were both in panic and raced down the stairs as fast as we could.

At this point so many things were going on in my mind. I was praying for mercy and enlightenment that I may keep my presence of mind. I was anticipating death. I was imagining how I would experience it --- would it be quick and painless, or slow and agonizing? I was thinking of my wife and baby, that I can’t die now, if only for their sake. I realized later that my survival instinct was really focused on protecting myself from harm partly by nature of self-preservation, but beyond that, I had to get through this ordeal because of my loved ones.

The rush down the stairs was very exhausting. Every floor that I “conquered” wore me down and I thought that I wouldn’t make it out at that pace because I thought there were just too many steps and I had too little time and energy. It didn’t take long before I felt the effects of physical and emotional stress --- my knees were shaking and I could feel my heart beating faster than ever. Fortunately, by the time I got to (maybe) the 52nd floor, the stairway was already filled with other people lined up in orderly fashion much like in a fire drill. Everybody was calm and cooperative, looking out for each other. This gave me a chance to catch my breath and regain my composure.

The flight down the stairs with the rest of the people was like a double-edged sword for me. On one hand it helped me stay calm knowing I was going through this experience together with a lot of people. On the other hand, because there were many of us, I felt we were moving too slowly and I couldn’t help but feel scared at the thought that the longer it took for us to get out, the higher the risk we were in. I think it took us half an hour to get out of the building; I felt that during those thirty minutes, I was going through a demo version of hell --- it felt like an eternity of tension and uncertainty.

When we finally got out of the building, the police and rescue teams instructed us not to look up and to keep moving. At that point I had no intention of looking up. I’ve had my share of that disaster and all I wanted to do was to get as far away from it as possible. I stayed with my co-workers wary of the fact that I didn’t really know my way around New York (I live in Pennsylvania). We headed towards the company’s other branch a few blocks away. That location was to serve as an emergency response center for the employees.

After about ten minutes of walking, we were near the location and took some time to stop, feeling we were now at a safe distance from harm. Now we decided to look back and inspect the damage to the two buildings. I couldn’t believe what happened next. Within about five seconds we saw WTC2 going down right before our eyes! It went down like an implosion! I was in disbelief. Had it taken us longer in the building, we wouldn’t have made it out alive! Sadly, a lot of other people didn’t make it; especially some who were just trying to help get us out safely.

We made it to the company’s emergency response center and had a chance to rest and reorganize. This also gave us time to call our families to tell them of our situation. We also tried calling the co-workers who weren't with us to see if they were okay.

The next problem was getting home. There was no way to get in or out of New York at that time. To make a long story short I spent the whole day with a friend, walking up and down Manhattan, trying to find a way out of New York. I figured I walked at least five miles today. At around 4:30 the path trains to New Jersey opened up and we were lucky to be there when it did. We got on a train to Trenton and after that connected to another one scheduled for Philadelphia. My wife picked me up at the station and we got home safe and sound at around 8:45, twelve hours after my surreal adventure began.

I am happy to be alive. I am thankful for this second chance at life. It’s my second birthday. I know this experience has given me new perspective on what is important to me – my family above all else. I know this has taught me a lesson to value life even more and I hope I never forget it. I hope you do too.

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