© 2021 WKSU
Public Radio News for Northeast Ohio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations
Community
Saturday, September 11, 2021 marks the 20th anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.

Akron Canton Airport CEO Reflects on 9/11: 'I Was Supposed to Be There That Day'

Ren Camacho at the ground zero of the World Trade Center
Ren Camacho
/
Ren Camacho at the ground zero of the World Trade Center as it was being rebuilt in April 2003.

On Sept. 11, 2001, current Akron Canton Airport CEO and President Ren Camacho was working for the New York and New Jersey Port Authority, which had offices on the 73rd floor of the north tower of the World Trade Center.

“I was supposed to be there that day,” Camacho said. But his daughter wasn’t feeling well. So he called in sick to stay home with her.

“She’s my guardian angel,” he said as he reflected on the upcoming anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

It started out like a normal day. In fact, Camacho said he didn’t know anything was wrong until his sister called.

Like so many around the country and the world, Camacho saw the towers fall on TV.

“And of course you think the worst, right? That your coworkers are no longer and you start thinking about what's next,” he said.

From the offices he should have been in, his coworkers did make it out that day from the 73rd floor. But not everyone was so lucky.

“There were others on the same floor, the floor above or floor below, that did not make it out,” he said.

That has been weighing on his mind ever since.

“You ask yourself, ‘What if?’ It’ll stick with me until my last breath,” he said.

Aftermath

Working for the entity that owned the World Trade Center complex, Camacho and his coworkers were involved in the cleanup, recovery and eventual remaking of the site.

“I was definitely wanting to go,” he said. But it wasn’t until two months later that he and his team were finally able to see what was left of the wreckage.

They were bused to a safe area of the complex, but Camacho said there were parts he could see that were still smoldering.

“It was unreal,” he said.

20 years later

Camacho still thinks about what would have happened if he hadn’t called in sick that day. What if he had been on the 73rd floor?

Would he have been one of the people helping others get out?

“I was actually one of those fire wardens on the floor or assistant wardens ... whenever we practiced the fire drills, I would be one in my sector to help folks get out into the main corridors in the hallway then wherever we were told to report to,” Camacho said.

Even though his colleagues got out safely, things easily could have turned out differently.

The north tower, where Camacho’s offices were, was the first hit and last to fall.

“So (I) probably would have made it out, but you know, you ask yourself the what-ifs?” he said.

Now leading a different life in Northeast Ohio, Camacho will remember 9/11 20 years later with a small remembrance ceremony by the flag pole at Akron Canton Airport.

He said since Sept. 11, 2001, he’s been focused on making aviation safer.

“So that we never forget the events of that day. It is just something that that I hold near and dear to my heart,” he said.