ALEX CHADWICK, host:
Peter Siddons was driving home from work last night, heading out of Minneapolis, stuck in traffic on that bridge. Peter Siddons, how many times do you think you've crossed that bridge?
Mr. PETER SIDDONS (Survivor): Well, I've been working for Wells Fargo for 20 years, and I would say that it's been around 15 years of doing it since I moved.
CHADWICK: So every day for 15 years?
Mr. SIDDONS: Every day.
CHADWICK: Where were you on that bridge when this happened?
Mr. SIDDONS: Yeah. You know, I was going northbound. And apparently I was right before the water. I was driving - it was stop and go because there's construction there. And at that point I heard this roar, this rumbling and almost explosion-like, and at the same time I heard that the bridge started to roll and buck. And I could feel my car in the back just lift up. And I knew at that time that the bridge is collapsing.
CHADWICK: Could you see it collapsing in front of you?
Mr. SIDDONS: Yeah. What happened is I just saw these sections disappear in front of me. Boom. Down, down. And then it was coming towards me and then my section went down. And my nose was down. The front of my car was going down. And I thought, you know, this is it. I'm off the bridge and I'm, you know, it's over.
CHADWICK: What is going through your mind at that moment? I'm trying to imagine being on a bridge and seeing these sections collapse in front of you. I don't know if I would accept the reality of it, you know.
Mr. SIDDONS: It's disbelief. You're absolutely right. It's disbelief that this is happening, and it's really happening. And it's coming towards you. And you have no control. And I just remember saying no, no, no, you know, oh my god. And in my mind, it's over. And that's what it is. And it happens quickly, but it's happening.
CHADWICK: How quickly?
Mr. SIDDONS: Well, a matter of seconds. And I will tell you that from the time I landed on a car, which stopped me, and I saw - and everything stopped then. And I thought, okay, I haven't fallen yet. When is the next one going to happen? And that was in my mind. The next one's going to happen and everything will collapse again. But it didn't. And I knew I was suspended in the air. And I said do I dare open up my door, is that going to tilt? I don't know. But I have to get out of here.
So I called 911 while I was in there and that was at 6:05. And I couldn't get through. And I decided I got to - my car's still running. I turned off my car, take the keys in my pocket. I don't know why. But I opened the door and I jumped down onto what's left of the freeway, at least my section. I looked behind me and I noticed that it had separated from the freeway and it was, you know, 15 feet above me. I can't go that way.
I looked in front of me, and I noticed that it just kind of ends. And I didn't know if the road just ended and it's then into the water or what, so I looked to the side of me and what had happened was the southbound lane, which is on the opposite side of me, and the median that was between the southbound and the northbound lane had - they had split apart and gone sideways. So I had this wall of concrete in front of me, a very steep wall, which I started to climb.
So I climbed up there and that's when I heard voices and yelling and people saying over here, over here. And I'm on this apex of this concrete wall to the left of me, and the southbound lane, which is to the right of me, which is slanted down as well, and I just followed the top to the next section, which was - again, I was separated from that section and this crevice between us. And I looked down and I said, is that water? Is that land? I can't tell. I just know it's way down there and I had to jump over that onto this other section.
CHADWICK: And you have to jump across a chasm to...
Mr. SIDDONS: Yeah. Yeah. I had to go through - I had to leap over this to get to the next section. And so I did that. And then I heard the voices. And up in the air - I'm higher than the voices so I kept walking down. I couldn't see anything until I saw the school bus, and the voices were of people, these early responders out - so it was just incredible, these people that had just responded right away. I don't know who they were. I don't know where they came from, but they're pulling these kids out of the back of the bus.
CHADWICK: This is the 60 kids who are on this bus.
Mr. SIDDONS: Yes. Yes. And they're pulling them out. And I could see them lifting them off on the road. And I looked to my right, and these people are coming towards me to help me. And I looked to my right, and someone is hurt and he's yelling for help. And I said that guy is hurt over there, go over there, you got to see him over there. So they went over there, and I went down to the bus and they had pulled, these people had pulled the majority of the kids out.
And so I was just trying to help the remainder get over the fence onto the land and just try to calm them down when they're safe. And I kept telling them, we're okay now, we're okay, we've made it. And they were obviously beside themselves and not knowing what had happened. Like me.
CHADWICK: These are children.
Mr. SIDDONS: These were children. And I called my wife at that time. I couldn't get a hold of her. I called my cousin Doug and I said you got to get a hold of Lisa and the kids. The bridge has collapsed. I'm okay. Just tell them I'm okay. So - and then I finally got a hold of my wife and she didn't know anything about it, which was good.
She hadn't seen anything on TV. And I said, I'm okay. And - so then it's surreal after that, Alex. You don't know what to do. People are telling you, get away, get away. And I'm covered with glass from the windshield and other things, I guess, I don't know. And you're looking for something, but you're not sure what you're looking for. And you're looking for closure, I don't know. And so you're mulling around. So I did that for a while.
CHADWICK: You're not ready to leave, but...
Mr. SIDDONS: You're not - you're not, yeah, you're not ready to leave. And the stares that you get back from people and that you know had been on there and had witnessed it or experience it were these vacant stares and the sense of disbelief and shock. And you know, you can tell who was on and who wasn't. And I'm sure I looked like that too.
And you're just kind of wandering around. And I don't know how long I was there, but then someone tapped me on the shoulder and said, do you need a ride home? And these two people - Mike and Denise, who I never met before, they offered me a ride home and I said, I guess I do need a ride home.
So they drove me home. And my wife - so I met my wife at the driveway and she said, I'm taking you to the emergency. And I said, I'm okay. But it really was good that she did because you need that time. And the people at St. John's in Maplewood, Minnesota were just tremendous in terms of the trauma of it and walking you through...
Mr. SIDDONS: ...what you're experiencing. Because you can't go home. What was I going to do? Go home and do what? How do I process all of this?
CHADWICK: Yeah. Well, what did you do? I mean, you go to the hospital. They check you out physically. They talked to you about shock and trauma and all that, and...
Mr. SIDDONS: And they say whatever your feelings are normal and you're going to have to work through it. And it's okay to talk about it, is what they said. It's okay to talk about it. And they said it's going to be a process and you have to go through it. And you can't accelerate it, you can't hide it, you've got to go through it. And so that's what you do, and so I got home around midnight and...
CHADWICK: Were your kids up?
Mr. SIDDONS: Kids - yeah, the kids were up and, you know, we hugged and then tried to make sense of it, which you can't. And I watched it on TV, and you almost have to bottom out and you gotta get sick of it and get tired of it and fall asleep, which I did for about an hour, and I woke up again and you go through it again.
CHADWICK: All right, Peter, thank you so very much.
Mr. SIDDONS: Thank you. Thank you very much.
CHADWICK: That's Peter Siddons who was on the bridge when it collapsed. You can find eyewitness video and photos from the scene on our Web site, npr.org. We'll have more on this story later in the program.