New York City activist

September 22, 2007

Straight-down collapse of WTC 7 – what do “debunkers” say?

In my opinion, one of the strongest pieces of evidence against the official story of 9/11 is the straight-down vertical collapse of World Trade Center Building 7, which was located north of the main World Trade Center complex. See Jim Hoffman’s collection of WTC 7 Collapse videos (downloadable MPG files). It is extremely unlikely that a building could collapse in such a symmetrical, straight-down manner due to any cause other than controlled demolition. A building collapsing for any other reason would almost certainly tilt toward whichever side or corner had been weakened the most.

WTC 7 was hit by debris from the North Tower. It then caught fire, for reasons unknown, although not surprising, since WTC 7 contained fuel tanks and was built over an electrical substation. The fires were not fought, presumably due to a lack of sufficient water pressure. The extent of the fire has been disputed, but there were at least a few small fires in the building for seven hours before the building finally came down in the late afternoon.

According to the official story as explained in Chapter 5 of the FEMA report, WTC 7 collapsed primarily due to fire. However, as even the FEMA report itself admitted, “the best hypothesis” along these lines “has only a low probability of occurrence.” For more about the FEMA report, see this HTML copy of Chapter 5, annotated in red by an advocate of the controlled demolition hypothesis. (P.S., 10/19/2007: Please note that I do not necessarily agree with or endorse all the annotations in red.)

Since the straight-down collapse of WTC 7 seems to be such strong evidence against the official story, how have defenders of the official story tried to refute it? Let’s take a look.

The first two “debunking” sites I looked at avoided the issue completely. The following pages say nothing about the straight-down vertical, symmetrical nature of the collapse, though they do respond to other, weaker points that some 9/11 Truth activists have made about WTC 7:

Other “debunking” sites do try to address the straight-down collapse, mostly by halfway denying it:

Popular Mechanics has this to say:

NIST investigators believe a combination of intense fire and severe structural damage contributed to the collapse, though assigning the exact proportion requires more research. But NIST’s analysis suggests the fall of WTC 7 was an example of “progressive collapse,” a process in which the failure of parts of a structure ultimately creates strains that cause the entire building to come down. Videos of the fall of WTC 7 show cracks, or “kinks,” in the building’s facade just before the two penthouses disappeared into the structure, one after the other. The entire building fell in on itself, with the slumping east side of the structure pulling down the west side in a diagonal collapse.

Diagonal collapse? The collapse sure didn’t look diagonal to me. Maybe there was a slight diagonal movement, but, in the videos, the building appears to go straight down. I couldn’t see any diagonal movement.

Another “debunking” site, 9-11 Loose Change Second Edition Viewer Guide responded to “it fell straight down” by claiming, without presenting any evidence, that “the building fell leaning slightly to the south.” Admittedly, if indeed it did lean just slightly toward the south, this would be hard to see in the collapse videos, which viewed the building from the north. But still, if the building fell for any reason other than controlled demolition, I would expect a noticeable tilt, not just a slight tilt.

Another site, “Debunking 9/11 Conspiracy Theories,” has a page about WTC7 which says:

Conspiracy sites like to bring up the ‘Symmetric Collapse’ of building 7 and claim that the building should have fallen over to the south. They show grainy, dark photos of debris piles which were taken well after 9/11 and a debris pile with a grayish, smoky image of building 7 in the background. They deceptively show the north side which was relatively free of damage. As if the Tower should have reached over to the other side of the building and damaged that side too.

Indeed, nearly all the available photos and videos show the north side, not because of “deceptiveness” but simply because most photographers would not have had access to the south side at that point. South of WTC 7 was the main World Trade Center complex, from which nearly everyone, other than cops, fire fighters, and first responders, had been evacuated. But of course it’s likely that the south side was damaged more than the north side, which is why we would expect the building to tilt significantly toward the south as it collapsed.

Anyhow, the “Debunking 9/11 Conspiracy Theories” site’s page about WTC7 goes on to say:

Here is what the debris pile looked like just after 9/11:

followed by this picture. Then:

Eerily, the north face is on the debris pile as if a shroud were laid gently over the dead building. It fell over after the majority of the building fell. This indicates that the south side of the building fell before the north. It’s almost as if the buildings last words were “[This] did it!..”.

And now comes the most important and telling fact in this photo. Note the west side (Right side in this photo) of the north face is pointing toward the east side (Left side of this photo) where the penthouse was. What caused this? It would not be unreasonable to expect the building to fall toward the path of least resistance. The path of least resistance in this case would be the hole in the back of the building and the hole left by the penthouse. Since the penthouse was on the east and the 20 story hole in the middle, that would make the east and middle the path of least resistance. The conspiracy sites agree with this theory but say it never happened. They say the fact that it didn’t happen helps prove controlled demolition. But you see it happen here… What will they say now?

Once again, the collapse videos clearly show the building falling straight down, not toward the east. If indeed the above description of the debris pile is correct, this could indicate that the building fell a bit toward the southeast near the end of its collapse, after it had fallen far enough to be completely hidden by the surrounding buildings. But, during the visible part of the collapse, the building did fall straight down.

Anyhow, the debris photo is blurry and obscured by smoke, so it’s hard to know exactly what to make of it.

“But the building doesn’t look like it fell over, it fell “in its own foot print” you might say. That’s because it is impossible for a 47 story steel building to fall over like that. It’s not a small steel reinforced concrete building like the ones shown as *Examples* of buildings which fell over. Building 7 is more like the towers, made up of many pieces put together. It’s not so much a solid block as those steel reinforced concrete buildings.

So maybe we shouldn’t expect it to topple over quite like a falling tree. But still it ought to tilt noticeably on its way down — expecially since the collapse began near the bottom of the building. Even though a steel-frame building isn’t as “solid” as a steel reinforced concrete building, it’s still not exactly just a disconnected bunch of beams, either. Why should it fall down with such close-to-perfect outward symmentry until almost the very end?

This evidence supports the NIST contention that the building collapse progressed from the penthouse out as columns were weakened by the fires. The slow sinking of the penthouses, indicating the internal collapse of the building behind the visible north wall, took 8.2 seconds according to a NIST preliminary report. Seismograph trace of the collapse of WTC 7 indicates that parts of the building were hitting the ground for 18 seconds. This means the collapse took at least 18 seconds, of which only the last approximately 15 seconds are visible in videos: 8 seconds for the penthouses and 7 seconds for the north wall to come down.

Not just the north wall but the entire building, other than the core, which began to collapse first. The fall of the outer part of the building is usually measured as having taken place in only 6.5 seconds — very close to free fall.

Another “debunking” site, Good Science and 9-11 Demolition Theories essentially just parrots (and cites) the “Debunking 9/11 Conspiracy Theories” site. It also quotes Popular Mechanics.

So, I have not yet seen any good refutation of the argument from symmetry of collapse.

But some of the “debunking” sites do make good arguments against weaker points, notably the hullabaloo about Larry Silverstein’s “pull it” remark. The all-too-common claim that that “pull it” was an admission of demolition is extremely unsound. (For one thing, he was talking to the fire commander, who “made the decision to pull,” but fire commanders don’t do demolitions. Also, it would not have been possible to rig WTC 7 for demolition in the short time between Silverstein’s conversation with the fire commander and the time of WTC 7′s collapse. So it is in fact far more likely that “pull” meant something like “pull people away” or “pull the plug.”) Jim Hoffman has speculated that Silverstein’s “pull it” remark may have been a deliberate attempt to sow confusion, but I don’t think that that’s likely either.

Everyone, please be more careful about any accusations we make against specific individual people! Yes, in any case of possible arson or other destruction of a building, the landlord should be seen as one of the possible suspects. That’s only common sense. But, at least for now, we don’t have enough evidence to prove that Larry Silverstein is actually guilty of any crime. And the last thing we need is for Silverstein to sue a whole bunch of 9/11 Truth activists for libel.

Another bad argument that has been made by some 9/11 Truth activists is the alleged evidence of foreknowledge. Various cops, firefighters, and reporters were expecting WTC 7 to collapse. One reporter even announced that the building had collapsed before it actually did collapse. This is taken, by some folks, as evidence that the cops, fire fighters, and/or reporters had gotten their info from someone in on the demolition conspiracy. However, by mid-afternoon on 9/11/2001, there were legitimate worries that Building 7 might collapse, because of a noticeable bulge on one side. (See, for example, this interview with Deputy Fire Chief Peter Hayden, from the April 2002 Firehouse Magazine.) So, evidence of such an expectation of collapse is not good evidence of demolition.

(P.S., 9/27/2007: The above was written before I learned about the testimonies about a countdown. See WTC 7 – witnesses heard countdown?.)

Also there has been a tendency to exaggerate the smallness and neatness of the rubble pile. Some people have said there was little or no damage to surrounding buildings. That’s not true. 30 West Broadway (to which I had planned to run an errand that day, but luckily didn’t because I was too tired) was irreparably damaged. Other buildings next to WTC 7, the federal building and the Verizon building, were damaged significantly but not irreparably. But it’s true that WTC 7 did collapse almost entirely into its own footprint.

Other issues are iffier. For example, the amount of damage to WTC 7 due to falling debris from WTC 1. 9/11 Truth activists tend to say that there was hardly any damage, whereas supporters of the original story tend to say that there was a lot of damage. As noted earlier, the damage would have to have been on the south side of the building, whereas nearly all the photos and videos are from the north side, so this question is largely a matter of which eye-witnesses you believe.

Ditto for the amount of fire. 9/11 Truth activists tend so say there were only a few small fires, whereas supporters of the official story tend to say that there were more and bigger fires. Again, most of the alleged more and bigger fires would have to have been visible from the south, not the north. Furthermore, since there were fires in the building for seven hours, the amount of fire could easily have varied quite a bit from one hour to the next. So, most likely, different eye-witnesses saw different amounts of fire. Alas, times are not specified for most of the photos or eye-witness accounts I’ve seen from either side.

Of course, even if there was a lot more fire than many 9/11 Truth activists are willing to admit, there’s still the question of whether it could have caused the complete collapse, even an asymmetrical collapse, of WTC 7. Some 9/11 Truth activists have claimed, mistakenly, that it’s not even theoretically possible for a steel-frame building to collapse due to fire. That’s obviously not true. If it were true, there would be no reason to bother with fireproofing. Nevertheless, historically, no other steel-frame skyscrapers have in fact collapsed due to fire, as far as I am aware. For some examples of steel-frame skyscrapers which had long-lasting major fires but did not collapse, see Jim Hoffman’s page on Other Skyscraper Fires.

So, is it possible at all for WTC 7 to have collapsed due to fire? Maybe, though highly unusual. But a straight-down, vertical, almost perfectly symmetrical collapse? Far less likely.

P.S., 10/18/2007: I just now looked at Screw Loose Change’s page about WTC 7 and Mark Roberts’s pages about WTC 7. Nothing here about the straight-down, vertical, symmetrical nature of the collapse. There’s a lot here about how a lot of 9/11 Truth activists have underestimated the damage to the south side, but this only inplies, all the more so, that the building should have leaned considerably more toward the south as it fell. Some of the photos of the alleged damage look weird to me, as if they’ve been rather sloppily doctored, but I’m no photo expert and won’t claim to know for sure either way about this. What I do know is that these photos, if genuine, are only more evidence of the improbabily of a straight-down vertical, almost-symmetrical collapse.

Further P.S., 11/5/2007: See Tales of 9/11 Truthiness by John Doraemi, Friday, February 02, 2007 (on the “Crimes of the State” blog) for more about Silverstein’s “pull it” remark, which I agree is not good evidence.

P.S., 1/9/2008: I said earlier that Mark Roberts’s site does not address at all the issue of the vertical, symmetrical nature of the collapse. That judgment was based on a quick scan of the WTC 7 portion of his site. I later found, sort of hidden away on Roberts’s site, a link to 9/11, Steven Jones, and Me by Robert Cronk, featuring some relevant quotes from NIST’s 2004 preliminary progress report. I’ll discuss the issues raised there at a later time.

P.S. 2/9/2008: Over the past several months, I’ve encountered some attempts to explain the symmetry of WTC 7′s collapse. I discuss one of them briefly in the section Mark’s mechanical arguments, and some other thoughts in my post Review of Hardfire debates between Mark Roberts and Loose Change crew. See also mp post Loose Change Final Cut – section on WTC 7 and the subsequent comment thread.

P.S., 2/11/2008: I’ve recently encountered, for the first time, what may be a substantial counterargument against what I had thought of as the close-to-perfect symmetry of WTC 7′s collapse. See the comments after my post Review of Hardfire debates between Mark Roberts and Loose Change crew. But it all depends on the authenticity of a certain privately-made video, so I should wait for some corroborating evidence before drawing a definite conclusion. See my post Two WTC 7 collapse videos: Can both be real?.

P.S., 2/28/2008: For my current thoughts about WTC 7, including the symmetry argument, please see: Richard Gage’s avowed enemy, part 2 – and my thoughts about WTC 7.


  1. [...] 7 – witnesses heard countdown? September 27th, 2007 As I pointed out in my blog entry Straight-down collapse of WTC 7 – what do “debunkers” say?, there are good reasons to believe that WTC 7 was brought down by controlled demolition. However, [...]

    Pingback by WTC 7 - witnesses heard countdown? « New York City activist — September 27, 2007 @ 7:18 pm | Reply

  2. [...] what I consider to be some of the strongest evidence that 9/11 was an inside job, such as the Straight-down collapse of WTC 7 For other strong evidence, see [...]

    Pingback by Chip Berlet and “Conspiracism” « New York City activist — October 14, 2007 @ 1:59 am | Reply

  3. In response to War games, etc.: A preliminary overview of some of Mark Robinowitz’s evidence about 9/11, charlienneb wrote:

    …I have looked a little at your page on WTC7. The annotated chapter of the FEMA report seems to be the work of a conpiracist to me. FEMA are accused of being dishonest and deceitful but, as you stated yourself:

    However, as even the FEMA report itself admitted, “the best hypothesis” along these lines “has only a low probability of occurrence.”

    FEMA’s statement is hardly the statement of an organization intending to deceive.

    Indeed, I don’t see the FEMA report as a deliberate propaganda effort. Nor do I think it likely that the people who wrote it were knowingly in league with the perpetrators. But they did have conflicts of interest. At the very least, I think they probably would have been extremely biased against drawing any conclusions likely to rock the boat, thereby jeopardizing their careers. On the other hand, they would also be risking their careers if they were to say too many blatantly ridiculous things, or if they engaged in obvious forgery. So, I see them as having been stuck between a rock and a hard place. I see the above-quoted statement in the FEMA report as an admission that the best politically acceptable hypothesis had only a low probability of occurrence. As for other, more likely hypotheses, well, they probably just didn’t want to go there. So they settled on a vague statement about the need for further investigation.

    Comment by Diane — October 19, 2007 @ 7:40 pm | Reply

  4. Hi Diane – you’re putting together a well-considered storm of good commentary here and on other 9/11 related boards you’ve frequented recently, and to me you are a welcome voice (I presume a relatively new one in web forms, or have you been around for a while)? Let’s take your blog from the bottom up, shall we?

    The debunker argument that WTC 7 didn’t fall “straight down” is ludicrous enough that it is generally avoided. Why? WTC 7 did indeed tip slightly depending on the angle of view, and a small part of the end-pile did end up outside the original footprint of the building, on the street and against the wall of the Verizon Building (something less than 3 percent of the mass from the looks of it).

    The trick the debunkers play on this point is to be ridiculously exacting about the terms “footprint” and “straight down,” and never, ever to compare footage of WTC 7 to known controlled demolitions of other, usually far smaller buildings. You will be hard-pressed to find any footage of a CD that goes perfectly straight down without visible tipping – having all walls tipping inwards in fact is a goal of CD, for obvious reasons; it’s desirable that an outer wall lands on top of the pile. But go look at 50 demolition videos, you will find that 90 percent of them tip visibly and far more dramatically than WTC 7. “Straight down” is obviously a relative term for CDs. (In fact, the straightest are usually the work of the leading company, Controlled Demolitions Inc.)

    Even more relative in the CD business is the idea of “footprint,” which is again immediately obvious from videos. You will not find a CD where every single ounce of the original building ended up inside the original walls, and I’m not just talking about the huge dust clouds that are generated but rubble that falls around and outside the original perimeter.

    If presented in a series of demolition videos, WTC 7 would stand out as the work of art for how straight it is compared to the rest, for how near-completely the rubble did end up inside the footprint, and for the fact that outer walls ended up on top of the pile. This particular “debunking” effort is DOA and smells of disingenuity.

    Comment by jackriddler — November 4, 2007 @ 7:17 pm | Reply

  5. More: For all that, there was significant asymmetrical damage to the south side of a building of highly asymmetrical design, and there were large and uncontrolled fires raging for hours. Did this combination for the first time in history cause a global collapse of a steel-skeleton skyscraper due to these factors alone? If so, that collapse was incidentally very good at mimicking the bottom-first, inward-tipping, straight down and symmetrical action of a highly successful controlled implosion into the original footprint. Just bad luck for the debunkers I guess.

    It’s November 2007, the second anniversary of the original release date for the final NIST report on the collapse of WTC 7. That’s a loud silence out there.

    Comment by jackriddler — November 4, 2007 @ 7:31 pm | Reply

  6. [...] time. As far as I am aware, no “debunker” has yet refuted it. (See my earlier blog post Straight-down collapse of WTC 7 – what do “debunkers” say?. See also 9/11 – Proof of Explosive Demolition without Calculations (PDF) by Frank Legge, in the [...]

    Pingback by Demolition of WTC: Let’s not overstate the case, please « New York City activist — November 20, 2007 @ 9:59 pm | Reply

  7. [...] those photos before, or at least a very similar photo, which I linked to a long time ago in my post Straight-down collapse of WTC 7 – what do “debunkers” say? back in [...]

    Pingback by The 9/11 Truth movement and me: Further reply to Pat Curley « New York City activist — November 22, 2007 @ 6:06 pm | Reply

  8. (This comment is an edited pingback.)

    The post linked below discusses my other main reasons for being suspicious about 9/11.

    - Diane

    Pingback by My main reasons for being suspicious about 9/11 « New York City activist — December 20, 2007 @ 6:06 pm | Reply

  9. Jack is minimizing how much debris landed outside the footprint of 7 World Trade. Not only did it heap up against the Verizon building, but it crossed the four-lane street to the north, reaching Fiterman Hall and damaging it to the point of condemnation.

    7 World Trade debris next to Fiterman, shot from north

    Damage to south face of Fiterman Hall

    Comment by boloboffin — February 12, 2008 @ 1:27 pm | Reply

  10. I’m well aware of the damage to Fiterman Hall at 30 West Broadway. Indeed, I specifically mentioned it in my post above, which apparently you didn’t read very carefully. What I’ve described as the close-to-perfect symmetricality of the collapse is a distinct issue, in my mind, from the erroneous claim that there was little or no damage to surrounding buildings.

    Comment by Diane — February 12, 2008 @ 5:25 pm | Reply

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