On Thursday March 17th, my girlfriend Kimberley Smith and I flew from Copenhagen, Denmark to Brussels, Belgium to spend a few days visiting and to see a concert (Flume). An hour before we arrived in Brussels the man responsible for the Paris Shootings was caught in a suburb of Brussels called Molenbeek. The capture was made very public and the following days in the city were noticeably eerie, with a very visible police presence throughout the downtown core.
Saturday March 19th.
On the metro on the way to the concert venue on Saturday night, beer in hand, I made a semi serious/semi sarcastic comment about taking note of the exit areas considering this was a very similar venue to that of the Paris attack. We all kind of tried to brush it off, but we all knew in the back of our minds that Brussels was in a vulnerable state in terms of some kind of retaliation for the way they displayed the capture of Salah Abdeslam two nights before. However, the security at the venue were very thorough with full body pat downs and the concert was amazing.
Monday March 21st.
At 22:00 Brussels time on March 21st I posted on my Facebook page announcing our departure from Brussels to Geneva, Switzerland because I knew I wouldn't have wifi the following day, as we were leaving early.
Tuesday March 22nd:
5.00: We woke up at 5 a.m in downtown Brussels and caught a very expensive taxi (€45) from our hotel to Brussels international airport just south of the city.
7:00: We arrived at the airport around 7:00 and headed to check in as anyone would do. After roaming up and down the airport for several minutes we finally found our easyjet check in desk to check our bags and were surprisingly offered to check our three bags free of charge, leaving us with just our backpacks.
7:20: As we walked toward security, we debated stopping for coffee at the Starbucks at the entrance of the airport but continued on concluding that there was most likely another one beyond security that we could surely get our morning caffeine fix from. We also wouldn't be able to bring our coffees through security so we would have to hang out and finish them at the Starbucks before going through.
8:05: After drinking a terrible €6 smoothy and €4 granola, we headed to gate A38 to board our Easyjet flight to Geneva.
8:15: As we found our seats the captain (not a flight attendant) made a special announcement saying there would be a delay because of a bomb threat Note: The doors are still open on the plane as we were still waiting on passengers and the doors to the pilot cockpit area were still open as well.
8.17: The pilot made an announcement and confirmed that there was in fact two explosions in the airport. Everyone seemed to be confused and in disbelief. I've never heard so much chatter on plane before. Everyone was on there phones within seconds, and unfortunately we have Swedish SIM cards in our phones so we had no access to call anyone, or check the live reports.
8:20: We still don't know anything, other than that the authorities are evacuating the airport and we are to stay on the plane where "it is safe" according to the captain. Out the windows we see people running out of the airport onto the tarmac to pre board their waiting planes.
9:50: The announcement to disembark the plane directly onto buses to be taken to "an evacuation area" is made by the captain. We disembark and are taken to a large airplane hanger filled with hydraulic mechanical equipment.
10:30: More than 2000 people are sitting freezing in the airport hanger. Airport officials are handing out airplane blankets and water to the crowds. Groups of in transit travellers en-route to other destinations are flooding into the hanger confused.
11:30: Food is brought in but is gone very quickly, information is still extremely vague and we still don't have wifi access so we remain at the mercy of eavesdropping in on conversations to get our "updates". We wait an hour in line to use a early 2000s desktop to send two emails to our parents using a Dutch Keyboard (very confusing).
13:00: more food is brought and people start getting pushy to get there hands on food. A minor altercations between a French woman and a West African man ensues which officials break up quickly. We are yet to get any food, but honestly the scene is more interesting then food at this point. A sort of formal chaos is visibly growing amongst multicultural mix of peoples, languages and shared confusion. The airport officials do a fantastic job of being as transparent as possible and try to answer everyones questions patiently. Unfortunately they are just as clueless as everyone else, as information is limited from the authorities.
16:00: We ask about our bags, no answers are available from airport officials other than that we should check with our airline in a few days. When we asked a police official his response was "no idea, but I know the airport will be closed and locked down for atleast the next 48 hours".
17:00: Our options are leave the airport by private busses to be brought to a nearby town to spend the night, or spend the night in a military base where more than 2000 people in transit would spend the night. This was due to the fact that there was no passport officials available to stamp in transit travellers into the E.U. so they had to be taken via military police to a military base. We opted for the first option as we already had our stamps to be in the E.U. We board a bus packed like a sardine can and leave the airport escorted by multiple military vehicles. The airport is empty and the explosion area at the entrance is visible for a brief moment where the glass is shattered to the ground and the smoke has settled. We pass a security check point filled with armed officials and than pass the army of news cameras and reporters pointing at us like we are refugees.
Not until we arrived in Leuven, Belgium and had access to wifi did we realize the severity of what had happened. The bombs had went off at 8:15 directly in front of the Starbucks at the entrance where we had almost stopped for a coffee less than an hour before the explosions.
Our hearts go out to everyone who lost someone in these attacks, and to all the injured and affected people. I would also like to thank the staff at easyjet for somehow rebooking us a flight out of Amsterdam, and the amazing Brussels airport staff for doing such a great job.
Jesse Delgrosse @gringosontherun