Walking away from tragedy puts everything in perspective. When disaster strikes, a wave ripples throughout the world, shaking people closest to the point of impact to their core. That’s exactly how Megan Driscoll felt as she stepped away unharmed from the arrival terminal of the Brussels International Airport. Megan was waiting to greet her best friend Briana Morrissey who was set to land just 15 minutes before the bombs exploded in the upper departure terminal of the airport.
Taking off from JFK earlier than originally expected Monday was a positive change. It meant I would see Megan even sooner. As the crew prepared for decent, the pilot announced we were being rerouted to Amsterdam because the Brussels airport is closed indefinitely. I picked up on the word indefinitely – it didn’t seem right. Especially with the news that one of the main terrorists from the Paris attacks had been caught the Friday before in Brussels. Indefinitely means something more than weather, more than technical difficulties; the context indicated it was something bigger.
Early Tuesday morning Megan made her way to Brussels airport. She arrived at 7:55am; walking up to the arrivals section standing next to the flight information monitors trying to remember Briana’s flight number. After being there for about 10 minutes, the first bomb went off. “Everyone around me froze, not realizing what was wrong.” Then the second bomb went off, “I felt the whole building shake with the explosion. People began to run towards me and my mind went blank, my body paralyzed with fear and confusion.” Out of normalcy, chaos broke out.
An hour later I was on the ground in Amsterdam the pilot made his second announcement basically saying: last stop here, we won’t be going any further but company representatives can help you inside. As I sat on the tarmac at a remote location, my mind started to wonder–playing out various scenarios in my head. I just wanted to be able to text Megan and let her know I had been rerouted, but I didn’t have Wi-Fi or an international plan. I managed to calm my nerves knowing she had our flight information and I’d be able to text her once we got inside the airport.
A few rows up, a group started discussing quickly amongst themselves what looked like a news story on their phone. I don’t speak French but there was a noticeable level of concern in their voices. More passengers started pulling out their phones and talking in languages foreign to me. Then the pilot made the announcement: news has come through that there have been two explosions at the airport, shutting down all travel in and out of Belgium.
Stumbling from the airport in a haze of dismay, Megan found herself in the middle of the confusion. “Everyone around me, myself included, just stood there with their hands trembling, eyes darting back and forth.” Through stuttering disbelief she said to herself, “I’m ok, I’m alive.”
I needed to get in touch with Megan. I didn’t care if the phone call would cost me more than four years of college tuition, I needed to know she was safe. I searched back through our texts to find her European cell phone number. Two quick rings and the sound of her voice gave me some relief. Exchanges of “I’m safe” and current statuses followed with smiles and tears.
Megan and I made arrangements for her to come see me in Amsterdam, but I could tell this was hitting her hard. We were both beginning to process everything. Still in shock Megan wrote, “I promise not to let these terrorists force me to live in fear in a city I love. For all that are here in Brussels and all that are watching from the outside, keep those who were affected by the bombings in your thoughts. Fear is what these terrorists want, and it takes great bravery to head back to normal routines. The best advice I can give is to stand together and stay cautious. March 22nd, 2016 was a black day in Belgian history, but rebuilding this beautiful city starts by supporting the great people of Belgium.”
The worst part is knowing, indirectly, that I put Megan in harm’s way. I cannot express how thankful I am that she is okay and amazed by her continued level of bravery. She is truly the hero in my Brussels story.
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