A series of unremarkable decisions like not stopping for coffee possibly saved the life of a young Australian who was in Brussels Airport at the time of Tuesday’s attacks.
Brisbane student Eliza Weder, 22, was supposed to fly to Prague on the morning bomb attacks ripped through the airport and the Maelbeek underground train station resulting in the deaths of 31 people and wounding of 270 others.
She was travelling to the Czech Republic with two other friends as part of her spring break from university studies — she is on exchange at University College Dublin.
Ms Weder and her travel companions checked into their flight 10 minutes before the suicide bomb exploded at the very counter they had been standing.
Their incredible near-miss was due to a few unexceptional choices they made throughout the morning which put them out of harm’s way.
To begin, the young women made a split-second decision to catch a taxi instead of the train to the airport.
If they had travelled by train, they would have arrived at the check-in counter right as the explosion occurred, Ms Weder said.
After checking in, Ms Weder decided not to stop for food to avoid paying hefty airport prices.
By not making any stops and going straight through security and then on to the gate, they managed to completely avoid the bombing.
They arrived at the gate just before 8:10am — the bombs detonated just after 8:00am.
“We didn’t actually hear anything, didn’t smell any smoke,” Ms Weder said.
The first signs of horror
Ms Weder said the first time she thought something was wrong was when she saw an airport staff member answer a phone call and burst into tears.
“We then saw a group of about 10 people sprinting through the terminal,” she said. “Things just weren’t right.
“Following that there was a call to evacuate over the loudspeaker system, then a second announcement to stay put, and finally a third announcement with a hysterical sounding girl saying ‘get out now’.”
As Ms Weder and her friends started evacuating, they passed an airport cleaner who told them “there are terrorists”.
It was not until the women were outside the airport the scale of the event was realised.
“We could see the glass on the entire side of the airport had been blown out,” Ms Weder said.
“We were standing outside for two-and-a-half hours and in that time we saw ambulance after ambulance after ambulance arrive at the airport, at least 30.
“Then it felt like the entire Belgian army descended onto the airport.”
The thousands of evacuees were eventually bussed to a nearby sports hall where they safely remained while being given coffee and food, even Belgian waffles.
“Locals started coming in, many walking around with signs offering to drive people anywhere,” she said.
“One lovely man said he would drive people to Leuven, a student town, so we got a ride with him.
“We offered him money for the lift but he declined, he just really wanted to help.”
‘I don’t want to live my life in fear’
Ms Weder said once they saw the news reports of the attacks it was “numbing” knowing how close they had been to the explosions.
“We saw pictures of absolute carnage at the exact point where we had been standing at check-in,” she said.
However, Ms Weder is adamant the devastating terrorist attack will not stop her from travelling.
“I’m keen to keep travelling, I don’t want to stop travelling because of this one incident,” she said. “I don’t want to live my life in fear.”
Ms Weder said she never even considered returning to Australia after the attack. “If I can go on, I will,” she said.
She stressed not succumbing to fear or cancelling plans as “that’s the whole point of these attacks”.
“I’m not going to let it affect me.”