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Brussels terror attacks: Antrim students 'lucky to be alive' after missing airport explosion by minutes

By Staff Reporters

Teenagers and workers from Northern Ireland who were in Brussels yesterday have said they feel lucky to be alive.

A group of 18 students from east Antrim had missed their train and avoided one of the explosions at the airport by minutes.

James McCaughan, a youth worker with the group, said they initially thought a fire was to blame for the panic.

"We didn't realise what had happened," he said in an interview with BBC Radio.

"We were just obviously in an emergency situation. Our priority was really to get the young people safely out without any panic."

He continued: "My co-worker Heidi was with me and we just kept them calm and got outside. Everything was OK but when they started looking on social media then people were a bit more scared."

With the airport and public transport in Brussels locked down for security, the group arranged for a private minibus to take them to Amsterdam to catch a separate flight. They arrived safely back in Dublin last night.

One of the teenagers, Shealyn Caulfield (17) from Ballymena, told reporters: "We missed our first train to the airport so we were 10 minutes behind schedule and missed the bombing by a few minutes.

"As soon as we arrived at the airport we were told to sprint out of the emergency exits. We then were walking towards a metro and were told that there had been another bombing in the metro stations and that public transport was shut down."

Her mother Clare Caulfield, who was at home, told the Ballymena Times she was terrified when she heard the news.

"She texted this morning to say that they missed the first train to the airport," she said. "They missed that train, thank God.

"They got into the airport and the bombs went off, and they had to be evacuated.

"At that stage, I knew nothing about it. I was in spin class in the gym. I happened to look over to the left and saw all this running on the TV.

"I was about to pass out. I couldn't take it in."

An Education Authority spokesperson said: "No one was injured and the group was immediately moved to a safe area where direct contact was made with the authority and the parents of the young people."

Barry Magee from Downpatrick has lived in Brussels for 11 years and works in the European Parliament.

After hearing about the first two explosions at the airport, he contacted his manager to say he would work from home.

In less that half-an-hour a third explosion occurred at the Maelbeek station, somewhere he would pass twice a day.

"I just feel a sense of relief that I've made the right decision not to go to work today and thankfully I'm safe and sound and that's the main thing," he said in a video diary he sent to the BBC.

"My thoughts and prayers are with those people that died and their families and also those people that got injured as well."

Nathan Magee from Bangor also works in the European Parliament. Yesterday he said he was afraid to leave his office, and told the Belfast Telegraph the atmosphere was surreal.

"In a way I sort of expected it," he said.

"I expected something but I don't think we really expected it on this level.

"A bit of shock this morning with the airport but the Metro station has really hit home with everybody.

"A colleague of mine, he has two young children who were to take the Metro this morning.

"It's really strange. Nobody knows what to do or think at times like this."

Ben McCade, from Portrush, has been a Brussels resident for 18 months. His former flat was close to the central tube station.

"I used to live next door to Maelbeek metro station until six months ago and I couldn't help feeling glad that I'd moved when I heard the terrible news," he said.

"In the European Parliament at the minute there's a lockdown following the explosions as we're just a stone's throw from that station.

"I don't think anybody was expecting this."

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