Horst Pilger said his children thought fireworks were going off when the first explosion struck on Tuesday, but he instantly knew that Brussels airport was under attack.
“My wife and I both thought ‘bomb’. We looked into each other’s eyes,” he told Reuters. “Five or 10 seconds later there was a major, major, major blast in close vicinity. It was massive.”
Pilger, an Austrian who works for the European Union, was planning a short family trip to Rome and, two hours before departure, was sitting at a coffee shop in the main departure hall.
“We were just halfway through the coffee and there was a boom. It was a distant but fairly loud,” Pilger said by telephone from a hotel opposite the terminal building where travellers have been taken by airport staff.
“Later on, the kids told me they’d thought it was fireworks,” he said. But the second blast left no doubt.
Pilger, who works at the European Commission, said the whole ceiling collapsed and smoke flooded the building.
“We were very scared,” he said.
Confined to the hotel for hours after the attacks, with a later bomb exploding at a Brussels metro station, Pilger said he was also present when there was a subsequent blast, probably a controlled explosion by security services.
“Around 2 o’clock, we were told to go to the back of the building now. So obviously they knew there was some sort of explosion going to happen... That explosion really destroyed the terminal building more than the previous one had.”