The horror of Brussels: 'My memories stop at 9.10am. When they come back, I have blood on my face'
At 7.59am on Tuesday morning brother and sister Alex and Sascha Pinczowski were in the departure hall at Brussels’ Zevantem airport. They called their mother, Marjan, in Maastricht, the Netherlands, to let her know that they had arrived safely. They were preparing to fly back to New York, where they both lived.
In an interview , James Cain, the father of Alex’s American fiancée, Cameron, described what happened next. “He and Sascha were in the ticket line to board Delta flight 34 from Brussels to JFK and at that point Marjan said the phone sounded like it went underwater, and then went dead.”
On Friday morning it was confirmed the two siblings were among the three Dutch nationals killed in Tuesday’s Isis bomb attacks on Brussels airport and metro. The third was named in Dutch media as Elita Weah.
Around 40 nationalities are thought to be among the 31 dead and more than 300 who were wounded. American officials separately said at least two US citizens – at present unnamed – had been confirmed dead and their families informed. Justin and Stephanie Shults, a couple from the southern states, are still among the missing.
A Briton, David Dixon, and a Chinese national identified only by his surname, Deng, were also confirmed dead on Friday. The French foreign ministry announced that one French person had been killed. Twelve French nationals had been wounded, three of them seriously, it added.
The Pinczowskis, both in their 20s, had grown up in and been educated at international school in Germany. Both lived in Manhattan, where 26-year-old Sascha had attended the Marymount Manhattan College until 2014. She worked as a production intern at Shiraz Events.
Shiraz Events president, Shai Tertner, called her “a bright, hardworking young woman, with a great career ahead of her”. She had told friends she was looking forward to returning to New York with her brother, according to the Associated Press.
Cain this week travelled to Brussels with his daughter to help search for her missing fiancé and his sister. He told that Alex and Cameron had met five years ago while taking summer classes at Duke University, North Carolina.
On Friday morning Cain issued a statement on behalf of the Pinczowski family: “We received confirmation this morning from Belgian authorities and the Dutch embassy of the positive identification of the remains of Alexander and Sascha. We are grateful to have closure on this tragic situation, and are thankful for the thoughts and prayers from all. The family is in the process of making arrangements.”
Liberian-born Dutchwoman Elita Weah, from Deventer, could not have been standing far from Alex and Sascha Pinczowski when the bombs exploded at Zevantem airport. Minutes before the explosion the 41-year-old had posed for a photograph and sent it to relatives in the US.
By a tragic coincidence, Weah’s family were already grieving before she set foot in the airport: she had been due to board a flight to Boston to attend the funeral of her stepfather. Weah’s brother, Randell Weah, told Dutch media that Belgian police called the family on Thursday night to tell them the news. She leaves a 13-year-old daughter in Deventer, who is now reportedly in the care of a relative.
Bert Koenders, the Dutch foreign minister, did not give the names of the Dutch victims. A spokeswoman for the Dutch foreign ministry said the country’s privacy rules meant there would be no official confirmation.
“It is terrible that these people have been killed by the arbitrariness of terror,” Koenders said in a statement. “Terrorism knows no borders and no compassion.”
On Friday friends paid tribute to mother of three Loubna Lafquiri, a teacher at La Vertu Islamic school in Brussels, who died at Maelbeek station as she commuted to work.
“She was an exceptional woman. She represented the true values of Islam with generosity and caring,” the co-founder of the school, Mohamed Allaf, said in a CNN news report. Ihsane Bari, who confirmed Lafquiri’s death in , added: “Loubna, a mother of three beautiful boys, a remarkable teacher, a sister dedicated to her community; torn from her relatives by cowards. We miss you.”
Three victims of the attacks had previously been named: Adelma Tapia Ruiz, 37, a Peruvian chef living with her Belgian husband and twin girls in Brussels; Leopold Hecht, a 20-year-old law student at Saint-Louis University, Brussels; and Oliver Delespesse, who worked for the Federation of Wallonia-Brussels.
Alongside the tragic stories of the victims, stories of the survivors have also begun to emerge. Orpheus Vanden Bussche, 33, was in carriage three of the metro train hit by the suicide attack as she travelled to a new job at a hair salon.
“Most of the seats were occupied,” she told . “People were standing. Someone who saw me with my coffee then offered me his place. One more after Maelbeek and then we arrived at Arts-Loi. Concerned about the length of the journey, I checked the time: it was 9.10am.
“My memories stop there. When they come back, I have blood on my face. I’m not in the metro area but sat down before the Thon Hotel where everyone was so nice. A man never left me. It was he who pulled me out of the station. He made me talk and repeated that he would stay with me until I give him my name. Then his mobile rang and he stalled, and then he started to cry.
“I saw [a] little boy who had smiled at me on the subway. Still later, a lady asked me if I remembered her. I had to say no. I have no memory of the explosion. It’s that lady who got me out of the train. She told me that I was stuck in it.”
Samla Da Rosa, a Brazilian who was also on the metro, described in how the driver of the train led passengers to safety, despite having suffered injuries to his face.
“The explosion was deafening and we realised we were in the middle of an attack when the windows fell on our heads and we saw fire outside the train, and we see destroyed track,” she wrote.
“Some screamed in panic: ‘It’s a terrorist attack!’ I and the people sitting in front of me lay on the floor and hugged. We were afraid of another explosion and we were sure we were going to die.” Da Rosa said that one of her fellow passengers shouted that they should leave the train or risk suffocating in the smoke. Finding the doors locked, they clambered through the train’s windows.
“The train driver was talking on the radio and showed injuries to the face. He said he had evacuated the train and started to lead people out of the station. He started flashing his small torch to show the way. We could not see anything because the smoke was very strong. Some steps of the escalator were missing because of the explosion and we tried to find the exit.”
Da Rosa told how passengers helped each other to escape from the wrecked station. “Finally we were all there on the sidewalk,” she wrote. “The police started to arrive and we were soon surrounded by ambulances. Many wounded, burned people and [there was] a loose arm on the sidewalk [I] will never forget.”