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NDSU professor was at Brussels airport when the bombs went off

ANTWERP, Belgium - North Dakota State University professor Newell Wright took a taxi to the Brussels airport early Tuesday, March 22. After helping to squire about 30 NDSU students through a spring-break trip to France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembou...

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A soldier stands near broken windows after explosions at Zaventem airport near Brussels, Belgium, March 22, 2016. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

ANTWERP, Belgium – North Dakota State University professor Newell Wright took a taxi to the Brussels airport early Tuesday, March 22. After helping to squire about 30 NDSU students through a spring-break trip to France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, he had finished up his paperwork and was getting set to go home. "I got there by 7 and I was checked in at 7:05. I was in the departure area. I had gone through security and everything, when all of a sudden, the building rocked," Wright told The Forum in a phone interview. "I didn't hear anything. I couldn't hear an explosion. I thought, 'Huh? Did an airplane get too close and tap the building, or something?' And then a few seconds later, it rocked again, and I thought, 'Wow. An earthquake.' " It was neither.
The rocking he felt were the explosions of bombs used by attackers with the Islamic State terrorist group, which killed at least 10 people at the Zaventem airport. Officials said another 20 people died in a suicide attack on an underground rail station in the Belgian capital city. Wright said authorities began evacuating the airport's departure wing soon after. "Nobody told us anything. We just had to get out, 'There's a fire,' " was what they were told, Wright said. He couldn't see any damage, but he could smell smoke, he said. Everyone was first pushed to the end of the departure area, then out on the tarmac. The passengers were first taken to a DHL (air freight) storage facility, then bused to another area snarled with traffic. "So we got off and they told us to get inside of a building. It was just a nightmare to get inside that building," Wright said. He then asked a police officer "if I had to be there? Could I just leave? And she said, 'Sure, you can leave.' " Wright, who speaks French and has taken students to Belgium since 1998, walked about 2 miles to the tiny town of Zaventem, where a sports arena had been opened so people could use the bathrooms. A man held a sign that said, "Ask me how to get to Leuven," Wright said. The metro and tram and bus systems in Brussels had been shut down. Trains were being used to evacuate people. Most of the people still at the airport were stuck there, Wright said in a Facebook message. "All I have with me is my computer, the clothes on my back, and a box of Neuhaus Chocolates I bought to share with my son Wesley Wright when I see him next," Wright wrote on Facebook. "I feel fortunate and blessed that I always get to the airport early. The bomb went off near where I checked in, but an hour after I checked in." He took the train to Leuven, east of Brussels, then took a train to Antwerp, where colleagues got him a hotel room. "One of the most eerie things, though, was walking from the train station to the hotel. There was nobody on the street. ... In a city of 500,000, there's usually a lot of people about," but the streets held perhaps a tenth or a fifteenth as many as normal, Wright said. "It feels really eerie out there." Until his cellphone service returned, he used a voice over Internet service to call his wife and children and write things on his Facebook page "to let everyone know I was OK," Wright said. Trisha Twite was among those NDSU students who took off from the Brussels airport about 22 hours before the attacks. Twite, a senior from Lengby, Minn., said the group was studying the rise of the European Union after World War II. She said she and the others felt safe under the guidance of Wright and accounting professors Michael Petersen and Yongtao "David" Hong. But on Tuesday, she felt "very uncomfortable. Every time I travel, my dad gets worried" and nothing happens, Twite said. "And then things like this happen." She said she was shocked by seeing police and security officers armed with assault weapons guarding palaces and museums wherever they visited. "That was a little culture shock because we don't have that in America," Twite said. "Just like in the middle of town with kids around. I don't think we realized how blessed we are in America." She said she now finds it "ironic how everyone complains about security" in U.S. airports. Wright said Belgians are shocked and appalled. "They have been very kind and very nice and generous and trying to help us in a pretty bad situation," he said. "And I find that extremely gratifying." Wright said one woman in Leuven guided him to the right train. A doctor didn't charge him for a prescription he needed filled. Colleagues at the University of Antwerp helped him get a hotel and offered to put him up in their homes. And hotel clerks made sure he got the best rates. "It's very, very eerie. I would never have thought I would have gotten stuck in a terrorist situation," Wright said. "I love Belgium. You've got to understand, I speak French and I learned how to speak French here in Belgium. I'm a Mormon and I served my two-year Mormon mission in Belgium." He feels sorry for Europe's Muslims. "I saw a Muslim lady who was shaking her head and saying, 'Not again. Not again.' They pay a terrible price when the radical element does things," Wright said. "I feel sorry for all the law-abiding people caught up in everything." In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, he's re-examining the worth of the study-abroad program. Are the benefits-which he says are many for students-enough to outweigh security concerns. "I've got to seriously rethink bringing students here now. I mean, everybody knew terrorism was an issue," he said. He said he'll give it some time before he makes that decision. "Now that I am safely away from Brussels, in an off-the-beaten-path hotel that is not touristy in any way, the realization of what happened this morning is beginning to hit me," Wright said in a Facebook post. "I must say, I am just a bit rattled by the events of today. And extremely grateful that all of my students went home yesterday and avoided all of this mess." Correction: A previous headline on this article contained incorrect information about the NDSU students. Only the professor was in the airport when the explosions occurred. The headline has been changed to reflect the correct information.ANTWERP, Belgium – North Dakota State University professor Newell Wright took a taxi to the Brussels airport early Tuesday, March 22.After helping to squire about 30 NDSU students through a spring-break trip to France, Belgium, Germany, Luxembourg and the Netherlands, he had finished up his paperwork and was getting set to go home."I got there by 7 and I was checked in at 7:05. I was in the departure area. I had gone through security and everything, when all of a sudden, the building rocked," Wright told The Forum in a phone interview. "I didn't hear anything. I couldn't hear an explosion. I thought, 'Huh? Did an airplane get too close and tap the building, or something?' And then a few seconds later, it rocked again, and I thought, 'Wow. An earthquake.' "It was neither.
The rocking he felt were the explosions of bombs used by attackers with the Islamic State terrorist group, which killed at least 10 people at the Zaventem airport. Officials said another 20 people died in a suicide attack on an underground rail station in the Belgian capital city.Wright said authorities began evacuating the airport's departure wing soon after."Nobody told us anything. We just had to get out, 'There's a fire,' " was what they were told, Wright said.He couldn't see any damage, but he could smell smoke, he said. Everyone was first pushed to the end of the departure area, then out on the tarmac.The passengers were first taken to a DHL (air freight) storage facility, then bused to another area snarled with traffic."So we got off and they told us to get inside of a building. It was just a nightmare to get inside that building," Wright said. He then asked a police officer "if I had to be there? Could I just leave? And she said, 'Sure, you can leave.' "Wright, who speaks French and has taken students to Belgium since 1998, walked about 2 miles to the tiny town of Zaventem, where a sports arena had been opened so people could use the bathrooms.A man held a sign that said, "Ask me how to get to Leuven," Wright said.The metro and tram and bus systems in Brussels had been shut down. Trains were being used to evacuate people.Most of the people still at the airport were stuck there, Wright said in a Facebook message."All I have with me is my computer, the clothes on my back, and a box of Neuhaus Chocolates I bought to share with my son Wesley Wright when I see him next," Wright wrote on Facebook. "I feel fortunate and blessed that I always get to the airport early. The bomb went off near where I checked in, but an hour after I checked in."He took the train to Leuven, east of Brussels, then took a train to Antwerp, where colleagues got him a hotel room."One of the most eerie things, though, was walking from the train station to the hotel. There was nobody on the street. ... In a city of 500,000, there's usually a lot of people about," but the streets held perhaps a tenth or a fifteenth as many as normal, Wright said. "It feels really eerie out there."Until his cellphone service returned, he used a voice over Internet service to call his wife and children and write things on his Facebook page "to let everyone know I was OK," Wright said.Trisha Twite was among those NDSU students who took off from the Brussels airport about 22 hours before the attacks.Twite, a senior from Lengby, Minn., said the group was studying the rise of the European Union after World War II. She said she and the others felt safe under the guidance of Wright and accounting professors Michael Petersen and Yongtao "David" Hong.But on Tuesday, she felt "very uncomfortable. Every time I travel, my dad gets worried" and nothing happens, Twite said. "And then things like this happen."She said she was shocked by seeing police and security officers armed with assault weapons guarding palaces and museums wherever they visited."That was a little culture shock because we don't have that in America," Twite said. "Just like in the middle of town with kids around. I don't think we realized how blessed we are in America."She said she now finds it "ironic how everyone complains about security" in U.S. airports.Wright said Belgians are shocked and appalled."They have been very kind and very nice and generous and trying to help us in a pretty bad situation," he said. "And I find that extremely gratifying."Wright said one woman in Leuven guided him to the right train. A doctor didn't charge him for a prescription he needed filled. Colleagues at the University of Antwerp helped him get a hotel and offered to put him up in their homes. And hotel clerks made sure he got the best rates."It's very, very eerie. I would never have thought I would have gotten stuck in a terrorist situation," Wright said. "I love Belgium. You've got to understand, I speak French and I learned how to speak French here in Belgium. I'm a Mormon and I served my two-year Mormon mission in Belgium."He feels sorry for Europe's Muslims."I saw a Muslim lady who was shaking her head and saying, 'Not again. Not again.' They pay a terrible price when the radical element does things," Wright said. "I feel sorry for all the law-abiding people caught up in everything."In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, he's re-examining the worth of the study-abroad program. Are the benefits-which he says are many for students-enough to outweigh security concerns."I've got to seriously rethink bringing students here now. I mean, everybody knew terrorism was an issue," he said.He said he'll give it some time before he makes that decision."Now that I am safely away from Brussels, in an off-the-beaten-path hotel that is not touristy in any way, the realization of what happened this morning is beginning to hit me," Wright said in a Facebook post. "I must say, I am just a bit rattled by the events of today. And extremely grateful that all of my students went home yesterday and avoided all of this mess."Correction: A previous headline on this article contained incorrect information about the NDSU students. Only the professor was in the airport when the explosions occurred. The headline has been changed to reflect the correct information.

Helmut Schmidt is a reporter for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead's business news team. Readers can reach him by email at hschmidt@forumcomm.com, or by calling (701) 241-5583.
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