Tuesday 17 October 2017

Exclusive: 'It was terrifying, our balcony doors started shaking and we heard gunshots' - Irish model caught up in Turkish military coup

Scenes in Turkey and model Judy Fitzgerald
Scenes in Turkey and model Judy Fitzgerald

Sasha Brady

An Irish model was caught in Turkey as an attempted coup unfolded overnight.

Judy Fitzgerald, who previously held the title of Miss Bikini Ireland, was holidaying in Istanbul with a friend when a number of military officers launched an unsuccessful coup.

Speaking to Independent.ie, the 25-year-old described the experience as "terrifying".

"It had been a normal day, we'd been out shopping and went for dinner but there was nothing out of the ordinary, nothing to suggest this would happen," she said.

Judy Fitzgerald - Miss Bikini Ireland 2014
Judy Fitzgerald - Miss Bikini Ireland 2014

"We were in bed at about 3am local time when we got the phone call from home. People were checking to see if we were okay. We had to turn on the news to find out what was going on."

More than 160 people were killed in violence that erupted late on Friday after a faction of the armed forces attempted to seize power using tanks and attack helicopters, some strafing the headquarters of Turkish intelligence and parliament in Ankara, others seizing a major bridge in Istanbul.

Scenes in Istanbul, Turkey as coup unfolded. Picture: Judy Fitzgerald
Scenes in Istanbul, Turkey as coup unfolded. Picture: Judy Fitzgerald
Scenes in Istanbul, Turkey as coup unfolded. Picture: Judy Fitzgerald

"Within minutes of getting the call from home our hotel balcony doors started shaking, there were helicopters flying overheard and then we heard gunshots and people screaming in the streets."

The Limerick model, who is also a qualified nurse, posted a video to Instagram of military men walking through the city armed with guns.

"The hotel advised us to stay indoors. Everyone was gathered in the restaurant to watch the news, even the staff. Nobody could believe this was going on outside our doors. You see these things on the news and, of course, it's terrible but when you're there in the middle of it... it's just surreal. It was so frightening," she said.

Ms Fitzgerald and her friend had arrived in Turkey a week after the Istanbul airport attack, which claimed 41 lives.

"We'd tried to get a refund for our holiday at the time but we weren't eligible. We were assured, however, that we would be safe, that there'd be no chance of danger," she said.

"Then when this happened we were so scared. Both of the Bosphorus bridges were closed and we didn't know how we'd get out ahead of our flight home on Wednesday. There was talk of shutting down the electricity and cutting the internet.

Scenes in Istanbul, Turkey as coup unfolded. Picture: Judy Fitzgerald
Scenes in Istanbul, Turkey as coup unfolded. Picture: Judy Fitzgerald
Scenes in Istanbul, Turkey as coup unfolded. Picture: Judy Fitzgerald

"As an Irish person, I didn't know how the military would react to me, if anything were to happen. All of these thoughts go through your head. I kept thinking about the Paris and Nice attacks and the Orlando shooting. I just didn't know what was going to happen."

She said the atmosphere in the hotel is more relaxed now as conditions settle but people are still worried.

"We went to bed at about 7am and then got up at 10am to watch the news. There were people in the restaurant who hadn't been to bed at all, they were still watching the TV."

Ms Fitzgerald said that the hotel had advised guests to contact their Embassy for updates regarding travel.

"Hopefully we'll be okay. Nobody really knows what to today today. It just feels so strange," she said.

A spokesman from The Department of Foreign Affairs suggested that citizens concerned about family or friends in Turkey should contact the department rather than the Irish embassy in Turkey due to the “huge volume of calls” being dealt with.

It said the situation remains “unclear” and Irish citizens considering travel to Turkey are advised to delay travel until the situation becomes clearer.

The Department of Foreign Affairs can be reached on (01) 408 2000.

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