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Tuesday 17 July 2018

Bangkok bombing: Last-minute nap may have saved three Irish travellers from deadly carnage

Chris Hughes (inset), who is in Bangkok
Chris Hughes (inset), who is in Bangkok
Chris Hughes, who is in Bangkok

Claire McNeilly

An early evening nap may have saved three Irish backpackers from getting caught up in the horror of the Bangkok bomb.

Chris Hughes and his friends had been planning a visit to the Erawan Shrine, where a device exploded killing at least 22 people, including one Briton, and injuring 120.

But due to fatigue the Belfast trio - Chris, 26-year-old Mairead Campbell and Stephen Haughey (29) - opted to retire to their hotel room instead.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph from Thailand, the 27-year-old events producer told of the terrifying moment their hotel door was kicked in and they learned a bomb had gone off.

"We could have been at the bomb site; it is a five-minute walk away from our hotel," Chris said.

"We had just checked in at 6pm. The plan was to drop off our bags and go out immediately, but at the last minute we decided to have a rest.

Chris Hughes, who is in Bangkok
Chris Hughes, who is in Bangkok

"We were sleeping and the door of the hotel room flew open and someone ran in screaming: 'Bomb! Bomb! You have to leave now', and then started pointing at the windows.

"I looked out, and by a very cruel serendipity there was a thunder and lightning storm happening right then all over the place, so we thought there were bombs going off all over Bangkok - that was the most terrifying part of it all.

"I was just standing there thinking: 'This could be it'."

Soon afterwards Chris said he realised that Mairead - who had suggested going shopping earlier - wasn't in the room.

"I threw on my clothes, ran out of the hotel and headed towards the scene of the blast," he said. "I ended up about 30 metres from the bomb site. They were desperately trying to establish some sort of cordon around the area.

"By the time I got there I had already walked past numerous body parts. It was absolutely indescribable.

"After living in Belfast all my life and then coming here to see that... it was absolutely horrible and I pray to God that no one I know ever has to see what I saw, or experience that level of fear."

Hundreds of people were in the area - one of the wealthiest parts of the city - when the bomb exploded at 7pm local time. That swelled to at least a thousand within 20 minutes as news spread.

It was while he was at the scene that Chris learned that Mairead was safe in a nearby five-star hotel.

"I was so relieved to hear she was OK and hadn't been hurt in the blast," he said.

"But we are still trying to come to terms with the shock of what happened.

"None of the three of us have left our hotel room at all today. We are drained by it. It was the most horrible thing I have ever seen."

The friends, who have been in Bangkok for five days, had planned to spend a fortnight in Thailand. But Chris said they hadn't made up their minds whether to leave or not.

"Going by the statements the Government has put out, they don't seem to know who is behind the attack," he said.

"We're being told it might not be safe to head south to the islands, so we don't know what to do.

"The Thai Government has set up a war room to co-ordinate their response so we're quite worried about what could happen next.

"We're on the other side of the world and none of us has ever been here before. It's frightening."

The area around Bangkok's Erawan Shrine is filled with hundreds of tourists, office workers and shoppers at any given time.

It is at a major intersection that was the centre of many contentious political demonstrations in recent years - raising questions about whether the attack was motivated by previous conflicts.

The Foreign Office has not stepped in to advise against all travel to Thailand.

That means holidaymakers will not be entitled to refunds should they opt not to go.

Belfast Telegraph

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