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Irishman escapes Libya by claiming to be Turkish

A DESPERATE Irish citizen struggling to escape the increasingly fraught situation in Libya pretended to be Turkish to gain access to the airport.

Don Getty's quick thinking at the door of Tripoli Airport saw him walk to freedom through a mob of panic-stricken people.

Mr Getty, originally from Canada but living for the past 16 years in Oldcastle, Co Meath, had arrived in Libya on February 15. An operations supervisor with North African Geophysical Exploration, he usually works six weeks in Libya and then returns to Ireland for four weeks. He had just arrived when the trouble started.

"It was bad timing, no kidding," he told the Irish Independent yesterday.

"Everything was normal until that Thursday. Within two days it was full-on. I thought, at first, that I could ride it out, but when the fighting hit Tripoli that's when we got scared."

Mr Getty worked with 100 Libyan colleagues and six expatriates. By the time the unrest hit the capital city every Libyan employee had fled.

"I was getting scared. I was going to bed at night and hearing the artillery and gunfire going off. People were driving by in cars shooting."

On February 23 Mr Getty was contacted by his wife Maureen, who had been contacted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and asked her to tell him to make his way to the airport. When he arrived there was chaos.

"It was like there was a concert on and the airport was the stage. It was madness; people were pushing and shoving to get in."

As he pushed his way to the front, he heard security make an announcement.

"They just opened the doors when I got there and said: 'Only Turkish citizens may enter.' And I said, 'I'm from Turkey' and I walked right in."

Inside the airport there were scenes of panic and frenzy and the building was wall-to-wall with people.

"There are thousands and thousands of people who have no arrangements in place to get them out. They are there only in the hope a miracle will happen.

"Just getting inside the airport has taken some up to 12 hours. Once inside no one will leave. This adds to the pandemonium, just too many people in the building and very few are moving out of it on flights."


Mr Getty saw fights break out and people passing out. He heard about security beating people without prejudice.

Finally Mr Getty got on a BP chartered aircraft that landed in London Gatwick on the morning of February 24.

Mr Getty said the Department of Foreign Affairs was doing the best it could under exceptional circumstances.

"I applaud the Government for their efforts. If not for that message from the department, I would still be there."

The department has confirmed that so far more than 100 Irish nationals and their families have been aided in leaving. On Saturday, seven people arrived at Casement Aerodrome, Baldonnel having departed Benghazi on an Air Corps jet.

Yesterday, a further 13 people arrived back in Ireland, including two families, one of four and one of seven. Six Irish people who were living and working in Libya arrived in Athens yesterday from Benghazi, and three Irish were evacuated from Tripoli with 13 other EU nationals by Irish Government Jet.

An additional number of Irish evacuees left Benghazi on a British naval vessel.

Irish Independent