Failures in intelligence. Lapses in surveillance. At least 31 one people killed in what Belgian officials call the darkest day in the nation’s history since World War II. It’s a story that at first seems without a hero.
But there might be at least one. After the Islamic State unleashed its terrorist strike at Brussels Airport, most people fled the chaos. One airport worker, however, reportedly didn’t. Instead, he started carrying people to safety.
It’s unclear how many injured people Alphonse Youla, clad in a green uniform, carted away. Some reports say seven. He himself said in interviews following the attack that he took at least four people out. An image circulated by Reuters — which it said it could not independently verify — appeared to show him carrying one person.
Whatever the number, Youla has now assumed the mantle of an unlikely hero for onlookers who badly need one.
After the attacks, as an image proclaiming him one started to go viral, Youla spoke about what he saw. The panic he felt. And how he said he responded.
Someone had been shouting in Arabic, he said. Then Youla, who according to reports was working security at a check-in counter, heard a large explosion. Everything tilted into chaos.
“Two old people who came towards me, I saved them,” a Daily Mail video shows Youla saying. “I put them in the lift, but they didn’t want to let go of me, but I couldn’t take them with me. There were too many people there.”
— Gavin Lee (@GavinLeeBBC) March 22, 2016
“I found a woman who was on the ground and who wasn’t moving,” he told reporters when he emerged from the airport, garments splotched with blood that wasn’t his. “There was too much blood. And a second person that was on the ground, a woman, who was laying near the back escalator. And I went over and took both of her legs and propped them up to stop the hemorrhage a bit.”
Youla, who didn’t respond to a request for an interview by The Washington Post, said he spotted others who needed help. “I took two police out, whose legs were completely crushed,” he said. “There were two women as well — two women who were sitting behind the … counter who were also, who had lost their two legs. With her husband too.”
Youla, who the Wall Street Journal reports “handles baggage and security for flights with African destinations,” began to weep as he explained what he seen. BBC reporter Gavin Lee snapped a picture of him examining his hands, as though surprised to find blood on them.
“Alphonse was wrapping bags by check in desks [when he] heard explosion,” Lee tweeted. “He pulled 7 wounded people to safety.”