Failed coup in Turkey: Returning travellers recall the fear and chaos

Ms Grace Feng, 33, hugging her mother, Madam Mary Lan, 66, at Changi Airport on her return from Turkey yesterday. Beside her is her father, Mr Philip Feng, 68. Several Singaporeans in Turkey resumed their journeys or arrived home last night. SEE TOP
Ms Grace Feng, 33, hugging her mother, Madam Mary Lan, 66, at Changi Airport on her return from Turkey yesterday. Beside her is her father, Mr Philip Feng, 68. Several Singaporeans in Turkey resumed their journeys or arrived home last night.ST PHOTO: CHEW SENG KIM

With helicopters buzzing overhead, the sound of gunshots and soldiers in full battle dress with weapons at the ready - it was total chaos at Istanbul's Ataturk airport in the hours after Friday night's attempted military coup in Turkey.

Singaporeans who returned from Istanbul to relieved family members yesterday described scenes of fear, with travellers hiding in toilets to wait out the siege.

Jet planes would take off and thunder past so close that the windows would vibrate.

"It sounded like explosions," said Ms Joanne Lim, 33, who is in between jobs.

She was one of the Singaporeans who arrived home yesterday evening on a Turkish Airlines flight. She spent 24 hours waiting for a plane out of Turkey after her initial flight was cancelled.

Another Singaporean, Ms Grace Feng, 33, said she was at the airport waiting for her flight to depart at about midnight, when all flights were suddenly cancelled.

At Changi Airport yesterday, travellers were also faced with a frustrating wait at the baggage belt, as luggage from their flight went through additional screenings. At the Terminal 1 belt, security staff were also seen scanning people with metal detectors.

Ms Feng, a teacher, said it was "a huge mess" and that travellers were piecing together what happened from television broadcasts and news on their mobile phones.

People also started running in panic after a glass wall broke at the airport, she said.

Ms Feng said that what was "most scary" was the sense that "anyone could just walk in" to the area where travellers were huddled in the airport in the middle of the night. She added that people were sleeping at restaurants in the transit area.

At Changi Airport yesterday, travellers were also faced with a frustrating wait at the baggage belt, as luggage from their flight went through additional screenings.

At the Terminal 1 belt, security staff were also seen scanning people with metal detectors.

 

Two hours after the flight landed at about 8pm, families were still waiting anxiously for their loved ones. Some, like Ms Feng, shared a tight embrace with family members after finally coming out of the baggage area.

 

Many family members said they were worried after hearing about the attempted coup and the airport being closed.

Musician John Chua was waiting for his cousin, who told him that bombing sounds could be heard at the airport.

"We were worried, we also weren't sure if he was telling us everything that was happening," said Mr Chua, 31.

Mrs Lyn Sam, 71, said her son - who was returning from a business trip - had to queue for more than three hours to get his ticket revalidated for the new flight.

"It sounded like a harrowing experience, with the helicopters and soldiers standing outside the glass door with guns," said the housewife.

Earlier yesterday morning, a group of 10 ITE College Central students and their lecturer also arrived back from Istanbul via Kuala Lumpur.

The group, comprising students aged between 18 and 21, were stranded at Ataturk airport for about 13 hours and had hid inside a toilet, said an ITE spokesman, who added that they were relieved at the "safe return of all students and staff".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2016, with the headline 'Returning travellers recall the fear and chaos'. Print Edition | Subscribe