Nidhi Chaphekar- Face of Brussels twin blast horror, still positive about life
New York [U.S.], Mar. 22 (ANI): Belgium marked one year since the ISIS terror attacks with a memorial service at Zaventem airport on Wednesday morning, and a emotional figure could be seen among the crowd trying to hold back tears as she was lauded for her bravery- Nidhi Chaphekar, the Jet Airways flight attendant, whose image of sitting shell-shocked with her clothes ripped was burned into the world's memory.
Wednesday marks a year since the blasts shook Brussels airport followed by explosions at a metro station in the city, in which 32 people were killed and over 300 more were injured. ISIS later claimed responsibility for both attacks.
One year on, Chaphekar is a far cry from the shocked woman slumped on an airport chair, bra and stomach exposed, her yellow blazer ripped, as she looks forward to life with a positive view, even though the memory of the attack is fresh.
Recalling the deadliest terror attack in Belgian history, the flight attendant remembers preparing for a routine flight to Newark, New Jersey after she had flown in from Mumbai the day before.
"I saw the first human suicide bomb attack but I couldn't figure out what it was. It looked as if something exploded. I always thought it had to be a wheelchair with lithium batteries," she told CNN, adding that her immediate reaction was to offer help, but a colleague held her back.
"Within those moments, those few seconds, while we were talking — the crowd started running towards all directions … those who couldn't find the exit in that chaos, they were rushing towards us, the cries, people started screaming."
As a soldier ran past her, Chaphekar cried out for assistance. With his help, she flopped onto a plastic chair. Her face streaked with blood, she was badly burned and had a severe foot injury.
Her first aid training kicked in, she grabbed at her chest in search of her security lanyard to use it as a makeshift tourniquet, but it had come away.
To this day, she retains this comforting manner as she explains: "I was showing hope that we have survived, we will survive."
Two and a half hours later, she was wheeled into a hospital in Antwerp, where doctors conducted an initial assessment. They pressed down on her organs to check functionality and inquired about her pain levels.
Answering all their questions, she offered her husband Rupesh's contact details for their home back in Mumbai and asked them to inform her family.
The following day on April 23, she was airlifted just over 50 kilometers south of Brussels to the Grande Hopital de Charleroi, where she would recuperate further before departing to India.
For nine hours after the blasts, her loved ones were clueless about her condition or whereabouts. The only thing keeping them going: the photograph.
"In those nine hours only that picture gave hope to my kids," she says. "That picture doesn't show that I'm affected so much. The pictures shows that yes she's there. She's alive. She's sitting. She's fine. She'll be given bandages and she'll be back."
The journey to recovery has been a long and difficult process, but in her resilient way, Chaphekar humbly says she has simply faced each obstacle one at a time.
"There were hardships. I was unable to walk … I tried different solutions for the problems. Every day was a new problem. But I said 'No, I have to handle it.'
She still has a few surgeries to go but Chaphekar is a determined woman hopeful that she will one day be cleared to return to the skies.
"It's my passion," she brightly says of working as a flight attendant, continuing "I don't want to be a hindrance in the safety of others. [If] I'm medically fit, I would want to fly."
At the memorial service at Zaventem airport on Wednesday morning, Chaphekar and her husband stood alongside other survivors and grieving families.
While conflicted about her feelings, as always, she chooses to focus on the positive, "I look at it in this way to give hope to others that life is a case of ups and downs. It is like a roller coaster — you will be up, you will be down. It moves fast, it moves slow. I want to tell people that alone you cannot survive. You need a person. Our survival depends on each others' survival. We need to plant the seeds of love and compassion. We need to water them with faith and relationships. And reap the beautiful fruits of peace and prosperity."
The photo had been captured on a phone by Georgian journalist Ketevan Kardava, who had also witnessed the explosions.
In the months since the attacks, the pair connected and when Chaphekar returned to Brussels ahead of the one-year anniversary, Kardava was there to greet her.
That picture of her had become a defining image of the attacks, one that symbolized the shared trauma — the confusion, the chaos and the helplessness — of the situation. (ANI)