SA student witnesses Istanbul terror attack

'We huddled under a counter for four hours'

SAN ANTONIO – On a 19-hour layover in Istanbul, Turkey, 20-year-old Kyler Heintz saw the beauty of the city. He also witnessed the horror.

The University of Texas junior was inside the Ataturk airport on June 28 when three terrorists attacked with guns and bombs, killing 41 and injured more than 200 people.

"We woke up to some gunshots and people screaming," Heintz said. "There were waves of people running across the airport."

Heintz, studying abroad in South Africa for his urban economic development class, was en route to Egypt. His flight had a layover in Istanbul.

After several hours of seeing the sights, Heintz and his college buddy had fallen asleep at the airport Starbucks. Startled awake by the gunfire, they ran for their lives.

"We huddled under a counter for four hours," he said.

Then, they heard and felt a bomb blast.

"You could feel the ground shaking," Heintz said. "It was terribly loud."

Crouched in his hiding spot, Heintz phoned the American Embassy. He was glad he'd followed his dad's instruction to put the numbers in his phone's contacts. The embassy was unaware of the attack but told him to follow instructions from security and said it would call him back.

Heintz then called his mom.

"You have no idea how to describe what that is," Heather Heintz said, her eyes welling with tears.

Her son told her there was a bomb, and he was OK.

"You have no idea where they are or what they went through," Heather said. "As a parent, how can you protect them? There's nothing you can do."

She, too, called the American Embassy in Turkey.

"She said, 'Ma'am, I don't know what you think we can do. We can't do anything. We're here for emergency services only,'" Heather recalled. "I said, 'Isn't this an emergency?’”

Once the attack was over, security led Kyler and the other passengers through a passport check that he said seemed to take an eternity.

"People were screaming and fighting and pushing to get through," Kyler Heintz said.

"We actually had to walk through where the bombs went off. There was a faint smell of smoke. The building was blown apart. Glass was everywhere," he said.

Kyler thought the newspapers strewn across the floor were there to create a path. Then, he saw they were there to soak up all the blood.

Kyler said that once they were outside the airport, he and his friend were unable to get a cab because they were out of cash. He said he’s grateful to the airline attendant who opened her wallet and gave them cash to get to a hotel.

Although the chaos had settled, the frustration continued. Kyler’s flight to Cairo had been overbooked. It took two more days to rebook flights, and cancellation fees were not waived.  

When traveling abroad, the State Department urges travelers to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program so it's easier for the embassies to communicate in a crisis.

The U.S Embassy also uses social media, like Facebook and Twitter, to relay information. Travelers are also urged to always carry local currency and make sure their credit card will work.

Heather Heintz said parents should make sure their passport is up to date in case they suddenly need to travel out of the country.

Kyler Heintz never made it to Egypt. Instead, he decided it was time to come home.

"We got out safe and sound," he said. "You can't complain about that."

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