James McCaughan.
James McCaughan.

A local man has told how he and a group of young people missed the terror attack in Brussels by minutes - because of a late train.

Youth worker James McCaughan, who lives in Ballymoney, was in the Belgian capital with 18 local teenagers, who were on a European trip as part of Youth Council activities.

Picture taken with permission from the Facebook site of Jef Versele showing the aftermath of this morning's explosions at Brussels airport

Picture taken with permission from the Facebook site of Jef Versele showing the aftermath of this morning's explosions at Brussels airport

They arrived five minutes later than scheduled at Zaventem International Airport and were about to go in to catch their flight home when the explosions happened.

James said they initially thought a fire was to blame for the panic.

“We didn’t realise what had happened,” he explained in an interview with BBC Radio.

“We were just obviously in an emergency situation. Our priority was really to get the young people safely out without any panic.”

He continued: “My co-worker Heidi was with me and we just kept them calm and got outside. Everything was okay but when they started looking on social media then people were a bit more scared.”

“We were just about to go up the escalator to the arrivals and the security came running down and told us all to get out and moved us towards the emergency exits.

“We didn’t see anything just all the people coming running out and we followed them. After that we saw the fire brigade and emergency services arriving. We knew it was something serious.”

With the airport and public transport in Brussels locked down for security, the group arranged for a private minibus to take them to Amsterdam to catch a separate flight. They arrived safely back in Dublin on Tuesday night.

One of the teenagers, Shealyn Caulfield (17) told reporters: “We missed our first train to the airport so we were 10 minutes behind schedule and missed the bombing by a few minutes.

“As soon as we arrived at the airport we were told to sprint out of the emergency exits. We then were walking towards a metro and were told that there had been another bombing in the metro stations and that public transport was shut down.”

An Education Authority spokesperson said: “No one was injured and the group was immediately moved to a safe area where direct contact was made with the authority and the parents of the young people.”

* A group of pupils from Dalraida school, also narrowly missing the terrorist attacks in Brussels.

The Year 10 pupils, who were on a four day history trip to Spain, France and Belgium, were at Brussels international airport only 12 hours before the explosions.

A post on Social Media from a Dalraida representative on Tuesday (March 22) at 8.39am, said: “Just to confirm that the trip to Belgium arrived home safe and well at 12.45am this morning.”

In response Julie Barrett thanked the teachers for a great trip adding: “Just relieved that everyone is safe when you see the news.”

Christine Brown also added on Facebook: “All had a great time, our thoughts are with people of Brussels.”