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'I'll have to live with it forever': Maelbeek metro driver recalls Brussels terror attacks

07:08 06/10/2022

As the trial for the 2016 Brussels terror attacks gets under way, the driver of the Maelbeek metro where one of the attacks took place has recounted his experience to Belgian news outlet RTBF.

Christian Delhasse was at the controls when a suicide bomber detonated explosives in the middle carriage of a train at Maelbeek station, not long after a similar explosion took place at Brussels Airport.

“When I went on duty, I knew what had happened in Zaventem, but I never thought it could happen on the metro,” Delhasse told RTBF.

Delhasse immediately stopped the train and helped evacuate passengers.

“There was a burning body at one door and I needed a fire extinguisher,” recalled Delhasse.

“I had to pull like crazy to get it. I put out the fire and then I heard noises inside – people still breathing here and there. But everything was tangled up. There was a mother screaming for her baby. I never found him.”

Delhasse managed to evacuate four people, and a police officer who arrived later was able to locate the mother’s missing child.

“I don't know what to tell you. It was indescribable,” said Delhasse, who spent 13 minutes alone with the victims until the first police officers arrived on scene.

He was back to work the very next morning after the attack, a decision he said he felt he needed to make in order to cope with the trauma: “If I hadn't driven the day after the attack, I would never have driven a metro again in my life.”

But despite the undeniably traumatic experience, Delhasse said he never received a single euro in compensation through insurance for visits with a psychologist or doctor, nor any form of support from the Brussels public transport authority Stib.

Returning to work was “his choice”, said a Stib spokeswoman, adding that “all preventive measures were taken since he was accompanied by a colleague for his first journey once back”.

Delhasse recalled that the weeks and months following the attacks were difficult and sleepless, and that he felt as though he was in a permanent state of hypervigilance and was easily agitated by minor annoyances. It was not until 2018 that he consulted with a psychologist.

“I could no longer sleep. I couldn't stop thinking about the attack, about what I saw that day,” he recalled.

“Every time there are screams, noises, firecrackers, I think about it. The smell of the barbecue reminds me of burnt flesh. It's so unbearable that I asked my psychologist: How do you get it out of your head? He gave me the answer: I'll have to live with it forever.”

Delhasse still works as a metro driver, but his medical care is expensive and the full cost was not covered by insurance. Delhasse said attempts to speak directly with insurers resulted in nothing.

One potential reason for difficulty in obtaining insurance compensation could be the lack of official documentation regarding how the horrific incident was experienced by Delhasse.

“Stib did not send any accident report concerning the metro driver in Maelbeek,” says Valérie Gérard, a lawyer representing victims of the attacks.

“This is not the only case where an employer has not been very diligent in following up the victims of 22 March. There was, at the very least, a moral duty to follow this case carefully.”

Ledune said that Stib “did not know that no accident report had been sent for him”.

“We will make inquiries, contact the insurance company and if this is the case, remedy the situation quickly,” the Stib spokesperson said.

In the meantime, Delhasse has found some assistance via victim support associations.

Ethias, the main insurance company involved in the Brussels attacks aftermath, did not respond to multiple attempts for comment from both journalists and Delhasse himself.

Months after initial and escalating inquiries were made, Ethias released a statement saying that “the claim was initially not submitted by the victim in accordance with the relevant procedure and we apologise for not being able to identify him correctly and deal with him proactively”.

It added: “As soon as additional information became available, we treated the case with priority and due care. At present, the compensation procedure for the victim is ongoing.”

Written by Helen Lyons