A photographer from Whitby who got caught up in the Paris terrorist attacks has told how he was working just seconds away from the deadly bomb blasts.
Greig Cowie was covering the France v Germany friendly game at the Stade de France for press agency Back Page Images when the first two of seven co-ordinated terror attacks on the French capital took place close to the stadium, killing 129 people.
At first Greig and his media colleagues thought the blasts were fireworks and it was only after the game on Friday night that the full horror became apparent as his distraught wife Laura, two oldest children Lewis and Caitlin and panicking friends and family tried to contact him while he fled for the safety of his hotel.
But it was hours before he could phone home as the communications network was shut down and announcements within the stadium were banned.
He told the Whitby Gazette: “Towards the end of the first half we heard the first explosion. I was working with another English photographer, I turned to him and said ‘bloody hell, that was loud’. He just said it will be fireworks, then there was another.
“Considering there were 70,000 people in the stadium they just penetrated through the noise, they were phenomenally loud but we didn’t think any more of it.”
The blasts spooked players but the referee waved play on and it was only 25 minutes before the final whistle when Greig knew something was wrong but still didn’t know what horror was unfolding outside the stadium.
Greig said: “Our phones were ringing off the hook with people from the UK and I thought this is a bit weird then a German photographer said there was a hostage situation, there have been some bombs and we were like ‘s***, those noises were bombs.
“There was no information and with it being France v Germany, no English announcements. My French is pretty good because I lived there for a couple of years but I didn’t pick up on what was being announced, but it turns out they didn’t make any because they didn’t want people to panic.”
As he was packing up after the game, chaos ensued as crowds of people started running back into the stadium. Greig was sat in the same corner that a bomber had tried to get back into the stadium and blow himself up. It was at that point that Greig knew he had to get out.
He added: “We had to get out, there could have been a gun man and at that point we got pretty frightened. We stayed for another ten minutes photographing people on the pitch but I didn’t want to hang around - we still didn’t know what was going on.”
Desperate to get back to the safety their hotels Greig and his fellow photographer decided to leave the stadium and head for the train station and were greeted with scenes of devastation.
He said: “There were more police and ambulances than I have ever seen, literally hundreds and hundreds and just 30 seconds from the stadium. I could not believe it was that close.”
Once on the train he managed to ring Laura, with whom he runs the Duke of York pub. She had booked his flights and prior to the trip they had even joked about him flying on Friday 13th. By 11am on Saturday morning he was back in the UK where the enormity of what he had been caught up in hit him - especially as he has 17 week old twin girls Freya and Rosie at the family home on Nightingale Drive.
Greig added: “It had a kind of secondary effect. I had a lucky escape and want to thank everyone for their support during the trip. What I can’t get my head around is they (the terrorists) feel what they feel but that stadium was full of kids and I was just there to do a job and you just think what might have been.”