American Who Survived Brussels Airport Bombing: ‘I Feel Lucky’

The 19-year-old from Sandy, Utah, recounted the minutes after the terrorist attack from a hospital bed in Belgium, his entire face covered in bandages

The Associated Press

Mason Wells felt his body lift off the ground then noticed fire near his face and feet when the first blast went off at Brussels airport on Tuesday. The bomb exploded just feet away from him. 

The right side of his body felt “really hot and really cold” and he was covered “in a fair amount of blood,” he recalled.

The 19-year-old from Sandy, Utah, recounted the minutes after the terrorist attack from a hospital bed in Belgium, his entire face covered in bandages.

At least 31 people were killed and more than 270 wounded in the terror attacks at the airport and a subway train.

Wells, a Mormon missionary, said he ran out of the airport before the second blast went off. Two other missionaries he was with were also injured in the attack.

“We were really close; I feel lucky to escape with what I did,” Wells told The Associated Press. He is expected to make a full recovery from the blast, which left him with a surgery scar, severed Achilles tendon, head gash, shrapnel injuries and severe burns.

Wells said he didn’t lose consciousness after the bombing and sat “on the sidewalk outside the airport in my own blood. There was a feeling of calm and piece that I had,” he said. “It was beyond just the physical shock that I had. And I attribute that to the presence of God.”

It wasn’t the first bombing Wells survived. Three years ago, Wells and his father felt the ground shake and narrowly escaped death from an April 2013 attack in the U.S., when a pressure-cooker bomb exploded a block away from where they were watching his mother run the Boston Marathon.

"Hopefully he's run his lifelong odds and we're done," said Chad Wells about the oldest of their five children. "I think it will make him a stronger person ... Maybe the Boston experience was there to help him get through this experience."

The former high school football and lacrosse player had four months left on his two-year Mormon mission, and was planning to major in engineering at the University of Utah next fall. He also wanted to reapply to the Naval Academy after barely missing the cut after high school, his father said.

His father said he woke up to the latest news on the TV before calling his son's mission president in France. He found out his son was injured but alive. More than eight hours later, they finally spoke to their son, who was groggy and exhausted after surgery. The teen is in good spirits but his family is still figuring out when they'll get to see him, and if he'll finish his mission.

"I'm completely shocked by the news. It's the kind of thing as a parent you never, ever want to wake up to," Chad Wells said. "We're just grateful that's he lived through this experience."

Other Mormon missionaries at the Brussels airport were also hospitalized. Richard Norby, 66, and Joseph Empey, 20, were with Wells and also suffered serious injuries from the blast. 

Norby's family said in a statement issued by the Mormon church Wednesday that shrapnel caused severe trauma to the man's lower leg and he also suffered second-degree burns to his head and neck. Following a lengthy surgery, he is now expected to stay in a medically-induced coma for a few days. His family said a lengthy recovery is expected.

"His wife, Pamela Norby, was not at the airport at the time of the attack and is supporting him during this challenging time," the family statement said.

Empey is doing well after being treated for second-degree burns to his hands, face and head, his parents, Court and Amber Empey said in a statement. He also had surgery for shrapnel injuries to his legs.

"We have been in touch with him and he is grateful and in good spirits," the family said.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert praised the Utah natives as "people of faith who have forsaken everything — family, friends, school and careers — in order to share a message of hope and love with the world."

Thousands of Utah Mormons have served proselytizing missions around the world. Church members account for as many as two-thirds of the state's population.

The Utahns were at the airport with Fanny Rachel Clain, 20, of Montelimar, France, who was on her way to a missionary assignment in Cleveland. The woman had passed through security to a different part of the airport at the time of the explosion. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints said she didn't make her flight out and was hospitalized with minor injuries.

It instructed others in the France Paris Mission to stay in their homes, though mission President Frederic J. Babin said the missionaries will still continuing working in their mission to preach the gospel.

The U.S. State Department said it is aware of 12 Americans injured in the blasts but did not provide their names or conditions. 

An American couple, Justin Shults and his wife Stephanie, have been missing since the blasts, according to family members.

Sascha and Alexander Pinczowski, two New York City-based siblings with Dutch citizenship who were visiting Brussels, were killed in the attacks, a family spokesman confirmed to NBC 4 New York on Friday.

Wells said he wants to keep contributing to communities wherever he lives, after his recover is over. 

“The future holds what it holds," he said. "I’m confident things will roll over with time and I’ll be able to see more clearly.”

Copyright AP - Associated Press
Contact Us