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In 2018, Greek pilot Vasileios Vasileiou checked into a luxury hilltop hotel in Kabul that was popular among foreign visitors. Then Taliban gunmen stormed it, killing at least forty people. Vasileios explains how he survived.
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We finished dinner about 7.30pm and then I went up to my room - room 522 - on the top floor, to make some calls. At 8.47 p.m. I was on the phone to Athens when I heard a big explosion down in the lobby.

I went out on to the balcony. I could see a man on the ground covered in blood and I could hear gunfire coming from inside and outside the hotel. I realised how lucky it was that I wasn't in the restaurant at that moment and said to myself, "Okay Vasileios, you have to do something in order to survive."

I left the balcony door open and locked the door to my room. There were two beds in my suite so I took one of the mattresses and put it against the door to protect myself from grenades, and then I gathered some bed sheets, towels and clothes and made a rope that I could use to get to the fourth floor if I needed to.

Because I'm a pilot and a trainer I've studied crisis management and decision-making for years, so even if I'm only going to a restaurant or to the theatre I think about sitting by the door, or close to the emergency exit - it's automatic, almost second nature.

I started thinking about what I was going to do next. I had no idea how many attackers there were or where they were in the building, and jumping from the fifth floor wasn't wise, so I said to myself, "Vasileios, stay inside and try to do as much as possible to protect yourself."

For some reason I can't really explain, I was unexpectedly calm.

I made the bed with the mattress on it look a little bit untidy, and the other one - the one I had removed the mattress from - look tidy. I turned off the light and decided to hide behind the heavy curtains and furniture in the dark.

About an hour-and-a-half passed, and although I didn't know it at the time the attackers had by now killed almost everyone in the lobby, the restaurant, and on the first and second floors of the hotel. They had rushed through the third and fourth floors to the fifth floor and I could hear them running around on the rooftop above my head, where they were managing to keep away helicopters belonging to the international forces.

I heard gunfire in the corridor nearby and suddenly all the electricity in the hotel went off.

The first room on the fifth floor that the attackers went into was room 521, the room next to mine, which became their operational centre for the duration of the overnight siege.

I heard guns being fired into the door to my room and I thought to myself, "This is not a good position to be in."

I got on to the floor and went underneath the bed that still had a mattress on it to try to protect myself. I was holding this single bed up with my fists and the tip of my toes, supporting the weight of the bed.

I could see a little, because the bed was elevated about 10 centimeters into the air. They shot through the lock, hit the door with a heavy hammer and then four men came into my room. One immediately ran to the balcony because he saw that the door was open.

I heard gunfire from a pistol, one shot, and I thought that in the next few seconds I was probably going to die. I thought about my family, the faces of my children, and the good and bad moments in my life.

The door was left open and the gunmen were coming in and out all the time. Then they started opening other doors on the fifth floor. Just across the corridor from me was an air steward and some other pilots that I'd worked with. Sometimes I would hear their cries before they were executed. Sometimes nothing.

I think they opened every single door on the fifth floor and killed everyone that they found. I'd hear the cries, hear the bullet - just one bullet - and then they'd crash through the next door. Each time they would laugh afterwards, like they were just playing around, or like it was a big party or something.

Around three o'clock in the morning, they started a big fire on the fifth floor and then left because the smoke was so heavy. For 20-25 minutes there was no gunfire, so I decided to come out from underneath the bed.

When I came out, I realised that while I had been hiding underneath one of the two beds they had shot at the other bed and then lifted up its wooden base to look for anyone who might be hiding there.

I thought, "This is the second time today that I have escaped with my life."

Read more at: https://getpocket.com/explore/item/the-bed-that-saved-me-from-the-taliban?utm_source=pocket-newtab
 
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