As the dust settles from a failed military coup in Turkey that left hundreds dead and thousands wounded, a Chattanoogan who lived through the nightmare is just glad to be home.
Jacobo Salazar, 40, told the Times Free Press he had just finished running with the bulls in Pamplona, Spain, and was traveling through the Ataturk Airport outside Istanbul when the chaos began. He was charging his phone in the terminal when he heard a noise.
"This woman, the first person I saw, comes around the corner screaming, literally screaming, in another language and we see a wave of people coming right behind her," he recalled.
"At this moment, there's kids falling, women falling down," he said. "I very vividly remember water bottles rolling."
Without stopping to figure out what the crowd was running from, Salazar and the people around him joined the mob, fleeing an unknown danger. "That was the most terrifying moment of it all," he said.
He ran with the crowd, which was bowling over everything in their path as they searched for cover.
"There's people knocking over the kiosks of food, they're getting crushed, bags were being popped open," he said. "We still don't know what we're running from. We hear no sound, no explosions, no gunfire, but nobody was waiting for that."
When Salazar, the owner of Kickstand Bicycles, finally found a safe place, he hunkered down with a small group and looked outside to see another enormous mob, chanting in another language.
He later discovered it was a pro-government group that wanted the military coup to end, but it was still terrifying when they broke through the airport's doors and began marching through, shouting slogans.
"I just knew I didn't want to be seen. I had no idea what was going to happen," Salazar said.
When he managed to check his phone, there already a dozen unread messages from concerned friends and family who had been reading the news coming out of Turkey as the situation devolved.
One message said, "Jacobo, you are in the middle of a military coup."
Outside the airport, the crowds grew and sonic booms rattled the building, but he took comfort in the fact he couldn't see anyone holding weapons.
His phone held out even as those around him crashed, becoming a lifeline of news and information. A small crowd of international travelers gathered around him to watch the newscasts.
Finally, after a day of uncertainty, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said order had been restored early Saturday morning, according to the Associated Press.
President Recep Tayyip Erdogan landed at the airport and gave a televised address in which he promised to purge the military and ensure those involved would pay a "high price."
"Turkey will not be ruled by the military," he told a crowd at the airport as Salazar slid away.
Since that announcement, the government has taken staggering steps to root out plotters, arresting at least 754 members of the armed forces including dozens of Turkey's top brass. More than 9,000 people have been detained in connection to the coup and tens of thousands of teachers and Interior Ministry employees have been fired. Erdogan's administration has demanded the extradition of Fetullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric who. Turkish officials blame for the coup.
Eventually the relative safety prompted airport employees to start filtering back to their posts and Salazar was able to re-commence his journey home. He landed in Atlanta early this week and his friend picked him up to drive him back to his home in St. Elmo.
Through it all, he said he was thankful for the ability talk to friends and receive information from the outside.
Motioning to his phone, he said, "I never felt alone."
Contact staff writer Emmett Gienapp at [email protected] or 423-757-6731.