‘I’LL NEVER FORGET THAT DAY’ Bali bombing survivor Andrew Csabi shares his haunting story
Andrew Csabi, from the Gold Coast, was inside the Sari Club when the bombs went off. Here he shares his haunting story
It was a hot, balmy night on the Indonesian island of Bali and the main party strip in Kuta Beach was in full swing as revellers let their hair down over a few drinks. But at 11.07pm local time on Oct. 12, 2002, a terrorist who had snuck into Paddy’s Bar one minute earlier detonated the suicide vest he was wearing, which was packed with 5kg of TNT.
Twenty seconds later, a white Mitsubishi van carrying 700kg of explosives obliterated the nearby Sari Club.
The force of the blast ignited a huge blaze and hundreds of people were trapped in the raging inferno when the club’s thatched roof collapsed.
Two hundred and two people died in the tragedy – including 88 Australians – and more than 300 people were injured.
Andrew Csabi, from the Gold Coast, was inside the Sari Club when the bombs went off. Despite being gravely injured, he managed to crawl through the wreckage, broken glass and twisted metal to find help.
“I was unconscious for two or three minutes,” Csabi says in an exclusive interview with WHO.
“When I woke up, it was like being in an oven. The heat was just incredible; my skin was burning. It was dirty, filthy, smelly.”
He tried to stand up, but his left leg and the toes on his right foot had been blown off.
“I’m just looking down at my body and it’s a mangled mess. I was in shock. There was blood, bodies, limbs, people everywhere. Hysteria. It was surreal, something no human can be prepared for.
“I had to get away from the heat so I started crawling. I crawled through people, over people. There was a girl
standing there and she was like a flame tree. Her clothes were on fire.”
Despite drifting in and out of consciousness, Csabi somehow managed to make it out of the club. Once outside, he fell into the crater which had been left by the car bomb. An off-duty Australian soldier, Anthony Mckay, rushed to Csabi’s aid.
“He saw me scraping myself out of the club by my fingernails. He dragged me out of that crater and down a laneway where we laid down for a couple of hours.”
There was a crowd of people taking refuge there and Csabi asked someone to tourniquet his leg: “Another guy held a T-shirt inside my right knee and bandaged my toes,” he says.
Csabi breaks down as he describes the horror surrounding him.
“I could hear people screaming and crying and moaning. I can’t forget the noise of people screaming in pain and agony. I just lay there quietly because I thought I was going to die.”
Locals and tourists who escaped the blast flocked to the Sari Club to help those trapped by the blaze. But they couldn’t get close because of the intensity of the flames.
There were many reluctant heroes that night. Sydney man Erik de Haart lost count of the number of people he rescued from the rubble of Sari Club, but he is still haunted by those he couldn’t save.
“I heard three girls crying and I looked, and a section of the roof probably eight to 10 metres across had fallen down … they were calling out and crying for someone to help them and I had to make a decision.
“My heart was telling me these girls needed me and my gut instinct was telling me it was a foolish thing to do because I could never survive it,” he explained to SBS show Insight in 2016.
Casualties were rushed to Sanglah Hospital – 15km away – by locals in cars and on mopeds. Blood pooled in the hallways of the hospital and the smell of burnt flesh filled the wards. The facilities were wholly inadequate to deal with such a large-scale disaster and staff were completely overwhelmed. Desperate relatives of the missing flocked to the hospital in the hope of finding them, and set up boards with descriptions of their loved ones. “This is the worst act of terror in Indonesia’s history,” Indonesian Police Chief, General Da’i Bachtiar, told AP.
An elite team of experts on disaster victim identification, forensics, investigation, intelligence and bomb explosions from the Australian Federal Police was flown to Bali in an RAAF Orion at 6.30pm the next day.
The evacuation of Australian casualties began in the early hours of Monday, Oct. 14. The first Hercules aircraft arrived in Darwin at 2.30am carrying three patients in intensive care, five on stretchers and seven who were able to walk. More casualties followed in what was to become the largest aero-medical evacuation since the Vietnam War.
Later that evening after a cabinet meeting, the Indonesian defence minister announced al- Qaeda was suspected to be behind the bombing attack. Matori Abdul Jalil said: “The Bali bomb blast is linked to al- Qaeda with the co-operation of local militants.”
“Australia has been affected very deeply but the Australian spirit has not been broken. The Australian spirit remains strong and free and open and tolerant,” Australian Prime Minister John Howard said during an address to the memorial service in the Australian Consulate on Oct. 17.
A week on from the tragedy many of the dead had still not been identified, despite more than 50 Australian police officers devoted to the grim task.
Australians who were still missing their relatives in Bali were asked to provide DNA samples from hairbrushes and worn clothes in a bid to assist the process.
The chief suspect, Amrozi bin Nurhasyim – who was a 40-year-old mechanic – was arrested on Nov. 7 and later charged with plotting the terrorist attacks and buying the explosives. He caused worldwide outrage when he laughed and joked during interviews with the police and subsequently became known as “the smiling assassin”.
“I could hear people screaming and crying” — Andrew Csabi
More than 30 people were convicted for their part in the Bali bombings, which were carried out by South-east Asian militant network Jemaah Islamiyah and funded by al- Qaeda.
The motive was said to be retaliation for the perceived oppression of Muslims worldwide by the United States and its allies.
Amrozi’s only regret was that so few Americans died in the blasts.
In November 2008, terrorists Imam Samudra, 38, Amrozi bin Nurhasyim, 47, and his older brother Ali Ghufron (alias Mukhlas), 48, were executed by firing squad on the prison island of Nusakambangan, after being found guilty of planning and helping to carry out the bombings five years earlier.
Every year, memorials are held in Bali and around the world to remember those who lost their lives in the bombings.
Many survivors have returned to Indonesia to pay their respects.
Just last year, Andrew Csabi visited Bali to attend the wedding of Anthony Mckay, the man who became his best mate in the years after saving his life: “He got married in October and we had the pleasure of going back to Bali for the wedding. It was awesome,” double amputee Csabi says.
As for Mckay, he has previously spoken of the impact the atrocity had on him. “We saw the worst of human nature with the bomb but you still see the best of human nature,” he told the media at a memorial in Kuta in 2017.
“My message is we have got to stamp this out. We have got to stamp out extremism; you can’t target innocent people and expect to get away with it.”
His 52-year-old friend Csabi – who still has shrapnel in his right leg – says that while the experience hasn’t stopped him returning to Bali, he admits he still feels nervous every time he visits.
“It brings all those memories back,” he tells WHO. “The Balinese people, it wasn’t their fault. It’s a beautiful island and the Balinese are beautiful people.
“It’s a great place to holiday and I still believe it’s a safe place to visit. I don’t want to be held back, so I go. But when the cockpit opens and the humidity rushes in, you know you are there and the hackles go up.”
Terrorist Amrozi bin Nurhasyim gives a thumb’s up as he leaves the court. Imam Samudra arrives at court in Jakarta under police escort in May 2003. Australian Federal Police and Indonesian investigators dig through rubble.