MINUTES FROM DEATH: BYRON MAN?S BALI HELL
By DARREN COYNE
MOMENTS after the explosion Bruce Ericson grabbed his daughter Aurora by the hand and sprinted towards the place they both felt safe ? the beach.
At that moment the Suffolk Park surfers had no idea it was a suicide bomber who had set off the blast which ripped through diners at the popular Raja's Bar and Restaurant in Kuta, Bali.
Bruce knew the blast was trouble, however, and his instincts took over.
It was time to grab his daughter and run ... quickly.
A flight attendant for 20 years, Bruce had been trained to identify the smell of explosives and he recognised the acrid smell of gunpowder thick in the air.
White smoke billowed from the restaurant and people ran screaming in the street. It was a terrifying scene he later described to Australian Federal Police upon his arrival back in Australia late on Tuesday night.
The Ericsons count themselves as extremely lucky.
They had been returning from a day of surfing and were parked directly outside the Raja ? a place they frequented daily ? just 15 minutes before the blast.
"Our driver knew someone who worked there and had stopped for a chat," Bruce said yesterday, after finally arriving home in Suffolk Park.
"We had just got back at our hotel and were in the lobby when we heard the explosion. Everyone began running outside to see what had happened," he said.
"The first thing I smelt was gunpowder...it was full on. Then there was an eerie silence for about 20 seconds, the traffic stopped and people started screaming and running.
"They (the suicide bombers) certainly picked their targets. The place was full of Westerners. The traffic was so heavy that night and the place was super busy and full of Europeans, Brazilians, Americans and Australians."
Aurora Ericson, 14, a Billabong-sponsored surfer, also recalled those moments of terror with clarity.
"We were just walking out of the hotel right next to where the bomb was when we heard a huge explosion," she said.
"There was a building be- tween us and the bomb, but it was the loudest thing I've ever heard.
"Everyone ran out screaming, then we saw the smoke and people running up the road. My dad grabbed me and started running.
"I've got blisters on my feet from running."
Both father and daughter yesterday recalled the look of sadness in the eyes of the Balinese people as the horror began to register.
"One impression I'll take away is the look in their eyes as they watched everyone leaving...total despair," Bruce said.
"As we were walking down the street the day after shopkeepers were coming out of their shops and apologising."
Despite the carnage, both said the bombings would not stop them going back to Bali.
"I've been four times this year already and I'll go again," Aurora said, while Bruce said he would return, but would stay away from Kuta.
Home safe, Bruce could see a certain irony in the fact he had spent 20 years travelling around the world as a flight attendant and, apart from a small earthquake in Japan, had never had a problem.
"Then I retire and go on holiday and this happens!" he said, shaking his head.