Manchester blast: Malaysian student witnesses blast just rows away from his seat

Traumatic experience: Tan was getting ready to leave when a blast shook the place.
PHOTO: The Star/Asia News Network

PETALING JAYA: The lights at the Manchester Arena were gradually being turned on as Ariana Grande wrapped up the concert with Dangerous Woman.

That was the cue for final-year architecture student Tan Zhi Jie, 22, to get ready to leave the iconic venue for the night, probably the most dangerous night out for thousands of youngsters such as himself.

All of a sudden, a huge blast went off two blocks of seats away from where Tan, a student at University of Manchester, was.

"None of us knew what it was or what happened. My seat was in the upper circle and I saw many people, especially kids, screaming and crying. The next thing I knew, everything got chaotic and I was pushed all the way out to the exit," he told The Star.

Tan jostled with the panicked crowd to exit the venue, only to be greeted by the sight of bleeding people, police cars and ambulances.

It only dawned on him that a bomb might have gone off when he saw smoke billowing from the other side of the arena.

Floral tribute: Police officers relocating the flowers at St Ann’s Square in Manchester, laid as a mark of respect to those killed and injured in the deadly terror attack.
Photo: AFP

"I saw a lady; she ... she was begging the policeman for help and the policemen weren't sure what to do.

"There were a lot of people screaming, crying, running and bleeding.

"There were also people resting next to police cars," said Kuala Lumpur-born Tan, who went to the concert alone as he couldn't find anyone to accompany him.

When he was out in the open, he walked around for about half an hour before he boarded a bus back to his university.

"I just felt really sorry for all the casualties," said Tan, who was so overwhelmed that he did not leave his hostel after his first ever concert.

Tan's phone beeped non-stop with messages and many missed calls, asking about his condition. He contacted his father via video call to inform him what had happened and that he was safe.

"A concert should be a place of joy, abandonment and outright fun. We saved up for our tickets to see our favourite artistes.

"We sang, danced and enjoyed every single moment, but what happened right after that was just traumatic and heartbreaking.

Photos: Explosions at Ariana Grande concert in Manchester

  • Salman Abedi has been named by police as the suspected suicide bomber. Source: Twitter/ @STcom
  • Police have arrested the suspect's brother, Ismail Abedi, and raided his house. Source: Twitter
  • A man adding a single rose to a the messages and floral tributes in Albert Square in Manchester, on May 23. Source: AFP
  • Women lighting candles following a vigil in central Manchester, on May 23. Source: Reuters
  • Messages and floral tributes are seen in Albert Square in Manchester, on May 23. Source: AFP
  • Source: Reuters
  • Source: AFP
  • Several monuments also lit up in blue, red and white colours, like the Orlando Eye. Source: Twitter/ @theorlandoeye
  • Zagreb: fountain tribute Source: AFP
  • London: Kingsbury Mandir Source: Twitter/ @SGadiLondon
  • Hong Kong: HSBC buidling Source: Twitter/ @breaking9news
  • Amsterdam: Central Station Source: Twitter/ @sebasvds
  • Abu Dhabi: Adnoc Group HQ Source: Twitter/ @AdnocGroup
  • Belfast: City Hall Source: Twitter/ @stuartrobinson1
  • Berlin: Brandenburg gate Source: Twitter/ @Nikiiide
  • Dubai: Burj Khalifa Source: Twitter/ @DCFCdubai
  • The Empire State building in NYC goes dark in remembrance of the attack victims. Source: Twitter/ @breaking911
  • Photos of the victims were shared on Twitter. Source: Twitter
  • Source: Twitter
  • Source: Twitter
  • Source: Twitter
  • Source: Twitter
  • Source: Twitter
  • The arena broke into chaos, with people rushing to leave. Source: Twitter/ @hannawwh
  • Source: Twitter/ @hannawwh
  • Source: Twitter/ @hannawwh
  • Source: Twitter/ @JSMcbrearty
  • People were seen rushing out of the arena. Source: Instagram/ @zachwhiteguybruce
  • Source: Instagram/ @zachwhiteguybruce
  • A woman posted on Facebook the results of the explosion on her belongings and body. Source: Screengrab from Abby Mullen's Facebook
  • A rumour about the explosion being a "big balloon" being popped was addressed by a twitter user who was in the arena. Source: Twitter/ @cj_coulter
  • The exit of the arena was packed. Source: Twitter/ @JSMcbrearty
  • The chaos of everybody leaving the arena led to heavy traffic. Source: Twitter/ @1875SHA
  • The police also released a statement on their Twitter page. Source: Screengrab from Twitter account @gmpolice
  • A bomb disposal unit was pictured to arrive at the scene. Source: Twitter/ @pavbeee
  • The police released another statement later. Source: Screengrab from Twitter account @gmpolice
  • Forensic police search the Manchester Arena in Manchester, Britain on May 23. Source: Reuters
  • Ariana Granda sent out a tweet after the incident.

"This is definitely the worst moment of my life, and I still can't believe that the concert I'd been longing to go to would end like that.

"I'm really lucky. I hope those who lost their lives could rest in peace," said Tan.

The devastating blast, which took place at a foyer outside the Manchester Arena at 10.30pm on Monday (5.30am on Tuesday, Malaysian time), killed 22 and injured 59.

British police have since arrested a 23-year-old man in connection with the act, believed to be a suicide bomb attack. The Islamic State has claimed responsibility.

Five other Malaysian students managed to leave the concert venue safely, according to the Malaysian High Commission in Britain.

There are 1,303 Malaysian students in Manchester - 1,081 at University of Manchester, 129 at Manchester Metropolitan University, and 93 at University of Salford.

Malaysian Students' Society of Manchester president, Khoo Soo Han, 21, urged fellow students to contact their family members to reassure them of their safety, and to stay vigilant.

The materials science and engineering student at University of Manchester advised students to avoid crowded areas for the time being, adding that it was also examination period now.

Manchester Arena, which opened its doors in 1995, is one of the busiest venues in the world and the largest indoor arena in Europe, with a capacity of 21,000 people.

It has hosted the biggest names in live entertainment, including U2, The Rolling Stones, Madonna, Lady Gaga, Pavarotti and the record-breaking 2010/2011 residency by British comedian Peter Kay. It was also the venue for several major sporting events.

The bombing in Manchester is the second terror attack in Britain this year.

In March, a lone assailant drove a car at high speed into pedestrians on London's Westminster Bridge before launching a frenzied knife attack on a policeman guarding the parliament building.

Five people were killed, including a Romanian woman who succumbed to her injuries a few weeks later.

British Prime Minister Theresa May said the Manchester blast was being treated as a terrorist attack, making it the deadliest militant assault in Britain since the 2005 suicide bombings on London's transport system that killed 52 people.

Photo: The Star/Asia News Network