13 Feb. 2015
An Albanian man carries a child to a US Marine CH53 Super Stallion helicopter as it lands at Golame beach near the port of Durres, in this March 16, 1997 file picture.
Yannis Behrakis: I was covering the unrest in Albania following the pyramid scheme failures. Albanian civilians had lost $1.2 billion and Albania descended into civil disorder and violence. The government was toppled and 2,000 people were killed.
My late colleague Kurt Schork and I were the only members of the press staying in a hotel where the armed owner protected us from bandits who would rob every journalist who dared to come alone to cover the story. The owner insisted on placing Kalashnikovs and hand grenades in the closets of our rooms "to protect ourselves if needed," as he said.
On March 16 we drove to Golame beach where two U.S. helicopters had landed, kicking off a blizzard of sand as hundreds of desperate Albanians gathered in the area, hoping to get a lift out of the country. Blinded by the sand I shot a few pictures when an Albanian man holding his child ran towards the helicopter. About a dozen U.S. Marines jumped off the Super Stallion and pointed their M-16 assault rifles at the Albanians.
The man with the child was begging the soldiers to let him in onboard. The Marines were clearly surprised by the crowd and asked me what was going on, and if I saw any foreigners trying to leave. I explained that these people were just desperate and wanted to leave Albania, and that they thought the helicopters were there to take them to safety. The situation was getting out of control and a few warning shots were fired and people were beaten back with rifle butts.
The fact that we decided to take the risk and stay in Durres paid off. Papers all over the world ran these pictures on their front pages. REUTERS/Yannis Behrakis/Files (ALBANIA - Tags: CIVIL UNREST TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY CONFLICT)
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