A Sunderland man has revealed how he rang his girlfriend to say his final goodbyes after being caught up in a false ballistic missile alarm in Hawaii.
In an emotional phone call to Wearside, Steven France, 39, thought it would be the last time he would speak to girlfriend Nikki Smith after a text message sent in error said the American state was to be the target of a missile and that everyone should seek shelter.
It turned out that the message had been sent by mistake by an employee at Hawaii Emergency Management, but for around half an hour people on the island were in a complete state of panic, ringing loved ones and preparing to face an unimaginable terror.
Steven from Southwick was on a dream work trip, working as a Body Compass personal trainer for Paradise Challenge, which hosts luxury photo shoots with top models across the world.
At the time of the text on Saturday, Steven was in a 9million dollar mansion with 26 models and the rest of the challenge crew.
He said: “I didn’t realise it, but in America they have the technology to text every mobile phone on the island. We were in the mansion and suddenly we all heard sirens and received the same text, saying that a ballistic missile was inbound and that this was not a drill.
“Because of all the tensions with Trump and North Korea and the fact that it’s the home of the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet, it seemed completely plausible. “We genuinely believed a missile was heading our way, it was the most surreal experience.”
After 30 minutes a second text was sent explaining the error but, in the meantime, Steven and his colleagues prepared for what they thought could be their final minutes.
Some hid under mattresses, others tried to see if they could find a boat to get off the island and all contacted loved ones to bid them a heart-wrenching goodbye.
Steven, who runs successful fight promotion business Made4theCage, said: “I rang my girlfriend to tell her what had happened and that I loved her. At first she laughed, but then she went on the internet and read what was happening. It was the most surreal experience and not something you ever expect to go through.
“People were making plans and trying to get a boat, but realistically what use would that have been in a nuclear attack? There’s nothing much you can do in that situation.”
He added: “Eventually we got a second text explaining the mistake and just couldn’t believe what had happened. It’s a real moment of self exploration to go through something like that. You never know how you’re going to react. Then to survive and reflect on it is something that doesn’t usually happen.”
Steven returned from his six night trip yesterday and says he was thankful to be on home soil.
He said: “It’s amazing to work on the Paradise Challenge and travel to amazing places for shoots, but at the time of the text I just thought ‘this would never happen in Southwick.’”
Ahead of the botched alert, Hawaiian authorities have been preparing and testing early warning systems with residents being told to make emergency plans in case of an attack.
The Hawaii emergency management employee responsible for pressing the wrong button has since been reassigned.