Local News

RTP scientist home safe from Cairo violence

Posted January 31, 2011 9:06 p.m. EST
Updated January 31, 2011 11:17 p.m. EST

— The world is watching as violent demonstrations continue in Egypt and calls for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak grow louder.

For a research scientist from Raleigh, the crisis in Cairo was unfolding right below his hotel room window.

Hank Healey returned to Raleigh-Durham International Airport Monday afternoon after a week of looting, rioting and violence. He was in Cairo on a business trip for RTI International, a research and technology company in Research Triangle Park.

Healey said he had been waiting to find the safest way out of the capital city of 18 million.

"My preference was to be taken in a secure manner to the airport," he said. "RTI was arranging that."

But violence escalated over the weekend, and the U.S. Embassy intervened – forcing thousands of Americans from the country.

"Mandatory evacuation. (They said) 'We want you out of here in 24 hours,'" Healey recalled.

The U.S. State Department has received requests from more than 2,000 Americans for a seat on board a chartered evacuation flight.

Healey survived the chaos and made it home to Raleigh, just as organizers of the uprising are trying to mobilize one million Egyptians to take to the streets Tuesday.

Healey was in Egypt consulting with government leaders about the country's educational system. He said Egyptian unrest is a setback to his work, but he's eager to return once things stabilize.

"The work is great, and the people I work with are wonderful," Healey said. "(We're) decentralizing the education system so that schools and lower levels of government have more say."

His family is glad to have him home, but they said that as much as Healey travels the globe, they thought his assignment in Egypt was supposed to be one of the safest.

"He used to go to a lot worse places where he would have to have body guards and stuff," said his daughter, Ashlyn Healey. "When he went (to Cairo), he kept telling me that it was much safer than the other places."

If the aging president refuses to resign, Healey said there's no telling when peace will return to Egypt.

"As long as Mubarak is in power, it's like a big question mark," he said. "He's 82 years old. Why is he hanging on?"

A graduate of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was also on her way home Monday night. Jessica Leonard, 24, has been teaching preschool in Egypt. She got trapped with just her passport and the clothes on her back when the riots started last week.

Leonard was able to board a flight out of Cairo Monday. She will eventually make it to Charlotte and then home to her family in Ohio.