Houstonian stuck in Libya finally returns home

March 6, 2011 4:34:20 PM PST
A man from the Houston area who was trapped in Libya amidst the violence is finally back home. But it took several days of perseverance to do it. The violence in Libya has thousands of foreigners doing all they can to get out. We talked to a man here in Southeast Texas who sometimes thought he wasn't going to get out and struggled on a long trip home.

This young man has quite a story. Even before the State Department issued a travel warning to get Americans out of Libya, this 23-year-old basketball player fled with the help of Brazilians and British, but not the U.S. Embassy.

For this 23-year old, playing pro basketball has always been a dream.

"A lot of people don't get to play after college, so it's basically a dream come true to be playing still," said the player known as Kingsley.

He's played for exhibition teams through the Federal International Basketball Association in Finland and most recently in Libya. Kingsley moved there two months ago. When tensions mounted in Tunisia and Egypt, he questioned his safety.

"If it happens here, we're all stuck. I don't speak Arabic. I don't know what to do," Kingsley said.

When news hit that Moammar Ghadafi sent war planes to bomb Benghazi, the city where Kingsley lived, he knew it was time to leave.

"There were no phones, no internet, so I couldn't make any calls or anything," he said.

Kingsley said after more than 100 calls to the U.S. Embassy, he got an answer -- but not the one he hoped for.

"They told me to get to Tripoli," Kingsley said.

With his life on the line, Kingsley followed a group of Brazilian contractors to a port in Benghazi and from there he says they boarded a British naval ship with another group of Americans. Together, their 36-hour journey on the rough seas to Malta would begin, only to be met by disappointment on the other end.

"Basically they tell us their job was to get us to a safe haven, kinda like, you're on your own," he said.

Kingsley maneuvered his way back home after a grueling journey through Cairo, Turkey, New York and finally Houston. He did it with no help from the U.S. State Department or the basketball league, leaving him wondering if more like him are still stuck in the midst of chaos with little chance of getting back home.

"It's disappointing to see that OK we can't do anything for you. Because like I said, if it was your child out there, you would do more," Kingsley said.

Here's a statement emailed to us by one State Department official about Kingsley's case:

    "We regret that this citizen was unable to receive information. The State Department sought to communicate with citizens known to be in Libya through a variety of media. U.S. consular officers in Valetta and Istanbul helped U.S. citizens make arrangements for onward travel to the U.S. The same assistance continues to be available at our embassy in Malta.
    U.S. citizens evacuated aboard our chartered ferry and aircraft to Valetta and Istanbul signed promissory notes to repay the U.S. government for their travel. U.S. consular officers in Valetta and Istanbul helped arriving U.S. citizens make their own arrangements for lodging and onward travel to the United States. If the citizens lacked necessary funds or family to assist them with expenses, they could request repatriation loans.
    This same consular assistance was and continues to be available to any U.S. citizen requesting it at our Embassy in Malta and at all of our embassies around the world.
    We encourage all citizens to enroll their travel plans through our Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) at www.travel.state.com. STEP enrollment helps us contact citizens in an emergency and helps us to help family members back home get in touch with you regarding an emergency situation back home."

As for Kingsley, he plans to return to Finland to play basketball until he can work out another contract. He will not return to Libya. He told us that basketball is not worth his life.