THE MIRACLE OF PARSONS GREEN
Schoolchildren and commuters escape death as bucket bomb on train fails fully to explode
WITH SCHOOLCHILDREN and commuters squashed in like sardines, no one paid much attention to the white bucket in a plastic bag yesterday morning.
After mingling among the victims, the terrorist who dropped off the makeshift device simply slipped off the packed rush-hour Tube train – leaving the timebomb ticking at their feet.
Had it worked as intended, a massive blast of fire would have killed dozens on the new, open-plan style train which – at 8.20am yesterday – was close to its capacity of nearly 1,000 people.
Miraculously, the main charge – apparently on a timer – failed to fully detonate.
But the partial explosion at Parsons Green was still enough to create a giant fireball – and then pandemonium. In a dangerous stampede to escape, a pregnant woman and schoolchildren were among those crushed.
Gillian Wixley, 36, who lives in Putney, was eight seats from the explosion. She said: ‘It was chaotic: There was lots of people panicking and people were injured due to the crush.
‘Everyone was very emotional. There was one boy maybe age ten who was commuting to school on his own. He was sitting on the floor sobbing.
‘He was obviously in shock and very scared. Everyone around him was trying to calm him down and help him.’
The train is regularly packed full of schoolchildren. The Fulham area serves at least three state secondary schools: Fulham Boys School, The London Oratory and Lady Margaret Hall along with a number of independent schools.
Lady Margaret Hall schoolgirl Emanuella Mensah, 16, described the panic. I was right outside the corner shop when people started running from the station. People were shouting “run, run”. I saw old people, people with their kids. Then someone shouted “terrorist!”. More people kept coming out of the station.
‘There were people sitting on the pavement crying and in hysterics. Schoolgirls were coming from all kinds of directions. The teachers came down and we started escorting people into school.’
She said the younger children were particularly shocked and scared and that the distress carried on throughout the day.
‘Years seven, eight and nine, they were all on the phone trying to call their parents. People were crying everywhere.
‘The teachers were putting them into rooms, giving them water and biscuits, trying to keep them calm. They tried to keep everyone going to their lessons but people couldn’t concentrate.’
Louis Hather, 21, a computer programmer, hurt his leg in the scramble to escape the train.
He said: ‘There were so many children going to school on that train. We are so lucky that it seems the bomb did not go off properly.
‘I was just on my normal commute in and the train was rammed. We were stuck in like sardines. I was facing away from the bomb when suddenly I heard screams; they were the kind of screams that tell you something serious had happened.
‘I immediately thought: “There’s been a terror attack.”
‘There was something about the urgency in the way people were trying to get away that made me think that. It was sheer panic. I knew I had to get out as soon as I could so I ran towards the stairs but everyone was rushing and lots of people were falling along the way. I tried to stay up but was being pushed all over the place. There was a big crush on the stairs, with a pile-up about half way down.
‘People were falling over each other and being stepped on. I tried to steady myself by putting my arm against the wall.
‘But in the end I fell over and I lost a shoe and my bag in the rush.
‘Somehow I managed to get out and into the street but my stuff was still inside.’
Shuchen Warner, a 51-year- old teacher, said: ‘I was sitting next to the explosion, and I turned my head left and saw the fireball raging towards me. There were flames on the ceiling. A girl in front of me
‘Someone shouted Terrorist!’
fell over, then I tripped and people fell on top of me.
‘One guy helped me to get up. After we got out I saw a gentleman on a bench, in his late 50s, who was really burnt badly on his arms, head and side. A lady came towards me and parts of her hair were on fire and her clothes as well. You could smell the smoke. People were crying.’
Mrs Warner, from Caterham, Surrey, who teaches Chinese at Chelsea Independent College, added: ‘A boy of about 13 or 14 appeared to be injured, too. I didn’t see his face as it was a complete panic, but I heard people asking him if he was ok. When I fell, I think I sprained my ankle, but it could obviously have been worse.’
Even if the blast went off prematurely – rather than further along the line closer to central London – the only exit from the Parsons Green platform was down a narrow set of steps, and many were injured in the melee. The panic was made worse as false reports spread among the crowd about a knifeman running amok and a second bomb.
Peter Crowley was standing close by as the ‘really hot intense’ fireball tore across his head, charring his hair.
He said: ‘There was a gentleman who was wearing a puffer jacket that had completely melted. He had burns across his face as well.’
Lauren Hubbard, 24, who lives in Parsons Green, added: ‘There was this wall of fire coming towards us. It was tall and you could feel the heat. It was flaming orange. There was just sheer panic.’
Chris Wildish said he saw ‘some very distressed children, and an elderly gentleman who had very bad burns on his face’. He said: ‘There were a lot of schoolkids on the train and a lot of them got knocked over. There was a very, very strong acrid smell of chemicals.’ BBC newsreader Sophie Raworth, who was outside the station, said later she had seen a woman with burns all over her body ‘from top to toe’.
Lauren Saul, 17, who was helping victims caught up in the chaos said: ‘ People were distraught. I have never seen people so scared. They hadn’t been told anything. They didn’t know if they were going home or if they could contact family.
‘Some didn’t know where their family were. I know someone whose grandson was on the train and he has only just started secondary school. The tensions were very high.’
Suffering: A paramedic acts quickly to wrap protective film over the legs and hands of a badly burned woman
Barefoot blast victim: A distressed woman wearing only one shoe is led away from the station by rescuers
Alight: The improvised ‘fairy light’ explosive in a white bucket on the train, beside a handbag abandoned by a traveller in the panic
Bandaged: A passenger with facial injuries at the scene
Evacuation: Schoolchildren are escorted from the Tube carriage by emergency services