‘A bag, a flash and a bang’: how terror erupted on the packed rush-hour train
Commuters had no idea what they were fleeing in panicked rush for the doors
On a packed underground train at the height of rush hour, no one seemed to have noticed the white bucket inside a carrier bag placed against a door.
At 8.20am, as the District line train from Wimbledon pulled into Parsons Green station, Ryan Barnett, 25, was sitting further down the train. “All of a sudden, hundreds of people were running past me screaming ‘stampede’, ‘attack’, ‘terrorist’, ‘explosion’, ‘get off the train’, ‘everyone run’,” he said. Barnett, who works in politics, ran with them.
Richard Aylmer-Hall, 53, a media technology consultant, ran too. He had been reading his newspaper and listening to a podcast on his way to Paddington on the train, which has capacity for 865 passengers, and was “absolutely packed” with commuters and schoolchildren. In the febrile panic that ensued, he heard a woman shouting about “a bag, a flash and a bang”.
With the train fortunately at a station, its doors were open. Hundreds joined a stampede to a staircase leading to the station exit. “I saw crying women, there was lots of shouting and screaming. Some people got pushed over and trampled on,” said Aylmer-Hall.
Barnett made it to the staircase, but stewards were shouting “stop, stop, stop”, he said, as it became dangerously overcrowded. “People were falling over, people were fainting, people were crying. There were little kids clinging on to the back of me,” Barnett said.
Olaniyi Shokunbi, 24, a fitness instructor, saw people lying on the floor covered in blood. “There was a little boy. I felt really sorry for him. He couldn’t have been more than 11. He had scratches on his head. He was looking for his little brother,” he said. “A woman on the floor couldn’t breathe. People all around were screaming and crying.”
Those nearest to the white builder’stype bucket had heard a bang, then witnessed a “fireball” and a “wall of flame” shoot through the carriage.
South African Gillian Wixley, 36, who lives in Putney and was eight seats away from the explosion, said: “It wasn’t a big explosion, more of a bang, and then there was fire.” As she rushed off the train she saw “flames going up the wall”.
Rory Rigney, 37, from Dublin, was also feet away from the device, and saw “a fireball coming towards me”. “It smelled like a fire extinguisher and there was this foam on the floor,” he said. One woman, who “looked like she had been burnt”, was being helped by people pouring water on her face.
Videos and photographs of what Scotland Yard would later determine to be an improvised explosive device were appearing on Twitter. It was blackened, twisted and still in flames.
Chris Wildish, who was on the train, said: “It was a white bucket, a builder’s bucket, in a white Aldi bag or Lidl bag. Flames were still coming out of it when I saw it and [it] had a lot of wires hanging out of it.”
Outside, armed officers were at the scene within minutes. Six fire engines, a fire rescue unit and about 50 firefighters were immediately dispatched, as well as a fleet of ambulances. Passengers stumbled out, shaking, limping; some covered in blood, many tearful. They spoke of a “wall of flames”, of hearing a “bang” or a “whooshing” noise.
The BBC’s Sophie Raworth, one of the first journalists on the scene, saw a woman on a stretcher, her legs wrapped, and being given oxygen and pain relief. “She seemed to have burns all over her body from top to toe,” said Raworth.
Robyn Frost, about to enter the station to travel into central London, saw “blood on the floor and people running down the stairs screaming ‘get out’”. Aaron Butterfield, a production manager, also arriving at the station, described people “crawling over one another” as they tried to flee. There was more panic, he said, when police told them there had been an explosion, and “someone was running around with a knife” and there was possibly another explosive device, he said.
One of the injured, Peter Crowley, sustained burns to his scalp. He was luckier than others, he told BBC News. “It was a really hot, intense fireball. There were a lot of people a lot worse than me. I saw a gentleman with a puffa jacket and the whole back of that had been burned. He had burn marks across his face,” Crowley said.
In Parsons Green, visibly anxious parents collected children from Lady Margaret school, which was on lockdown most of the day,.
A wedding that was due to take place in the parish church of St Dionis was instead held at a neighbouring parish church, the Rt Rev Dr Graham Tomlin, bishop of Kensington, said.
“We had to move quite quickly,” he explained. “It’s a sign that life can continue and good things happen even in the middle of something really deeply evil like this.”
“Sadly this is something that has become part of life in London. Today we are deeply thankful the device didn’t go off in the way it was intended to. We must not normalise it.”