Just min­utes af­ter blast, Sam told me . . . I saw the burned flesh on their faces


HAVE you ever run for your life? I have. I didn’t know what or who I was run­ning from on Friday morn­ing, but one glance at the wide-eyed hor­ror on the faces of the well- heeled City work­ers flee­ing the train at Par­sons Green was enough to send me rac­ing out the doors.

They were run­ning for their lives and for that rea­son alone so was I. There was no adrenaline, just the sick­en­ing pos­si­bil­ity that this might be it, the mo­ment it all ends on an or­di­nary day out of the blue. This was ter­ror, of some un­known event in the end car­riage.

An en­tire packed com­muter train had been sud­denly trans­formed into a stam­ped­ing minit­sunami of hu­man­ity surg­ing along the plat­form.

Hardly any­one was scream­ing or shout­ing, but for one ter­ri­ble mo­ment it was each man for him­self, and some­thing aw­ful and pri­mal had kicked in that made me push for­ward mind­lessly in the rush for the stairs that had be­come im­pass­ably crowded in sec­onds.

I didn’t have a clue what had hap­pened, but just 15 min­utes af­ter I had counted my­self lucky to get on the train just be­fore the doors had closed a few stops up the line, I was brac­ing my­self for a ma­raud­ing at­tacker armed with a knife or a gun, or a bomb blast.

My nos­trils be­gan to fill with an acrid, burn­ing smell. Then one man had the pres­ence of mind to cry out ‘ Calm down’ to all of us crammed on to a short, nar­row plat­form lead­ing to steps that were sud­denly woe­fully in­ad­e­quate as an es­cape exit.

I snapped out of my panic, col­lected my­self and echoed his call in the hope of stop­ping the push­ing and shov­ing down the steps that were so crammed it was all too easy to imag­ine peo­ple could soon be crushed to death. Around me ter­ror had given way to shock.

One young woman was in tears, shak­ing. An­other woman re­peat­edly in­sisted ‘I’m fine, I’m all right’, and laughed over how she had lost her shoes in the rush.

By now the melee had calmed down into a very Bri­tish well­be­haved queue wait­ing to file down the steps and out of the sta­tion, and amid the chat­ter of the crowd, a few facts be­gan to emerge.

There had been a bang – some­how not loud enough for me to hear halfway down the train – and there was talk of a flash of flames that had filled a sec­tion of the train.

Was it a ter­ror at­tack or some kind of un­likely freak ac­ci­dent? What­ever we sus­pected it was im­pos­si­ble to know, but re­gard­less of what had hap­pened I be­gan to won­der how bad the dam­age was for those left in the train.

I made my way down with ev­ery­one else to the ticket gates, where a young East­ern European mother with a tod­dler in a pushchair stood shak­ing with hor­ror over t he thought of what could so eas­ily have hap­pened to her child, mer­ci­fully un­harmed. An­other woman – a smartly dressed of­fice worker – stood along­side her, hold­ing her arm in com­fort.

I was, to be hon­est, in a bit of a state. I wasn’t alone. I got talk­ing to a young man, Sam Fa­ley, who was teary and shaky but bright and re­mark­ably co­gent. His story came out: he’d been right there, at the ground zero end of the train, and si­mul­ta­ne­ously heard t he blast and saw the fire erupt from what he de­scribed as a ‘bag for life’. He felt the heat on his face from the flames that seemed to be ev­ery­where.

He said: ‘ There was a kind of thud­ding noise and the lid of the bucket popped off. The next thing I knew a blind­ing ball of fire just filled the whole car­riage.

‘ The heat and l i ght were so in­tense. There was some kind of thick yel­low gel that filled the car­riage and had squirted out of the bucket. Luck­ily I was sit­ting down and sur­rounded by peo­ple.

‘I turned my head away from the heat and only singed the back of my hair. But there were oth­ers whose faces were re­ally badly burned and just looked dazed. Peo­ple sud­denly started scream­ing and try­ing to bun­dle out the train. Some had been knocked to the floor by the force of the blast. One woman was just rock­ing back and forth, frozen to the spot, and had to be car­ried out.

‘An­other col­lapsed on the plat­form stairs and was get­ting

‘It was easy to imag­ine be­ing crushed to death’

‘The lid popped and there was a blind­ing ball of fire’

t ram­pled un­der­foot. So many peo­ple were cry­ing. I take that train every morn­ing and al­ways see the same peo­ple, so in a way you sort of get to know each other.’

Sam went on: ‘ Ev­ery­one was fight­ing to get out the sta­tion but it was com­pletely jammed. There was just panic and fear in the air. I saw around 50 po­lice of­fi­cers at the sta­tion who ar­rived within min­utes, around half of t hem armed, and they re­ally took con­trol very quickly.

‘ I’d been in­volved in a ter­ror re­sponse train­ing day just the day be­fore a nd had been in Barcelona not long be­fore the at­tack there last month. I’ve al­ways won­dered how I would re­spond to this kind of at­tack but you can never truly be pre­pared.’

At 21, Sam is part of a gen­er­a­tion for whom the con­stant pos­si­bil­ity of a ter­ror­ist at­tack has been an or­di­nary fact of every­day life since as far back as he could re­mem­ber.

Now on this fine late- sum­mer morn­ing in Lon­don, some­thing had kicked in that en­abled him to know just what to do in the sec­onds af­ter the blast, to find the calm to get up and walk to­wards safety un­til he hit the crowd.

With the po­lice cor­don­ing off the dan­ger area around the sta­tion and ush­er­ing the pub­lic away to safety, I wan­dered up with Sam, past the tidy patch of green that is Par­sons Green and up to­wards the el­e­gant lit­tle bou­tiques and chi-chi eater­ies on New Kings Road.

Seem­ingly obliv­i­ous to the may­hem of just a few hun­dred yards away, the yummy mummy brigade were con­gre­gat­ing af­ter the school drop-off in an invit­ing cafe, and leav­ing Sam there I went off to find out what I could about the blast.

A lit­tle me­dia vil­lage thick with mi­cro­phones and cam­eras had popped up al­most in­stantly by the green, but no one there seemed to know any­thing much for sure.

Was there a sec­ond de­vice? An armed man on the loose?

Some­one stuck a mo­bile phone un­der my nose and showed me a photo of what was left of the de­vice on the car­riage that had caused the blast – lit­tle more than a white

bucket in a plas­tic bag. My first re­ac­tion was to think how laugh­ably piti­ful it looked, but look at the re­sults: for al­most no cost and with lit­tle tech­ni­cal skill, an un­known bomber had in­jured dozens – thank­fully none crit­i­cally – and left many, many more badly rat­tled and trau­ma­tised.

I was shaken most of all by the mem­ory of that pan­icked stam­pede on the plat­form: that was the mo­ment of great­est dan­ger, when the in­stinct to sur­vive made us fol­low the ter­ror­ists’ bid­ding, un­til civil­i­sa­tion was re­stored af­ter a few sec­onds.

It be­gan to dawn on me that I had joined the ranks of all those peo­ple caught up in the kind of at­tacks that The Mail on Sun­day and other news­pa­pers have had to re­port on all too of­ten these past few years. This is what ter­ror means: to be ter­rorised, to be re­duced to sheer panic in an in­stant – one of hun­dreds of com­muters who had noth­ing more to worry about than the business of the com­ing worki ng day one mo­ment, and the next were sick with fear for their very sur­vival.

I’d been down at the scene long enough to know it was doubt­ful I’d find out much more there and started to walk to my of­fice, but I was trou­bled, won­der­ing how Sam was do­ing, and stopped at the cafe where I’d left him.

I shouldn’t have wor­ried. I had mis­judged the yummy mum­mies of Par­sons Green: they had ral­lied round and taken this stranger to their hearts. Lindsay, a lovely mother of three, was in­sis­tent: Sam had to come back to her fam­ily’s house nearby, have some­thing proper to eat and stay as long as he liked un­til he felt OK.

As a bonus, if he wanted he was wel­come to cud­dle her chil­dren’s dog. Her in­vi­ta­tion to Sam was a small but sweet set­back for the bucket bomber’s hopes of un­do­ing our way of life.

ES­CAPE ROUTE: Ben Felsenburg’s pic­ture shows pas­sen­gers rush­ing for the sta­tion exit

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