Thursday, February 23, 2006

One summer morning.

I was in London from the 4th to 11th of July at the New Designers graduate product design exhibition in Islington, I had just finished my degree and this was an opportunity to show our work to industry. Wednesday was awards day, no one at our university won anything, so the next morning we decided we needed a break.

Thursday, five of us decided to get up early to see more of London, before the design exhibition at 11am so we got the circle line tube from Barbican (near the student halls we were staying at), up to Kings Cross at 8.22. We then went to get the Piccadilly line southbound, we got to the platform and waited about 4 people from the edge. It was about 8.40. The platform was packed, so much so that there were constant announcements for people to back away from the edge as the train might hit them.

A train came through and we tried to push on, but there were 5 of us so we couldn’t make it, we got the next one, about 8 minutes later. I had to force myself in between other people, it was the busiest tube train I’d ever been on. I got on the first door of the second carriage, with my back against the internal door to the first carriage. We began to move.

We'd been out drinking the night before. I turned round to my friend Mark and said, "Good job you don't feel sick..." At this point I was looking into the first carriage, it was packed, and swaying as we went down the tunnel. I have this image saved in my head, I know I was looking at people only 2 seconds before they were blown apart. In the time it took me to turn my head back round, about 1 minute down the tunnel, it happened.

Lots of things happened at the same time, there was a massive 'metallic' bang behind me which sounded like we’d hit a train at top speed, we stopped instantly, I couldn’t see anything because there was a blast of light filled with glass screening my vision all around me. The glass window against the back of my head had shattered, along with the frame and flew past and into my head horizontally. I remember this moment so vividly as the light was so bright I couldn't see anything except lots of glass and debris within the flash. Then silence and total blackness. I thought this was death, everything around me was gone and there was a strong rush of air passing over me, which was the wave of debris and smoke pumping through the window. Sounds strange but I felt like I was flying. The blast had bent me over and I was slumping towards the floor, I was losing consciousness. At one point I was unconscious.

I came round when my friend Andy grabbed me and picked me up, only when he touched me did I know I wasn't dead. He gave me a bear hug and said, “You’re all right mate!“ He later told me he thought he only had moments to live. I looked around and could only see a few people because of the darkness and smoke. The emergency light was on, but didn't do much as the smoke was so thick and still pumping through the window, into my face and filling the rest of the train. Then I realised smoke equals fire. I internally and very calmly said these exact words to myself;

"This is it, your worst nightmare, you are going to burn to death."

My heart rate slowed down and I slowed down breathing, I guess it’s a survival instinct to prevent me breathing more smoke than I have to and prevent panic. My neck, shoulder and chest was wet, I knew I was bleeding but not how bad it was. I was shouting out "...fuck, fuck, fuck..." nobody heard me, many were screaming, those that were not were shouting for calm. People calmed down, People were asking if I was ok, I was saying "I'm cut pretty bad, there's a lot of blood." A stranger felt the back of my head to see where it was coming from. Part of the door, or something from the front carriage had come through the door and gashed my head from one side to the other, 5 inches long, my skull was visible. I asked Andy for his jumper for my head, and wrapped it round my head.

People were asking anyone with a phone to try and get a signal, I got mine out, even though it was useless, it was 8.52. We were trying to calm everyone down, eventually our carriage went quiet. The carriages behind were panicking, the one in front was silent, our carriage was eerily calm. I couldn’t see anything through the carriage door which hit me, it was pitch black, it wasn't there any more. I peered in through the window, I thought it was just the blackness of the dark which meant I couldn’t see the full carriage, no, many of them were dead and dying only feet in front of me yet I couldn‘t see it. I could see a man standing against the left hand rear of carriage one, my friend Mark was shining his phone through the window, trying to talk to him and the few people we could see, he never answered, he never moved for half an hour. Either he was deafened by the blast, in shock or unconscious. We were asking if they were ok through the door, and if we could get out that way, no answer. They were deaf, unconscious, dead, or on their way to Russell Square on foot. Course I didn’t realise this, there was no reason for us to believe a bomb exploded the other side of that door.

After about 10 minutes we had heard nothing and it was getting really hot down there. By this time I knew it wasn’t a fire, just dust, which stank, it smelt like chemicals. People had their mouths covered by clothes to block the smoke out, for some reason I didn't. A woman in front of me was very upset and asking if people could try and open the side doors to let the smoke out. I thought to myself "There's only so much air in here." I shouted at people to open the side doors, they tried and made a gap of about 3inches between the doors. The walls of the tunnel were only a hands length from the train, there was no way to get out. Frustrated, I shouted that there must be an emergency door we can get out at the back. Someone pointed out to me that the tracks would be live. There was a flash, someone was taking pictures with their camera phone. Everyone swore at him. A man to my left was calling for a fire extinguisher, people had a go at him. The buzzer on the intercom would go off every few minutes and everyone would shout for silence, we would ask for silence from the first carriage, even though it was silent in there. But the speaker would only crackle, and no message came through. After every failed message, people panicked again. Every few minutes a woman’s screams would come from the first carriage, and people would try to calm her from our carriage. I will never forget them. There were heavy bangs coming from both ends of the train, I thought the tunnel was collapsing, people were actually breaking out of the train.

Mark tried to force the door behind us open to get the people out, he told them to stand back so he could kick it through, but couldn’t, it was buckled and swollen in towards us and jammed shut, the top half was blown through and scattered on the floor. It was so dark it was impossible to see what was happening in there, I could see part of the roof hanging down, which prevented us going through the window. Mark was still talking to the people the other side of the door, holding a woman’s hand through the door and reassuring them. A massive rush of air came through the tunnel as another train was coming down the tunnel and someone screamed out that it would hit us, I waited for the crash, I considered grabbing a man next to me, but it just faded away, They must have been clearing the tunnel to get us out. Nervous silence. I said out loud, “I could murder a brew…” , a few people nervously laughed, from this point people relaxed a bit and began to talk to each other.

After about half an hour people started to move down from in front of us, as I got to the end of my carriage I looked back and 5 injured people walked out of the carriage behind (the front one), then nobody else. We walked down through our carriage, as I did the tube manager from Kings Cross came past us, I walked into the 3rd carriage, the first doors and windows were broken as the train had hit and rubbed the tunnel wall. I got out the 3rd side doors of the 3rd carriage onto the track and down a side tunnel as we had stopped on a ‘Y’ junction.

I looked back at the train, it was forced against the wall, and the sides were scraped. I recall seeing a form on the floor, I later realized this was a dead body. There was a queue on the right and injured people were told to go to the left. I waited for someone to go past; he had a bloodied face and was unrecognisable. I followed a woman who’s lower back was badly lacerated, slashed from one side to the other, she was having trouble walking, we walked on the tracks for about 5 minutes and scrambled up onto the platform.

I was directed up to the top of Kings Cross station, I got on the escalator. Another train was being evacuated from the platform we boarded on. These people were staring at me, expressionless. I was shouting, "What are they looking at, why are they looking at me?!". I didn’t know my face was completely black from the smoke and my face and clothes were covered in blood. They still looked. I got to the ticket barrier and started mouthing off about the "F*cking underground, checking our tickets after this!" The gates were open. The paramedics were just going down, someone dropped a pallet of water off in the station, I ripped the polythene off and started handing the bottles out. I then sat on the pallet. I tried to go outside but someone in the street was hassling me, asking me what was going on, I said I didn't know, I thought we had hit a train. I phoned my University tutor to let him know we had been in a crash and would be late. It was now 9.40, I had been trapped underground in the smoke for 35 minutes. I waited in the ticket room on the floor to go to hospital. I phoned home and let my parents know I was ok, and I had been in a train crash. Someone came over to me and started pouring water over my face to wash the soot off, it didn’t work. He taped a massive wad of tissues against my head wound, it was sodden in seconds, eventually someone came along and bandaged it, they labelled me ‘Priority 3‘. Andy went into severe shock and began shaking uncontrollably, he said he was losing feeling in his arms. There was a woman next to me whose forearms were shredded. A journalist came up to me and asked me if I wanted to do a piece, I said yes, he disappeared. Eventually I was led outside, I was one of the last who could walk to leave Kings Cross, by this time it was about 10.15, outside Kings Cross resembled some sort of war zone, no public, no traffic, endless screeching of sirens and police holding the traffic at all junctions onto the road. Here I saw one of the worst things, a man in a suit, his back covered in lumps of other peoples flesh and sheets of burnt skin, Only now did I realize how bad the situation was. I asked a cop what had happened and he said one word: “bombs”.

I waited and got on a bus, we waited for half an hour, I was on the phone to my dad who was updating me, obviously we couldn’t move because by now the bus bomb had gone off. Nobody on the bus knew what had actually happened, as I was the only person who had a phone signal I was relaying what my dad was telling me to everyone. They looked back at me shocked, a young man behind me asked, “Why would they bomb us?” I replied, “Olympics“.

Eventually we moved and I went to Royal London Hospital, as we waited to pull into the hospital I looked outside, a TV crew was filming me, bandaged and looking out the window, this was aired on the day, and has been shown a few times since. I was led into the paediatric unit, into a corridor and onto a bed, they thought I had a broken skull, after checking it I didn't. I kept apologising for covering their sheets in black soot. One of the doctors asked where I was, I said “Piccadilly Line, 2nd carriage.“ She looked shocked, at this point it was believed the bomb was in the 2nd carriage. They kept cutting chunks of sticky bloody glass filled hair from my head. Having the glass pulled out from under my scalp and the stitches were the most painful thing I’ve ever been through. There was no time for an anaesthetic. All the back of my head, my ears and my neck was sprayed with glass from the window and was bleeding, as well as the long large cut, probably caused by a flying piece of metal. They checked my blood pressure and breathing, all clear. I put my hand in my pockets, each one was half filled with safety glass. I was more annoyed that the canteen was shut than I’d been in a bomb explosion, I was pumped with adrenalin which lasted till the Monday after. I left the hospital.

I flagged down a cab, he wanted £45 to Angel. I was covered in blood and debris, and he still wanted to rip us off! We walked back for 2 hours in the rain to Islington, we had no idea which way we were going. Everyone was staring at me and a few people were taking pictures of me on camera phones. I asked a shop keeper for the way to Islington, he said, “Are you ok? You look like you’ve been in a bomb.” All I could think to say was, “I was.” He was very apologetic.

We carried on and got to where I now know is Hackney, it’s not our fault, everyone, policemen and public told us the wrong way. I asked a group of 5 road workers for directions, they were asking if I was ok, before I knew it I had an audience of 15 people all wanting to know what happened on that train. As I carried on walking people were looking at me, they just knew where I had been, several people ‘crossed’ their chests with their hands when they saw me.

I didn’t care that it took me 2 hours in the rain, I was out and I was alive. We went past the business design centre in Islington, there was now a security barrier that wasn’t there the day before, they just let me through. Everyone from my uni’ was waiting to see if I was ok, we went in and everyone was hugging me and crying, my friends Mark and Nick who didn’t go to hospital and we lost in the Kings Cross evacuation didn’t really want to look at me, they had already showered and didn’t want reminding of it all. I got back and had a shower, I couldn’t wash my hair as I didn’t want to risk touching the wound. I made the mistake of taking a hot shower, this washed the smell into my skin and I stank of explosives for days, or maybe it was just up my nose and in my lungs. The inside of my nose was caked with dirt, as were my ears, the back of my throat had clumps of soot stuck to it, my eyelids had dirt caked on them when I looked in the mirror. Andy and Sam washed my hair for me, more and more hair blood and glass, it just kept coming and coming.

About 8.00pm I went for a walk with my friend Alan, we went to the Gherkin. I just looked at it, what the hell had happened today? I couldn’t face sleeping on my own that night, 3 of us shared one tiny room. I asked to leave the light on. I couldn’t sleep for hours, when I did, I dreamt I was stood in a train in the dark, and everyone had disappeared. I woke up at 6ish after about 30mins sleep. Despite what had happened I stayed in London till the Monday, and continued my efforts to present my work, everyone was to scared to come to London, my heart wasn’t in it at all.


Blogger Rachel said...

Oh Steve, I know what that must have cost to live through and to write. I hope that by writing it you have released something and that the burden can be carried by other people as well as you.

I am so glad that you made it off the train.

I haven't met you in person yet but I am sending you a ((hug)), to a brave fellow passenger, I hope with all my heart that what you wrote then was the worst thing that will ever happene to you in your life, and that from here on there is hope and healing and light after such darkness.

12:23 AM  
Blogger Holly Finch said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:32 AM  
Blogger Holly Finch said...

steve....sent shivers down my spine....i really hope it helped you to write it, i find it so moving reading peoples accounts, it's so personal, yet so familiar.

really hope to meet you soon (9th march perhaps?) and big hugs for being so flippin brave. the passengers on that train never cease to amaze me....we all had our own little stars looking over us that day....and everyone i have come across has been a star in their own right


3:33 AM  
Blogger fjl said...

Thankyou so so much for this writing. An angel couldn't be a better witness. It's incredible to hear the full account, hard as it must have been to write. You want to hug you. How could one human being reject another human being like that.
It's so interesting to hear about your reactions, how clear it is that some things changed forever from then on. How your survivor humour began and kicked in straight away, and has probably never left you.

3:34 AM  
Blogger Bumble Bee said...

Well done for posting this Steve. I hope it gives you some kind of release that you are after.
Huge hug your way and hope to meet you soon. Your such a very brave person.

4:07 AM  
Blogger Ally said...

I've come via Rachel. Thank you for sharing that.

7:19 AM  
Blogger Mimi NY said...

Hi Steve

Life sucks mate. Thanks for sharing that.


9:45 AM  
Blogger TM said...

I think your very brave for blogging and I hope it has helped you to come to terms with it in someway.

Although I can only imagine how scary and shocking the situation was your post is very touching and honest in your description. Thank you.


(linked via Rachel)

2:45 PM  
Blogger Ham said...

Thank you for writing.

4:58 PM  
Blogger steve said...

Thank you all for taking the time for reading my post. I know it's really really long!
Seeing it up there and sharing it with people my feelings are slightly alleviated. I guess I feel I don't have to hang onto any details any more, unless I want to.
As a designer I am very visually stimulated and possibly over-observant, I can replay it all in my head in frightening detail almost second for second even 7 months on. I wont ever forget but hopefully those images and sounds will fade.

Thanks you again.


4:23 PM  
Blogger Bridget said...

Hi Steve

I hope you don't mind me commenting on your blog, as some of your fellow survivors consider those of us with questions to be 'conspiracy theorists'. In fact, we are just fellow citizens who are researching the events of 7th July, as there has been very little 'evidence' in the public domain that stands up to close scrutiny.

I find the lack of evidence deeply disturbing on behalf of those who died, were injured or affected by the events of that morning and feel you all surely deserve to know what really happened.

I was wondering what your thoughts are on the lack of CCTV images that prove that 4 young British men actually boarded those trains and a bus in London that morning? Or the fact that it was not possible for them to have travelled from Luton to Kings X on the train we have been told that they took?

I feel strongly that only the truth behind these events will aid those that are recovering from the trauma of that morning, especially as there will never be a court case which would allow closure for those affected.

3:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

good, i just made lots of bran-new emo backgrounds to my blog

9:04 AM  

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