The first three bombs in the London subway—near Aldgate, King’s Cross and Edgware Road—exploded within seconds, at around 8:50 a.m. Fifty-seven minutes later another bomb detonated on a double-decker bus in Tavistock Square. Nearly a week after the July 7 blasts, which killed at least 52 and left more than 50 seriously wounded, authorities, who suspect al-Qaeda was somehow behind the plot, privately indicated that the attacks had been carried out by four suicide bombers, all of whom were evidently British nationals. Eyewitnesses described the terror—and heroism—of that day.
Andrea McCarthy, 27, a marketing manager, was on the King’s Cross train, one car from the explosion.
I was by the window, listening to my iPod. I have it so loud that usually you can’t hear anything. I had my eyes closed because I hate being smashed into the train like that, and I try to forget I’m there. There was a bang and a delayed reaction. I think people were so shocked they weren’t screaming. There wasn’t any fire, but there was lots of smoke and dust—and then people yelling and screaming to be let off the train. It all happened incredibly fast, and then we were just sitting there, wondering if we were going to suffocate to death. I couldn’t breathe—it was so hot and crowded.
Bruce Lait, 32, a professional dancer, was sitting on the Aldgate train, in the car containing the bomb, with his dance partner, Crystal Main, 23.
I literally just opened the first page of the newspaper—then boom! I was knocked unconscious by the blast. My first thought when I woke up was Crystal. She was hysterical. I said, “Are you okay, Crystal? Can you wiggle your toes? If you can, that means you can move your legs.”
Mustafa Kurtuldu, 24, a graphic designer, was also on the Aldgate train, in the car next to the one that blew up.
We all thought there must be a power shortage or something. We could hear screaming from the carriage where it happened, but everyone was saying, ‘It must be panic attacks or claustrophobics, perhaps.’
Miraculously, Lait suffered only a nasty gash to his ear and burns on his face. Both he and Main also suffered some temporary hearing loss.
I realized there was someone on top of me, a large woman. I could tell she was alive because she was twitching, but she was not conscious. After about five minutes, she stopped moving. I think she was somewhere between 30 and 45. She had blond, curly hair and she was dressed in black for a business type of job. Out of the roughly 20 people in that carriage, I wouldn’t imagine there were more than six or seven survivors. The hole in the floor from the blast was just to our right. If it wasn’t for the people on top of us, we wouldn’t be here today. Those people sheltered us from the blast.
It took 30 minutes for rescuers to reach the crippled train at King’s Cross. While leaving the tunnel, McCarthy passed the bombed car.
It was a mess. There were paramedics and blood, and I was trying not to look. Out on the track, there was a guy being helped. He was just in his underwear; his clothes had been torn off, and he was burned, I think. You could hear him kind of whimpering. And there was another guy whose face was like something out of a horror movie. It was black and bloodied. I stopped looking then. It wasn’t until I got out and I pulled out my mobile and went to tuck my hair behind my ear. I put my hand in my hair and there was glass in it. I started crying then.
As survivors streamed out of the Underground, passersby rushed to their aid, in some cases helping paramedics and doctors set up triage centers. One of those who pitched in was Paul Dadge, 28, who works part-time for America Online and who happened to be walking near the Edgware Road station. A picture of Dadge helping an injured woman became an instant icon of the tragedy.
I think her name was Davinia. There was no time for personal details. I used to be in the fire service part-time, but it was only for about a year, so I never did any burn training. I didn’t need to say anything to her, believe it or not, because she was extremely calm. She’s a really brave lady. She couldn’t see herself, so she didn’t know the injuries she’d gotten. If I have the chance to meet, her I would say, “Well done.”
With the Underground shut down, people were piling onto buses. Stephen Thornhill, 45, an interior designer, was looking at the packed No. 30 double-decker bus when the bomb went off, killing at least 13 people.
I was looking at the bus as it exploded. I saw it explode diagonally away from the top rear of the bus. As I turned to see it and walk down the street, there was a hot blast, whoosh, and I was pelted with bits of debris. I was running forward. I wasn’t pushed by the blast; it was just a hot wave. When you look at the bus, there’s not any feeling it’s happening to you. And when these bits and pieces start falling on you, you think, “It’s happening to me.” The smell and the taste is something you don’t expect. It’s a bit like fireworks, but it isn’t. It was like a powerful firework mixed with something else. It was quite strong in your mouth.
Californian Stephanie Riak Akuei, 42, a graduate student in anthropology at University College London—who is trained in first aid—was walking near the bus.
I was just about to turn into the square when I heard the explosion. There was blood and bits of bodies everywhere you could see. One of the first awful sights I saw was a dismembered body of what I think was a woman. It was just horrific. I couldn’t see her legs, and there wasn’t much left of her arms. There was an eerie silence at first and a strange heat. Debris covered the ground under your feet, and you could never be sure what you were standing on as you moved around. The smell of blood was almost overpowering. I felt sick.
As it happened, the bus exploded outside the offices of the British Medical Association, where about 20 doctors were on hand for meetings. Dr. Andrew Dearden, 42, a family practitioner from Cardiff, Wales, was one of those who rushed to help.
If you can keep people alive, get them on an ambulance and get them to a hospital within an hour—it’s the golden hour—their chances of survival are that much higher. I don’t know how many people I treated. We did what we could to stabilize people and get them to hospital. So it was a lot of putting in drips and keeping people covered and warm. I haven’t done this kind of medicine in a while; I worked in an ER department about 11 years ago. But you just do it. You get on with it, really. It was lucky that this happened where it did. Had it been a mile away, I think the chances [of survival] for the victims would’ve been much less.
Akuei: I ran to someone who I saw with a first aid kit and grabbed bandages and found myself going from person to person, seeing what I could do. I lost track of the number of people. It was one person after another—even if it was just to place a blanket under someone’s head or to put a jacket over them. One woman had back injuries and I was asked to put some support around her neck.
Kurtuldu, a Muslim whose family comes from Turkey, said that the saving grace of the tragedy was the way people came together.
I don’t even know what [the attackers] wanted to achieve; they weren’t even going for government buildings or anything. These were innocent civilians. These are human beings. As a Muslim I just don’t get it.
Still, people of all races, all nations, all religions—everyone was helping each other. That was the most amazing thing, people united. It’s screwed up that something like this had to happen, but it showed the milk of human kindness; people have it in their hearts. There are horrible people out there, but they are such a small group.
Sara Hammel, Monique Jessen, Jill Martin, Neil Michael, Pete Norman and Courtney Rubin in London