Friday September 15, 2017

'It was chaos': Commuter describes flames, stampede after bomb went off on London subway

London train bombing witness Chris Wildish told As It Happens that emergency crews arrived promptly on scene and 'smartly took control of the situation.'

London train bombing witness Chris Wildish told As It Happens that emergency crews arrived promptly on scene and 'smartly took control of the situation.' (Kevin Coombs/Reuters)

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Chris Wildish was sitting quietly and reading his book on a London subway Wednesday morning when a homemade bomb exploded one train car over. 

"I just saw out of the corner of my eyes, there was a flash of light," Wildish told As It Happens guest host Jim Brown.

"And as I looked over, there was a flash of flame that shot kind of from the floor up into the roof of the train and then very quickly followed by a very strong smell of chemicals."

For a single moment, he said, everyone on the packed train appeared to freeze in place, wondering what had just happened.

"And then it was chaos. It was people climbing over seats and over others, and shouting and screaming, just trying to get away from the device," he said. "It was a stampede, no question."

Fortunately, he said, the train doors quickly swung open and people were able to escape.

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A witness told As It Happens there was stampede for the exists after the bomb went off. (Hannah McKay/Reuters)

Twenty-two people were injured when the bomb went off at about 8:20 a.m. while the train was at the Parsons Green station in southwest London, but nobody is believed to have been seriously hurt. 

Wildish, who is unharmed, said he saw some people with burns and others with bumps and cuts from the rush to escape.

Metropolitan Police said it was a terrorist attack, the fifth in Britain this year. There have been no arrests, but hundreds of detectives, aided by intelligence agents, were looking at surveillance camera footage in the subway, carrying out forensic work and speaking to witnesses.

bucket bomb london subway

In this image made from video, fire comes from a homemade bomb in a bucket inside a train at a subway station in southwest London on Friday morning ( @RRIGS/Associated Press)

Wildish said once people recovered from the initial panic, they turned to helping each other out — especially adults looking after the many schoolchildren who were on board.

He said there was one young girl panicking because she lost her phone and couldn't call her mother, so he went back on board to find it.

"I was a bit stupid," he admitted.

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An injured woman is led away after a bomb attack at Parsons Green underground station in London. (Luke MacGregor/Reuters)

He is now safe at home with his family, processing the experience. 

"I think the thing that got to me was there were so many schoolchildren on the train, and that builds a groundswell of fear and anger because I've got a daughter," he said. "No kid deserves this."

Experts said London may have escaped far worse carnage because it appeared that the bomb only partially exploded.

"There by the grace of God, if the bomb had gone off properly or if it was a lot bigger it could have been a lot worse," Wildish said. "But it wasn't."

— With files from Associated Press and CBC News