1 Dec 2010

July 7 survivor: I thought passengers would burn to death

During the latest day of the inquest into the deaths of those killed in the July 7 bombings, one survivor recalls his fears for his fellow passengers.

One of the bombed tube carriages from the 7 July bombings

A July 7 survivor said today he thought his fellow passengers would burn to death. Jude Obi was on his way to take a signal driver’s test when terrorist Jermaine Lindsay, 19, detonated a rucksack full of explosives on the Piccadilly Tube line between King’s Cross and Russell Square.

Mr Obi managed to clamber over people and leave the wrecked carriage to walk along the track with a group to Russell Square. After helping the injured to the platform, he argued with officials that they had to go back.

We all heard another train from another line so everybody started screaming July 7 survivor Jude Obi

Today, he told the inquest into the deaths of the 52 people killed in the atrocity: “My main concern was that there was going to be a fire in that train and people would burn to death.

“I kept asking people on the platform and saying we need to get people out of this train.”

Not allowed back

He added that his main frustration was that he was not allowed back after promising to bring help to an injured woman.

Mr Obi told the corner, Lady Justice Hallett, he thought it was a “long time” before emergency workers went down the tunnel.

But Fiona Canby, barrister for Transport for London (TfL), said the emergency services had already been called and a station employee had gone to the bombed train.

Mr Obi said he did not know at the time because it was such chaos – but he walked over piles of people to get out. He had no idea a bomb had gone off and thought the carriage had derailed.

“When people were screaming ‘My leg, my head, I have lost my leg’, I wasn’t actually comprehending what was happening,” he said.

“I was thinking there had been a derailment and ‘Why would people be screaming they had lost a leg?”‘

‘I accepted death’

Fellow survivor Olawale Akerele managed to find a seat on the crammed carriage but was only feet from where the bomb was detonated.

When he came round from the blast he found his legs were trapped by the body of a woman who remained on top of him until firemen arrived to free him.

He said: “There was a loud, loud bang and I was lifted off my seat, it almost felt like I was being drowned because the heat and air of the smoke took my breath.”

He said his injuries made him feel like he was “between worlds” after the blast.

Mr Akerele has had to have counselling because of what he saw in the carriage after the blast. He said he “tried not to look around” the carriage it was so traumatic.

Mr Akerele, who was later treated for hip and spine injuries, said that as he lay helpless in the dark he accepted death.

“We all heard another train from another line so everybody started screaming,” he said.

“At that point I thought I accepted death.

“We thought they wouldn’t have got the signals up in time (to stop the next train) and there would be a crash.”

Read more from Channel 4 News in our special report on the July 7 bombings

‘Concerned I would be late for work’

Lilian Ajayi was also travelling in the first carriage of the southbound train which she joined at Finsbury Park.

She was going to sit down in one seat near the doors but gave it to another woman, she said. She eventually sat opposite her.

When Mrs Ajayi came round after the explosion she saw the woman on top of a pile of people in front of her – stacked up “like a laundry basket”. She said a man at the bottom of the pile grabbed her leg and asked for help.

He was one of the 26 people killed in the blast – the deadliest of four inflicted on London’s transport network by Lindsay, ringleader Mohammed Sidique Khan, 30, Shehzad Tanweer, 22, and Hasib Hussain, 18.

After leaving the carriage and walking the 681 metres to Russell Square, Mrs Ajayi’s focus was to contact her employer.

She said: “I think I was more concerned about speaking to people from work to say ‘I am running late’.”

There was ‘a click’

Another passenger on the Picadilly line tube is one of July 7’s most celebrated survivors.

Gill Hicks recalled that she thought she was dead in the moments following the explosion. Miss Hicks lost both her legs but just months later was able to walk down the aisle on prosthetics to marry her boyfriend Joe Kerr.

Today, she walked into the witness box with the aid of a stick and smilingly answered questions on the event that reshaped her life.

She told the inquest: “I remember feeling my last thought was I wished the train would hurry up because I was uncharacteristically late for work which I never normally do.

“It was seconds as we took off that there was literally a ‘click’. There was no sound and everything went completely black.

“At the time I thought I was having a heart attack, indeed, that I was dying or dead because I remember feeling ‘I don’t know what dead is, so is this dead?’

“I could hear screams around me and thought people were panicked over my death.”

She added: “I opened my eyes and realised there was blackness everywhere and not just for me and could hear everybody screaming.

“It wasn’t my death but a shared experience – I strangely found that comforting from the moments that followed.”