BBC2 viewers were left ‘incredibly moved’ after a man who survived the 7/7 bombings shared how a kind woman held his hand and told him they were going to live on Saved By A Stranger last night.
Karl Williams was 23 when he boarded the first carriage of the Piccadilly Line London Underground train on 7th July 2005, one of the four targets of the terror attacks on London’s tube and bus network.
Following the explosion, Karl was convinced he was going to die and says he had ‘never felt so alone’, until a kind stranger reached out and asked him if she could hold his hand, reassuring him that they would make it out alive.
The aspiring clinical psychologist, now 38, predicted his life could have been very different had it not been for her kindness, but admitted he’s never shaken the guilt of rushing past her on the stairs as they were being evacuated.
Appearing on the BBC2 show, 15 years after the attack, Karl attempted to track down the woman, revealing his survivor’s guilt has been so severe he’d never spoken to another person involved in the bombings.
Viewers were clearly moved by the story, with one writing: ‘I’m watching saved by a stranger and bawling my eyes out, what a powerful story’.
Karl Williams, 38, from London, was a passenger on the first carriage of the Picadilly Line London Underground train – one of the four targets of the 7/7 bombings
‘It’s so strange because I don’t know her name or what she looked like, but she’s someone I value so much. So I want to say thank you’, Karl said.
‘I also have this guilt around pushing in front of her and I want to, I want to say sorry for that, because I feel so terrible I would do that when someone was so helpful.’
Karl is originally from Stoke, but moved to London in the summer of 2001 to study dance at university.
‘For me it was a very exciting and optimistic time,’ he said, ‘I was just bright lights, big city. I was really attracted to dance and faced paced life and saw dance as a way to see the world.’
In the moments after the bomb exploded, Karl was comforted by a woman who was standing close to him. He is pictured with Susan, another survivor of the attacks
Karl recalled watching the September 11 attacks on the Twin Towers in New York the year he moved to London – admitting that while he was in shock at the horrific bombings, he never thought something similar could happen to him.
‘I remember seeing it on the news and being amazed, but not feeling in any way that was going to be a threat to me.’
Four years later on July 7th, 2005, Karl was weeks away from graduating as a dancer when he was caught up in the terrifying London attacks.
He had spent the night partying with friends to celebrate London being awarded the 2012 Olympic games before boarding the train at Kings Cross tube station.
Karl was convinced he was going to die and says he had ‘never felt so alone’, until a kind stranger reached out and asked him if she could hold his hand
‘It was getting really busy’, he said, ‘Then when it was time to get on the carriage, I was sort of just pushed from behind. I had my music on so I couldn’t really hear the noise going on.
‘It’s hot, it’s sweaty, it was summer, it was a warm day. It wasn’t long before we were in the tunnel at all. There was a massive bang and it felt like we were coasting forever before we stopped.
‘Then I just remember there was this moment of absolute silence, and that’s when the screaming starts.’
He admitted he’s never shaken the guilt of rushing past her on the stairs as they were being evacuated
Karl remembers having no idea what was going on, and recalled it being ‘absolutely pitch black’ with so much smoke ‘you could taste it’.
‘I think initially I thought part of the tube had collapsed and I remember thinking “Oh god, we’re going to get buried alive” and that was starting to freak me out.
‘Collectively we were starting to come round from the initial shock. There was people shouting, going “It’s okay, we’re going to be okay”. But also people saying to stop screaming because we were going to use up all the air.
Still with no idea what had happened, Karl began searching for his iPod which had been lost in the blast, and realised that surrounding him was debris up to his elbow.
‘I thought, this is bad’, said Karl. ‘The screams were coming from behind me and I knew not to turn around. I’m not sure if I’d been able to see anyway, but I knew not to look that way.
Karl and the show’s presenter, Anita Rani, began searching through testimonies of survivors, searching for someone with a similar story to Karl
‘I remember having this feeling of desperation. I’m not religious but I prayed to god and said “If you let me out I won’t be gay anymore”. It was desperation I’ve never felt.’
Karl said he began panicking and ‘blubbering like a child’ as the severity of the situation dawned on him.
‘The realisation that I was on my own and that really started to get me in a state’, said Karl. ‘I heard someone a few feet to my left just say “Oh can I hold your hand, can I hold your hand” and it was a lady who said this and I said to her, ‘We’re going to die aren’t we? This is how we’re going to die’.
‘And she was just so calm and peaceful and said “No, no, no we’re going to get out” and I really think in some way she saved me. I don’t mean she saved my life, but I wonder who I would be if I didn’t have that support in that moment.’
Viewers were clearly moved by the story with many taking to Twitter to say they were ‘sobbing’
After a wait that ‘felt like forever’ while silently holding the stranger’s hand, the driver’s door opened and Karl says it was ‘like the light of heaven’.
‘The driver said you have to walk, go really slowly. I was in get me out of here mode and I didn’t shove the lady out of the way, but I definitely pushed in front of her to get out before her. And that’s been something that I’ve really struggled to deal with, that someone would be so helpful and I would be so selfish.’
Karl had to walk along the platform lines to Russell Square tube station, where he and other surviving passengers were evacuated up the stairs.
Despite the guard telling survivors to stay in the station, Karl left and began ‘wondering around’ a chaotic Russell Square, where almost an hour later a third bomb on a bus was detonated.
On the first carriage of Karl’s train 26 other passengers lost their lives, and he said he has never absolved himself of the guilt he feels for surviving when others didn’t.
‘That’s what saved me, because I was four or five seats away from where the bomb was detonated. They took the impact of the exposition. So, there’s always been this thing for me of carrying that guilt in some way, that they died and because of where I was I was fine.
On the first carriage of Karl’s train 26 other passengers lost their lives, and he said he has never absolved himself of the guilt he feels for surviving when others didn’t
Using the names of known passengers, the pair looked through photos of the women found online to see if Karl recognised any of their faces
‘I guess over the years that’s been a heavy burden to carry because there’s this sense of shame that I don’t have any physical injuries, I have some hearing loss but I’m fine. I don’t feel i’m worthy of any attention because it should be with those people’.
Karl and the show’s presenter, Anita Rani, began searching through testimonies of survivors, searching for someone with a similar story to Karl.
The pair were able to examine the coroner’s inquest which showed where anyone who had reported their involvement in the attack had been placed on the train carriage.
Using the names of known passengers, the pair looked through photos of the women found online to see if Karl recognised any of their faces.
Karl believed he recognised one of the women, but after reaching out to her it turned out she didn’t think she was the person who helped him, but was glad he was reaching out to other survivors of the attacks.
However an email from a woman called Susan read: ‘Just after the bomb exploded the carriage filled with smoke and after this subsided I did reach out to a man who was near me.
‘I think I asked if I could embrace him as I needed some comfort after the incident as I wasn’t sure I would survive due to smoke inhalation.
‘This person stood quite still and seemed to be in shock. I remember saying out loud ‘It is going to be okay’.
Karl met survivor Susan (pictured) but remained unsure as to whether she was the woman he had met during the attacks
While she didn’t know for certain if she was the woman Karl remembered, and Karl didn’t recognise her face, the pair decide to meet each other and speak about their experiences.
She said: ‘When the incident happened, it was just reaching out to somebody in that moment, not knowing if I was going to survive. It was a source of comfort for me and I remember saying “It’s going to be okay, but I said it to calm myself down.”
After the meeting Karl said that he was unsure as to whether Susan was the person he met during the attack, admitting: ‘We will never know if we were each other’s person on that train.
‘We’re never going to know and I think that’s probably okay. I’ve carried this burden that I need to make my life worthwhile because those people lost their lives and I’m fine.
‘That’s what it’s been about for me, recognising that in those moments, the darkest moments where I’ve felt the most alone i’ve ever felt, someone was there and supported me.
‘The world is chaos right now and I think we can help each other with a simple gesture of a hand and reaching out, it’s so small and doesn’t cost anything but it offers so much. That hand touch I still feel like saved me in so many ways.’
The emotional show left viewers ‘sobbing’ and praising the ’emotional and powerful story’.
‘Cried all the way through the show is beautiful real heart warming and breaking. Gives you faith in humanity. Tissues at the ready for the next showing,’ said one.
‘If you want a good cry, watch Saved by a Stranger on BBC iPlayer,’ added another.
‘Powerful telly. Saved by a Stranger. People being immense when others are atrocious,’ wrote a third.
Saved by a Stranger is available for catch up in BBC iPlayer
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