Former Ipswich schoolboy tells of moments terrorists attacked Stade de France
PUBLISHED: 06:00 16 November 2015 | UPDATED: 07:33 16 November 2015
A former Ipswich schoolboy has spoken of the horrifying moments Paris came under siege by terrorists as he watched a football match in the French capital.
Phil Charles, a former student at St Albans Catholic High School and Otley College, was inside the Stade de France watching France play Germany in an international friendly when he heard two suicide bombings and one explosion happened – as part of a series of co-ordinated attacks across the French capital on Friday night.
The 26-year-old, formerly of Alderman Road, was in France as part of a 10-day solo trip across Europe with coach company Megabus.
Mr Charles, who is now lead guide at Spirit Bear Lodge in Klemtu, British Columbia, Canada, said: “I actually rebooked the whole trip just a few days before leaving Ipswich to accommodate being able to go to the matches. First for France v Germany, and then Germany v Holland on tomorrow in Hannover.”
Mr Charles arrived in Paris at 6am the day before the attacks, and a key part of his trip was to take photos.
He sent a photo of the sunrise in the capital the morning of the attacks with the caption: “it was such a beautifully peaceful morning in Paris”.
Mr Charles had heard of the bomb threat at the hotel of the German national football team earlier in the day and his first thought when the explosion happened was that it was exactly that.
“It was loud, so loud,” he said.
“The entire stadium fell quiet for about three seconds, the game seemed to continue as normal as did everyone else. By this point I had convinced myself it was either a flare from the crowd gone wrong or people with pretty epic fireworks outside.
“You could feel it though, it really felt like it was inside the stadium. Then the second explosion, and same reaction – a few moments of pause from the crowd and then all carried on, players too.”
He said at half time he was looking out behind the stadium where he could see police activity not far away and added: “A steward ran up to where I was and forced closed a large entrance gate at the top of a ramp. As he was closing it the third explosion went off, so loud, and you could see people far below us running back to the stadium.
“This is when I knew something was happening beyond our control.”
Mr Charles said there was a notably different atmosphere both on the pitch and in the stands after that, with more people watching their phones as opposed to the game in front of them.
“I was still in the dark so continued to try and enjoy the game, but really the game had ended in the first half.”
The explosions happened just behind Mr Charles, but on the pitch, the players hardly reacted.
“That’s what kept me most calm and thinking all was OK, if there was a threat inside the stadium I think they would have stopped the match. I knew something was not good halfway through the second half, confirmed in the 82nd minute on the BBC News phone app when it would connect to Wi-Fi.”
After the game people were being let out of certain exits, allowing a lot of people to leave, with Mr Charles watching from the upper tier, using the stadium’s Wi-Fi connection to let people know he was safe.
He felt most at threat when the fans ran onto the pitch, saying: “I hadn’t realised they had now locked our section so I went back inside the stadium just in time to witness hundreds of people running in panic towards the pitch, throwing themselves over the sideboards anyway they could and running across the pitch to get to the other side.
“It looked like they were being chased back into the stadium. At this point I felt so alone.”
Mr Charles then made the tough decision to leave the relative safety of the stadium to get back to his hostel, which was about an hour on public transport away.
He added: “People were so visibly shaken, different pockets of people singing the French national anthem as loud as they could. I got to the hostel by 1am where many people were trying to extend their stay and not leave the hostel.”
Mr Charles left the hostel at 6am and was on his Megabus out of Paris to Brussels by 7.30am, and had no problems leaving the city.
He said: “It’s hard to know what to feel. My thoughts haven’t been so much with myself, but with the families and loved ones of the victims, and trying to find out what’s happening in the news.
“I am in a state of disbelief I suppose, it’s a scary thought to have heard three suicide bombers so close.
“If it had happened pre-match it could have been so much worse.”
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