LONDON (AFP) – Mobile phone footage captured seconds after four bomb attacks on London”s transport network brought home the full horror of the carnage, the worst the city has seen since World War II.
Dozens of terrified passengers on three undergound trains and near a bus attacked in Thursday”s rush-hour blasts reached for their phones not just to call loved ones but also to record the terror virtually as it happened.
Television stations and news websites showed video and stills images of bloodied commuters desperately clawing their way to safety after the bombs wreaked death near three subway stations.
Other footage showed dazed passengers sprawled on the ground after another explosion ripped apart a double-decker bus on its way from east London to the centre of the city.
The pictures clearly showed the blackened faces of passengers who had managed to escape, as well as one woman curled up in agony in the foetal position on the pavement. Blood spattered nearby buildings.
Survivors found their mobile phone calls jammed immediately following the blasts as tens of thousands of people tried to contact loved ones. Operators logging more than a million calls as the system went into meltdown.
Deprived of the opportunity to make calls in those first terrible moments, some commuters instead elected to make a record of the mayhem.
A clutch of media organisations from as far away as Australia — which has several thousand nationals living in London — called on those caught up in the drama to email their pictures, and many responded.
One man, Alex Chadwick, took pictures of one of the attacks on the London Underground with his mobile, capturing passengers covering their mouths as acrid smoke swirled around them. Another image showed a man nearby also using his handset to take pictures.
Video footage showed blast survivors heading for the exit, exhorted by a London Underground worker to "keep on moving down, please."
Civil servant Adam Stacey recounted being trapped on a train bombed at King”s Cross station, where at least 21 people were killed.
"I decided to take a photograph in the carriage. I wanted to remind myself that it had actually all happened.
"When we emerged from the tunnel the scene was like a disaster movie," Stacey told the tabloid newspaper The Sun.
Sky News put out an appeal for images and was contacted by people with mobile phone stills and videos, which they emailed to Sky news teams, said the channel”s associate editor, Simon Bucks.
"This is eyewitness material seen as events are unfolding. It is a democratization of news coverage, which in the past we would have only got to later," Bucks said.
Sky News already used mobile phones images of the tsunami disaster in Asia in December, but Bucks said this was the biggest British domestic event.
They did pay something for the pictures. "But we”re not talking mega-bucks here."
Bucks said it was inevitable that such mobile images would be increasingly used in major news events in the future. "More and more people have phones with cameras, the technology is getting better, camera phones are becoming more powerful.
A spokeswoman for mobile operator Vodafone, referring to some customers” difficulty to make calls in the aftermath of the bombings, said the network was saturated and "a certain amount has been dedicated to the emergency services so they can talk to each other."
There was speculation, though, that British authorities might have deliberately blocked mobile signals on the transport network fearing further blasts which could potentially be set off by cellular calls.
"This could be because the MO (modus operandi) in Madrid was by setting off devices with mobile phones," said terrorism expert Michael Clarke, referring to the Madrid train bombings last year which killed 191 people.
London mayor Ken Livingstone only recently announced plans to install technology which would enable mobile phones to work in all tube stations by 2008.