Australian Gill Hicks survived the London bomb attacks which killed 52 people and injured 700. In 7/7: The Day The Bombs Came she recounts her terrifying experience and explains why her life has changed forever.
What were you doing on the morning of the 7 July? Was it the normal sort of day for you?
Gill Hicks lost both legs below the knees in the London attacks
Absolutely normal day. I was running late, that's the only thing that was probably abnormal about it. I'm always early for everything.
You were on your way to work, then what happened? Tell me about your journey? Did you get a seat?
No, didn't get a seat, shoved on like everybody else, once again, complete automatic pilot and you know, doors closed and it felt probably like it was a minute, if not less into the journey, and then like that, everything changed.
It's a really strange thing to describe, but the best way I can describe it is that suddenly it feels like I was falling in black thick liquid or tar.
And my immediate sensation or thought, was that I was having a heart attack and that I was dying in the tube.
And I could hear some muffled screams as I was sort of falling down, and I thought people were screaming at me, or for somebody to pull the emergency stop because I was having a heart attack and it wasn't until I was sort of somehow lowered onto the ground that I realised I couldn't breathe and I sort of opened my eyes and this blackness that I thought was my own blackness was actually everywhere.
I couldn't breathe, and there was, there were just screams, and it was the whole, the whole environment was changed, it was like being transported almost in a parallel world, you know, that you've gone from a bright sunny day to suddenly, you know, the bowels of the earth have opened up and you're somewhere completely different.
I think that's what's odd, I never, I don't remember ever thinking, "oh, why has this happened?", you know, "oh, it might be a bomb," you just don't think about that at all.
It was just black, can't breathe, people screaming, what do I do? Almost in that sequence. And I called for someone to pick me up, I remember just putting my arms up like this, and I said I can't feel my legs and I couldn't breathe and I needed to, I just, you just feel like you just need to be off the ground, so just "get me up because I can't breathe."
And I don't know who pulled me up, how it happened, but somehow I found myself on a bench seat, and it was then that there was a sort of an eerie quality almost to the environment as well, because the, the screaming that was there initially just suddenly wasn't there as much.
Although there were people screaming there was an emergency light and it was from that emergency light that I was able to see what had happened and the extent of my injuries and I looked down and it was quite strange actually, because I felt, I felt very removed from myself, but very aware that I was in quite serious trouble, because my legs did look like a picture of an anatomy drawing of what the inside of your leg looks like, and my feet were both almost surgically severed, but still connected to what remained of the lower part of my legs.
But rather than feeling completely panicked by that, I just felt that I would die from the blood loss if I didn't act and do something.
So strangely I felt calm, but I'm using calm for lack of a better word, I guess once again, it's almost like a sense of automatic pilot but from a different perspective from being a commuter.
It was, it, apart from this being a normal day, it was sort of once again abnormal in the sense that I was wearing a scarf and I don't normally wear scarves, and I'm certainly counting my blessings that I had a scarf on that morning, and so I took my scarf off and it was a sort of chiffony material, which is quite hard to tear actually.
So I was sort of sitting there on this bench seat, and of course all this feels like it's happening in a very long period of time, but it must sort of be minutes that you're reacting in this way, and I ripped my scarf in half and applied almost, well, tied them as tourniquets around both legs to try and make some attempt at stopping the amount of blood that I was losing.
And I remember also feeling that I needed to be calm and slow everything down because if, because I was listening to people screaming around me and one woman was very clear in saying that she was dying, someone needs to help her, and these screams were quite loud and I just thought, "I can't panic, I can't join in that scream because then my heart will be pumping out too much blood." So somehow I needed to divorce myself from what was going on and try and be as calm as possible.
I lifted both legs and put them over the arm rest of the bench seat in an attempt to elevate them, and that sort of left me in a very strange position, that I was holding onto this mangled, buckled window frame.
And yeah, it's a mixture of things I guess, it's a, it's a grave, it's a kind of limbo space between those who are about to die and those who aren't, and it becomes more than just a tube carriage suddenly, and I was sort of left with this sort of mixed dialogue of a conversation or not. I guess conversation's too soft a word, there was a, it was a dialogue, of something saying to me, you know, or me saying to me, "Close your eyes and go to sleep, you know, that's the best option.
'Why don't we just do that and you know, you're very tired now, aren't you?'
And then the other half was saying, "don't close your eyes, don't go to sleep, don't listen to that because if you do that, that will mean that you're dead. So don't be fooled by this word sleep, you will die."
And then it would flip back, "no, come on," and I guess that was partly due to how much blood I was losing but there was an instinct that said to me, if I do close my eyes, even if I'm just unconscious, if I miss that person with a torch, I will be left down there because they need to see me raise a hand or raise an arm and say, "I'm here," for me to be saved.
And even though I'm saying that, that I guess the main panic that I did feel was, "Does anyone actually even know we're down here? If the driver is dead, did we have a crash? I don't know what happened. I don't know how long we're going to be here. I don't know how long I can hold on."
So I just started looking at my watch and it's the exact watch I wear today, and I just firmly gripped on to this, what remained of a window and quite, sort of quickly tried to resolve this dialogue.
And I made a decision because it was driving me mad actually, going, "Go to sleep, don't go to sleep," so I looked around the carriage and I made a very, very firm decision, which was, "this is not where I die. This is not the end for me, this is not how I die."
And the moment I made that decision, the dialogue stopped and it became easier for me to keep my eyes open and I just fixed it on my watch face and waited and I don't know how long I waited really. But then I did see the torch, and I did see someone coming toward me, and all I remember was what I now think are the two best words in the English language, which are "priority" and "one", and a hand on my shoulder saying "priority one, it's OK," and after that, it's bits and pieces that I can remember.
Because I think I just, was able to let go, knowing that someone knew I was there and priority one just sounded fantastic. That sounds like someone's going to see to you and they're going to see to you very quickly. So I started letting go.
Did you manage to have a look around the carriage? Could you see that there were other people that were...?
I don't remember things in very graphic detail, but I could see there were other people and they were severely injured and they were either laying, not moving, or sort of people that were screaming, weren't moaning now.
What, once people had got to you, can you remember anything about the journey down the tunnel or anything like?
Tiny bits and pieces. I remember men's voices. I remember people saying to me, "Stay with us Gill".
I remember a conversation going on between the men who were rescuing me of whether they should lift me up and put me over their shoulder, or not. I remember feeling that I was in something that was like a blanket and that's, that's about it.
And, almost, I'm quite pleased I don't remember because I don't, I don't know how they would have got me out of the tube carriage itself and so I'm pleased I don't remember that as an experience but more of what they were saying to each other and what they were saying to me, which was desperately trying to get me to stay conscious.
What's the first thing you remember next? What's your next memory?
Waking up in intensive care I guess. At the back of my conscious mind I knew that something had happened to my legs, because I gestured, you know, about my legs.
I wasn't able to speak, I had tubes and life support and the whole bit going on and the nursing staff did tell me, "Yes, your legs have been amputated," and I guess these things do sink in, I don't know, I can't really remember that much detail, but I do remember asking to see my arms, because of course, you know, you start to think of yourself as this freak almost.
Am I just something now that's this limbless person lying in a bed. Should I have made that decision to live? All of those sorts of things race through your mind, but still, at that stage, I didn't know that I had been in a terrorist attack, so I still didn't know what had happened, but I did have an understanding that my legs were amputated.
At what stage did you find out that you'd been involved in a terrorist attack?
It was when I was sort of far more awake. I think that was probably three days after 7 July and I was still in intensive care, and it was my partner Joe, who said: "Did I know what had happen to me?" And I had at that time no memory.
He said. "You, you were in a bomb," and I just found that so hard to believe, and I was just, "a bomb?" you know, and I guess in hindsight, it's so hard to believe because it never happens to you, that sort of thing, and it never really happens to anyone you know very well. But, more to the point, it never happens to you, so hearing that I was in a bomb was very hard to believe.
And does that make it harder to deal with, I mean, would it have been easier to have been in a train crash, the fact that somebody deliberately did this, does that have an impact on how you feel your recovery ?
I don't know, I think, I think there's a, an element that it's just so surreal, that even if I was in a train crash, that you still can't believe that something's happened to you, and that as a result, your life has been changed forever and with a dramatic impact, you know, to have lost, you know, both limbs below the knee is something you just can't imagine.
I don't feel any anger at all toward, toward the, the poor guy that was susceptible enough to, I guess almost be a victim himself, you know and I feel, I do feel deeply sad for their families and particularly for the guy that, that killed himself on my tube who has now, I believe his wife has had a little baby, and I just, I just think that there's something so sad about that, that she's unable to show grief publicly, that this child now will grow up, with an understanding of what his father has done and just the lives that have been destroyed for no apparent reason.
You can't, you know, to a certain degree I feel that they have died in vain almost, and I think that that's, that's very sad.
I know that you can't remember what happened to you much after the train, but can you tell us what you know now of what happened to you once they got you off the train.
I now understand that I was taken to the ticket barrier area of Russell Square station and it all seems like there was complete chaos. I also understand that I was the last person to be brought up, alive, and that in itself is, is a huge piece of information to take on board and that I was very near death.
That there was a doctor on the scene, a nurse on the scene all who heroically desperately were trying to resuscitate me and bring me back to life and stabilise me, to enable me to be put into an ambulance.
I think also with the chaos of the day, funnily enough, there didn't seem to be ambulances around when I was needing one, so that sort of held up the proceedings a bit, to get me to a hospital, ah, but I do understand that there was an out of town crew, or a crew that didn't have intimate London knowledge, who did finally appear on the scene, I was put into their ambulance.
During this time of course, the bus bomb had gone off, so I could only imagine what people on the scene were feeling, which is, you know, the police have no idea what's going on are there other devices anywhere?
Is, is London completely under siege? So I think for, for any crew to have continued with rescue efforts is absolutely amazing because they're doing so with the full knowledge that they're putting their own lives at risk.
So for someone like me, the words thank you just seem so trivial and I, I wish I could, I could find a new language to truly say, "thank you so much for continuing despite everyone saying clear the area, get out, we don't know what's happening, there are other devices."
Because if it wasn't for the bravery of those people, I wouldn't be sitting here today talking to you, and I'm so thankful to be alive.
And, I'm still me, and I'm still able to get around, I will walk again. Life is precious and I feel like I've definitely been given life number two.
And that's an amazing thing to be given back, so they haven't rescued me, they've, put it this way, they've rescued someone that will take life with both hands and, and say thank you very much and the best way I can thank them, is to lead a very fulfilled and brilliant life.
What do you now know about your medical condition when you got to hospital?
That my lungs had collapsed, that I had arrested two or three times on the journey to hospital, that I'd lost approximately 75% of my blood, and I was in a pretty bad way and I don't think anyone expected me to survive the injuries that I had.
And I was rushed into A&E where they were desperately resuscitating me again for a period of over 10 minutes and my pupils were you know, fixed and dilated and all the sort of things that lead to a medical team to say, "OK, let's call it," and whether it's, whether it's the sense of the day, I don't know, but they kept going.
There was a pulse and so they stabilised me once again enough to go into surgery to have the legs looked at and equally I think, no one really expected me to survive and I remember now, it's my partner Joe telling me what he was told on that day, which was if I pull through, the likelihood of me having brain damage is very high and so even if I do live, I may not be the person that he knew and loved prior to 7 July.
So, once again, you know, beating all the odds, I'm alive and yes I'm back to exactly who I am with no brain damage, thank God...
And how do you think the day's changed you?
I think to sort of look at how the day has changed me, what I feel quite happy about is that I'm still me and I think that there hasn't been a great change in that. I'm hoping that the change will keep evolving in remembering to live, remembering to let go of the rubbish that clouds our daily life, and I think that is the change, to remind myself everyday.
I'm hoping that the change I would like to see in myself is that I don't take my life back to how it was prior to the bomb that I do have a better life, and a life that is richer through this. So if anything, I'd say I'm looking at a positive change, rather than a negative one.
I know that you can't remember anything about the guys that came to meet you, but I mean, for them it was very difficult because they were told after this extraordinary journey down the tunnel with you, that when they left you, they thought that you'd then died, so it was very hard for them. I mean, what do you think of them, that your days came together in that extraordinary way that day?
I would love to meet them and everyone involved with me that day. They've risked their own life to save mine and that's, that's pretty amazing. The guys that got me out are the first people that saved my life.
You made that decision that day to choose life, rather than closing your eyes and going to sleep and dying, is that absolutely the right decision to make? Have you ever doubted it?
Never doubted it for a moment. Never ever. And I never will. Life is always a better option.
Just one last thing, then we'll come to the finish. While you were, describe to me, once more if you can bear it, the wait on the train for emergency services to arrive.
The wait, the real panic for me was just not knowing whether anybody knew, so, if I knew that above ground, it was red alert, everyone's coming, they'll find a way to get down to you as soon as possible, that would have calmed me considerably.
It was the not knowing if anyone would ever come, that was the worst in the wait and knowing also that when people did come, there wouldn't be time to check pulses, that the pressure was on to keep your eyes open, otherwise you would be left because, and I don't know how I, I had an instinct, or how I knew that, but I just had a real clear understanding that if my eyes were not open, I would be left down there for dead.
And that is hard, that is really hard, because equally you think, "this is London, it's a major world city, you know, someone will be here very quickly" and that, yeah, it was just hard not knowing if anyone knew we were there.
And did it seem like a long wait?
It seemed like an eternity.
7/7: The Day The Bombs Came will be broadcast on Wednesday, 16 November, 2005 on BBC One at 2100 GMT.