Moment of terror as Prince Charles comes face to face with gunman: Robert Milliken, who was just feet away, describes the seconds of drama after shots rang out

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The Independent Online
FOR a few seconds I thought I was witnessing the assassination of the Prince of Wales.

It happened with terrifying speed - the whole incident lasted a bare 15 seconds. Prince Charles had just stood up before a large, open-air crowd in Sydney to present Australia Day prizes to schoolchildren. As he did so, an Asian-looking man wearing a white shirt and blue jeans jumped from the crowd a few feet in front of me and ran towards the official platform.

As he rushed towards the stage, bizarre thoughts flashed through my mind: is this an unscheduled part of the act? Is he one of the award recipients making an unorthodox approach? Prince Charles looked in my direction as the man ran directly between us. He had a bewildered look, but showed no fear or panic.

Then the shots rang out. Their sound - slight and tinny - suggested a toy gun or a starting pistol. The man fired one shot, then another.

The first seemed to go into the ground, but it was impossible to pin-point the second because by then the attacker had reached the stage and crashed into a microphone. He fell to the ground and was pounced on by security staff and VIPs.

Chaos broke out on stage. Many of the crowd screamed. Prince Charles was pushed to one side by his senior security officer, Chief Superintendent Colin Trimming, as the assailant was wrestled to the ground and hustled to a police van.

After a few minutes, Penny Cook, a television personality and compere of the event, called for calm, assured the spectators 'everything is A-OK here' and announced that the show would go on.

The pandemonium in the crowd and among journalists shouting into mobile telephones was like a Hollywood film. At last Prince Charles presented the prizes. He wished the crowd 'a very happy Australia Day' - but did not refer to the incident.

Later others described what happened. The New South Wales Premier, John Fahey, one of the first people to jump on David Kang as he crashed on to the stage with the gun in his hand, said: 'The alarm in my mind was sparked when he tripped trying to get on the stage.

'I recall endeavouring to try and stop the man's progress. It was important to get that gun out of his hands as soon as possible.'

The round-the-world yachtsman Ian Kiernan, who moments before had been named Australian of the Year, said: 'I heard one shot and as he got on to the stage he stumbled and I got him in a headlock. He is going to have a very sore neck in the morning. The Prince was as cool as a cucumber. I have just been talking to him and he was laughing about it.

'The Prince was fantastic. He is a fairly rugged individual. He told the anecdote about how he was charged by a bull elephant while in Kenya and how scary that was.' Being charged by a bull elephant had 'most certainly' been more serious than this incident, the Prince had said.

Mr Kiernan added: 'It was most unfortunate. We pride ourselves on having a fairly safe country here, and this does not do anything to enhance that.

'I am very proud to be Australian and very proud of our British heritage. Things are going to change. That does not mean we are not going to have a strong alliance and a strong friendship with Britain.'

Emily Beggs saw the man jump up in front of her and knock over a small girl as he rushed to the stage. The man had been sitting on the ground alone about 20 yards from the centre of the stage from the start of the ceremony, about an hour before. 'We didn't think there was anything strange about him.'

Until the incident, the proceedings in front of several thousand people, including many families enjoying the public holiday, had been typically Australian: casual and relaxed, with performances of national songs by squads of schoolchildren and an armed services orchestra.

Australia Day marks the anniversary of British settlement of Australia on 26 January 1788.

(Photograph omitted)