Passengers tell of their terror in fume-filled train

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Lorry drivers told yesterday of their fear when they were trapped choking in a "tomb-like" fume-filled compartment while waiting to be rescued from the Channel Tunnel fire.

They said they feared for their lives during the blaze that left 19 Britons needing hospital treatment for the effects of fumes and shock. In all, 34 people had to be brought to safety.

Jeff Waghorn, 32, from Westcliff-on-Sea, Essex, said he and other drivers lay on the floor of the passenger compartment section of the train fearing they would not get out alive.

In a bid to avoid inhaling fumes, they held damp napkins to their noses for about 10-15 minutes.

"We were getting light-headed. Another five minutes, I think there would have been a proper disaster," he said. "It felt like a lifetime when you're lying there looking at your life and wondering whether you're going to get out alive."

Another driver, Ian Edwards, 53, from Burton on Trent, Staffordshire, said: "Things got pretty desperate. Everybody was lying on the floor, moaning. One pregnant lady was getting pretty hysterical."

Fellow-driver Brian Shilton, 46, said: "It was like being in a tomb. We were really frightened. That was the closest I've ever come to death. I thought my time was up."

The man who had prevented total panic among the 31 passengers and three crew was chef de train Emile Gerard, 43. He made those on board soak paper serviettes and hold them over their faces as toxic smoke swept into the shuttle train's passenger compartment.

Later, he was able to lead people into the safety of the service tunnel that runs between the two rail tunnels.

Sonia Matczak, 27, who is seven and a half months pregnant, was accompanying her trucker boyfriend on the train. She had been concerned for the health of her unborn child, already named Julian, and was yesterday recovering in Lille after check-ups for smoke inhalation. "I was panicking a bit, but Emile was the hero. He saved us all," she said.

Six people were immediately taken to France through the service tunnel, while the others were got out via a shuttle train that came through the unaffected French-bound tunnel. Eight of the worst-affected drivers and crew members were treated in the service tunnel before being taken to hospital.

All 19 people who needed treatment in France for the effects of fumes and shock were expected to be released from hospital late last night.

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