It seemed like rockets flying across the sky, said Mrs Shaleen Patel, a caterer at Heathrow. Waiting at a bus stop just outside the airport, Mrs Patel saw the launch of the mortars from the car park of the Excelsior Hotel. 'It was 6pm and I was waiting for my bus on the Bath Road when I saw these flashes across the sky towards the airport. It looked like some kids had let off firework rockets. It looked just like the Festival of Light, a celebration where everyone sets off fireworks. I waited to hear a bang or noise but there was nothing. That's when I realised something was wrong. I went quite cold with fear.'
Jitu Patel, 42, managing director of the Europa Foods supermarket chain, was driving into the car park when the mortars went off. He said: 'At first I thought there had been a car crash, then I saw the smoke. Then there was another bang and another one. I saw one of them, the fourth one, actually in the sky. It was about a metre long but was very high in the sky. There was a great trail behind it and it whistled as it went overhead. There were no flames as such, just a big track like a firework. It looked a bit like a rocket.'
The manager of a taxi driver's cafe near the Heathrow police station said he saw three brilliant flashes flying into the sky when the explosions went off. Piyush Kadiwar, 29, said: 'There were just these thuds. It wasn't a huge explosion but I thought it was just commercial fireworks.' Moments later he looked over to the car park and saw flames shooting into the sky. 'It was like the whole car park was on fire.'
Rakhim Aziz, 26, a Texaco garage worker, heard the explosion, ran out into the street and saw three cars ablaze in the car park. He said: 'I thought there had been a terrible car crash and the petrol had set alight blowing the cars up. I ran out of the garage and I could hear people shouting and then I saw three burning cars. I realised it was no accident when suddenly police cars and ambulances
started driving away from the blaze. There were huge flames engulfing the cars but it took quiet a long while before the firemen started to put them out.'
Wally Pigeon, owner of a chauffeur- drive firm, said he was driving towards the hotel when a car exploded. 'It was a light coloured car which just burst into fire with flames shooting six feet into the air,' he said.
More than 400 guests were detained for four hours at the Excelsior while police hunted for clues. 'We are grateful for the patience of our guests,' David Walker, the hotel general manager, said.