Eyewitness: 'A flaming mass flew over my head. There were body parts all over the beach'

That was 1.14am. By 1.28, each of those scenes and many of the people in them, had been ripped apart by three bombs in rapid succession. Holiday town no longer, but a place where bodies and bits of bodies were strewn across roads and mixed with rubble, people screamed, sirens wailed, and no one knew where to run.

"People were trying to run in any direction to get away," said one tourist, Fabio Basone, who had been in the Hard Rock Cafe when the first blast rocked the town. "We went into the street where we were met with hundreds of people running and screaming in all directions." Charles Ives from Chelmsford, Essex, told of the utter confusion. "The whole area was quickly covered in debris," he said, "There was a huge ball of smoke that mushroomed up. It was mass hysteria."

He would know it when he sees it. Mr Ives and his wife, Sarah Khan, are both officers with the Metropolitan Police, and he had been on duty on 7 July, helping with traffic control in the aftermath of the London bombings.

They flew out to Egypt just three days later, and, early on Saturday, had been sitting in a pavement café by the main road that runs through Na'ama Bay when the first bomb went off. "The first blast was at about 1.25am local time and was only about 50 metres away. Me and my wife instantly knew it was some sort of explosion. We walked away from the blast to a taxi rank and were taking stock of the situation when we heard another blast about four minutes later. This one was again about 50 metres away but it felt a lot closer as we clearly felt the shockwave.

"There was a huge mushroom of smoke, glass was breaking everywhere and debris was coming down. It was getting difficult to see so we tried to get to a beach nearby to calm down. But I was concerned as a lot of people were gathering on a car park next to the beach and I was mindful that the attackers might have a planted a car bomb there. I was worried they would have expected people to gather there."

The couple eventually made their way safely back to their hotel, two miles away from the blast scenes. PC Ives said the bars, restaurants and cafés of the Red Sea resort had been packed with British holidaymakers. "The café where we heard the first explosion was full of Britons and there were lots more in another café where we had visited earlier. This was directly opposite the site of the second explosion."

One of them was Rian Tuttle, 21, from Lowestoft, Suffolk, who had been staying at Tropicana Grand Oasis in Sharm el Sheikh. She said: "I had been on a night out in Na'ama Bay. I think I was about three or four minutes away from the Ghazala Gardens Hotel when I heard the first explosion. It was very loud. There was immediate panic with people running away from the explosion. I saw one young girl wearing white trousers running away clutching below her stomach. She was covered in blood, wandering around asking for help. I think she was a European tourist and about 19 years old. There were other people running away holding their faces who had obviously been close to the blast.

"About a minute later, when I had run away from the first one, I was on the main street in Na'ama Bay when a second bomb went off in a taxi rank about 10 to 15 metres away from where I was. I turned and ran as soon as I saw the glass in the shop front exploding. I saw three people lying on the ground. One of them wasn't moving. Obviously I want to get away from the resort as soon as possible."

Other Britons were determined to stay. Steve Green, 35, from Plymouth on holiday with his girlfriend, said: "We went down to the beach, as far away as possible from the hotel and the shops. Then more and more people joined us. There were a lot of people milling around on the beach in shock more than panic. There were all nationalities on the beach ­ British, Italian, Russian, Egyptian ­ all trying to reason and talk to each other. We were given the choice to move to a hotel further out or to go home. We want to front it out: we don't want to be seen to be bowing to the demands of the people who set off these bombs."

Two British tourists, Rob Hare, 22, and Lucy Walters, 22, had been in bed at the hotel opposite the Ghazala Gardens when they heard the blast. They had been offered a flight home, but, as Londoners who regularly use the London underground to commute to work, they decided to stay. Miss Walters said: "We're not safe here. We're not safe at home. That's what my mum said. She said you might as well stay where you are.''

But for some survivors, there is no choice: they are trapped here, not by a lack of flights or fear of running, but by the absence of a relative. Giuseppe Pasquale and his wife had been walking near shops, having left their 17-year-old son back at the Ghazala Gardens. A huge bang, and the front of the hotel was demolished. "We rushed back," said Mr Pasquale, "but he was not in his room. I don't know what to do. They wouldn't let me into the hospital."

Inside the hotel, Liverpudlian David Stewart, his wife and two teenage daughters were in their room when the blast hit. The windows of his room were smashed, and he and his family ran. Somebody shouted, 'Keep moving,"' he said. "The lights were out. I couldn't tell what was happening." His family and others fled towards the back of the hotel to take refuge on a lawn near the pool. There, hundreds spent the night, some lying on mattresses.

On the other side of Sharm in the Old Market, Mursi Gaber had been putting up decorations when a bomb sent a ball of burning wreckage over a beach and into the sea. "This flaming mass flew over my head, faster than a torpedo, and plunged into the water," he said. "There were body parts all over the steps down to the beach."

As night fell there, a cordoned crater four feet deep and some 12 feet wide showed where the blast occurred. At least 13 charred and wrecked cars, one of them mangled beyond recognition, were scattered around the plaza. Surgical gloves discarded by the rescue services littered the scorched tarmac and caked blood stains were still clearly visible on the pavement outside the mall. And, above the scene in what, the night before, had been holiday town, the square's clock was stopped at the very second the explosion happened.

Additional reporting by Will Davison and Aline Nassif

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