The only survivors from the 23rd floor of Grenfell Tower have given their account of escaping the blaze in a harrowing interview on Channel 4 News that also revealed “35 to 40” people may have died in the mistaken belief they were to be rescued by helicopters.
Speaking on the eve of the opening of the inquiry of the disaster, Farhad Neda told of how he carried his mother Flora, 55, down 23 flights of stairs “stepping on bodies” as they went.
“I didn’t want to scare her so I said ‘It’s just the fire brigade’s hoses that we’re stepping on,’” he told Jon Snow.
His father and Flora’s husband, Saber, 57, died in the blaze, possibly whilst helping others to escape.
“I called to him so many times to keep away from the window. He was standing and watching the fire. And then my son took my hand and said ‘Mum you have to leave here,’” Flora said.
“I called my husband and said ‘let’s go’. He said ‘I’m behind you’.”
Rather than flee down the stairs, Flora initially threatened to jump out of the tower, and told Farhad: “I don’t want to burn. I don’t want to go through the pain of burning alive. I’m going to jump out the window.”
Farhad continued the account: “So I just grabbed my mum, so that she didn’t jump out the window, I pulled her. And I said ‘OK we need to at least try to get out’.
“We thought we were dead 100 per cent that night. So I said ‘at least let’s try’.”
The pair’s story also lays bare the confusion of those trapped in the building as they desperately tried to work out the best way of escape.
“... we saw our neighbours from downstairs running up, looking worried, banging on the doors, telling everyone to get out. And when we asked them what was going on, they said ‘There’s a fire’, and there’s no way out. So that’s the first we heard,” Farhad said.
Flora added: “35 or 40 people came up and they said the Fire Brigade told us you have to go up and we send for you helicopter rescue.”
“One of the Iranian ladies [who took refuge in her flat] spoke to her [own] son who said that he wanted to come take her away. She replied that this was not necessary as the helicopter was coming to take them away.”
It is unclear where the rumours of helicopters came from but the London Fire Brigade has said in a statement that “we do not use helicopters to conduct rescues from high rise towers fires”.
Farhad said: “I don’t think anyone was instructed to seek help from the helicopters. There were helicopters up. I’m not sure how many. There was definitely more than one.”
These were almost certainly media helicopters and not any belonging to the Fire Brigade.
Farhad describes the moment they made it out of the tower as “a miracle”.
“Literally a miracle. We saw the door to one of the corridors, one of the lobby areas open. We had already gone past it. We had gone down more flights of stairs.”
“But we realised that we couldn’t breathe, that we couldn’t make it down. So I took my mum back up the flight of stairs. We went through the door that was open and we saw an air pocket underneath the smoke. I would say it was about two or three foot high. We gulped to get fresh air.
″We took about a minute or so to catch our breath again and then we started running down again. We couldn’t tell what floor we were on. There weren’t any floor numbers. We were feeling our way. There was thick smoke on the staircase. We got down to maybe the seventh or eighth floor. I could hear the masks of the fire brigade breathing heavily.
“So even though I couldn’t see I knew that the fire brigade was there. So I stuck my hand out and it just happened to touch one of the fire brigade’s chest. And as soon as I touched his chest, I grabbed his chest and pulled him towards me. I told him that there were two of us here and that we were from the 23rd floor.”
At least 80 people are thought to have died when flames engulfed the building with 58 inquest openings and adjournments leading to 60 victims being identified so far.