'There were children lying dead all over the place' - Irish family's horror as they're caught in Nice attack
Published 16/07/2016 | 17:05
A former Dublin soccer star threw his son and wife out of the path of the killer truck as it headed straight for them on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice.
A shocked Peter Eccles (53) said it was "absolutely shocking" to see the truck zig-zagging to kill as many people as possible.
"When I threw my son Ciaran out of the way and the truck passed within a few feet of me, I could see the children it had killed. It was a nightmare.
"I couldn't find Ciaran for 10 seconds afterwards - it was the longest 10 seconds of my life," said Peter.
Peter and Kathleen (51) had only recently arrived for a week's holiday in the South of France with their daughter Grainne (17) and son Ciaran (12). Their daughter Roisin (19) was holidaying with friends in Spain.
Peter was a star centre-half for Shamrock Rovers in the 1980s that won four league titles. He won a cap for Ireland playing against Uruguay at Lansdowne Road. He works for the Irish Coastguard and the family live in Castleknock in Dublin.
"We were having a really nice evening. Everyone was in good form on the promenade. Grainne was walking ahead of us as we got up to go after the fireworks," said Peter in an Independent.ie interview in Nice.
"Suddenly the truck appeared. It was on the other side of the prom but it came towards us zig zagging. The bastard who was driving was aiming the truck to kill as many people as possible.
"There were bodies flying upwards in the air and sideways. It must have been doing 50 or 60 miles an hour.
"As it came speeding towards us, we split up. It was upon us before we knew. I threw my wife and son out of the way. We all ran in different directions. It was scarey.
"The truck hit a big light-pole right beside me and flattened it and kept going.
"People were screaming. A woman and children were hit right beside me. It kept going'" said Peter.
"And the bastard was deliberately driving over people. I could see the truck rise up as it drove over bodies," he said.
He said the sight immediately afterwards was deeply upsetting.
"There were children lying dead and people lying all over the place. There was a sort of big silence. Even the people who were injured were silent. The place had a strange eerie feeling," he said.
After re-uniting with Ciaran and Kathleen, he ushered them into the Nesgresco restaurant nearby and immediately went looking for his daughter Grainne.
Grainne, a pupil at Castleknock Community College, had taken refuge on the beach with the crowds but she was re-united with her father very soon.
She said: "I had run down onto the beach. There was a lot of screaming."
Father and daughter joined Kathleen and Ciaran in the restaurant and they huddled with crowds of French people taking refuge.
"There was a load of shooting," he said.
"Eventually, a security man was leaving people out of the building through a side door. He was leaving five people out at a time and telling people to run.
"We all ran up the road as fast as we could. It's the fastest I ran in a very long time," he said.
Meanwhile, posters of the missing have started to appear around the city and on social media.
Images of people and children of all ages have been posted.
Concern is also mounting for an injured toddler at a local hospital, as so far no one has attempted to find him.
It has led to fears that he could have been left orphaned after the attack.
Islamic State has claimed the lorry driver who massacred at least 84 people in Nice was "a soldier" who responded to calls to attack its enemies.
Five people have been arrested following the Bastille Day attack, which injured more than 200 people on the Promenade des Anglais, according to officials.
Inquiries were continuing into whether 31-year-old driver Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel acted alone or had accomplices before he drove a 19-tonne hired truck at speed into scores of people before he was shot dead by police.
The driver was a "soldier" of Islamic State, the group's media outlet said.
The Aamaq news agency quoted a source as saying the attacker had responded to calls "to target the citizens of coalition countries fighting the Islamic State".
The language used implied that he may have acted independently and there was no evidence IS was involved in planning the atrocity.
The IS claim of responsibility came after the French authorities said Bouhlel had no known links with terrorists, unlike those behind previous attacks in Paris.
Officers carried out a raid at an address near Nice's main train station on Saturday morning and made two arrests, Europe 1 reported. They were thought to be known to the killer.
A third person was also arrested at an address in Nice earlier in the morning.