'I couldn't find my son afterwards... it was the longest 10 seconds of my life'
Published 17/07/2016 | 02:30
A former Irish soccer star spoke of flinging 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 badly shaken 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 other daughter, Roisin (19), was holidaying with friends in Spain.
Peter was a star centre-half for Shamrock Rovers in the 1980s and won a cap for Ireland playing against Uruguay at Lansdowne Road. He works for the Irish Coast Guard 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 exclusive Sunday Independent 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 scary.
"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 the sight immediately afterwards was something terrible.
"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 reuniting 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 reunited with her father very soon after.
She said: "I had run down on to 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. We got back to our apartment safe. I'm still raw."
Peter added that he feels immense anger at "that proper bastard" who drove his truck over the bodies and is so shaken he just wants to return home as soon as possible.
"We were supposed to stay for a week but we've managed to get an Aer Lingus flight to Dublin tonight. We don't want to stay here another minute."