A day ago he was just another tourist on a train. By Saturday, U.S. Airman First Class Spencer Stone was recovering from knife wounds in a hospital in France, being thanked for foiling what the French government called an attempted terrorist attack.
Stone was one of three young American friends who helped overpower a Kalashnikov-toting suspected Islamist militant on a high speed train heading for Paris from Amsterdam.
Among the other heroes of the night-time drama was a Frenchman on his way to the toilet who was first to tackle the assailant as he entered the carriage, and a 62 year-old Briton who still had blood spattered over his shirt as he spoke to journalists on Friday night.
But it may have been Stone, of Lajes Air Base, Azores, who took the biggest risk.
“He was the first one to jump on him, he’s the one who got cut up … none of us are injured but Spencer took a few injuries and he just had no fear,” 23-year-old student Anthony Sadler, told Reuters.
“That’s our friend so once we saw him go we had to go and join him … we couldn’t have just left everybody die like that. It was a crazy situation.”
Sadler said everything happened very fast as the attacker, armed with an automatic pistol and a box cutter as well as the AK-47 assault rifle, appeared to try to clear his weapon which seemed to be jammed.
One passenger was hit by a bullet, and was in a serious but stable condition, authorities said. Stone was due to be released from hospital later on Saturday.
“I woke up to basically people ducking and then I was, like, ‘Why is everybody ducking?’ and then, when I turned round to look, he, the gunman, had just entered the car with the AK and then I was, like: ‘This is really happening’,” Sadler said.
“We just all ran back there and we tried to do whatever we could to try and beat him up so he didn’t shoot anybody. He pulled out a box cutter and cut Spencer a couple of times but beside that we just tried to do whatever we could.”
The third member of the group, 22-year-old National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos, said the vacation was partly to celebrate his return from a tour of duty in Afghanistan.
French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, President Francois Hollande and U.S. President Barack Obama hailed the passengers as heroes.
Cazeneuve said the attacker’s identity was not confirmed, but that if he was telling the truth to his interrogators, he was a 26-year-old of Moroccan nationality identified as dangerous and with connections to Islamist militants.
Briton Chris Norman, who helped the Americans overpower the gunman, said: “Without Spencer we’d all be dead.”
French movie actor Jean-Hugues Anglade, star of international hits Betty Blue and Nikita, who was also on the train, was quoted as saying by BFMTV: “We were stuck in the wrong place with the right people. It’s miraculous.”