Minute by minute, how the Bastille Day massacre unfolded
Minutes after the last fireworks rang out above the Promenade des Anglais, thousands of people were enjoying Nice’s balmy evening air.
Families had travelled to the resort from around the world to celebrate Bastille Day, France’s biggest public holiday.
Revellers, many still in beachwear, teemed across the walkway and boulevard.
Amid the hubbub of jazz music, drinking and gentle conversation, few noticed an anonymous white truck entering the pedestrianised zone.
The 19-tonne truck had been parked in a suburban street in eastern Nice, within the cordon set up for the evening celebrations.
The driver was caught on camera as he cycled up to the vehicle at 9.04pm, before tossing his bicycle in the back and driving towards the coast. Witnesses described the streets as filled with children, a ‘sea of people – families, straightforward people,’ watching the ‘spectacular’ display of fireworks.
At about 10.45pm local time, the driver revved the truck’s powerful engine and pointed it towards unsuspecting bystanders in a street that had been cleared of traffic.
Some later told how although they could hear something moving, they could not see the truck approach at first, as its lights were off.
Richard Gutjahr, a German TV journalist, said: ‘All of a sudden, with all the people, all the families celebrating, this truck was approaching.
‘It was approaching very slowly, it didn’t rush, but you could ask yourself: ‘What is a truck doing in the heart of this?’
Slowly the truck picked up speed, before mounting the pavement and careering directly towards a large group of people.
Kartik Bhanot, 26, from Essex, said at first he thought it was a drunk driver.
But then he saw the truck ‘flipping’ people in the air as it went, leaving ‘swathes’ of bodies lying by the road.
‘Suddenly as we crossed the junction, we heard screams and loud bangs. I looked for my mum and she was sprinting away.
‘I looked back and saw on my left this huge truck, travelling at least 60mph, about five to ten yards from me. It was ploughing through people. I saw bodies flipped.’
The truck swerved violently from side to side, zigzagging across the boulevard as the driver bore down on those trying to flee for their lives.
Witnesses said that bodies of victims began to combine with other debris in the truck’s wheel arches, slowing its progress.
American Tony Molina said: ‘You just see this big white panel truck, I couldn’t see the driver, but it just kept going at different angles from left to right at 25 to 30 miles and hour. People were screaming and running. I work in homicide and I’ve never seen anything like this. It’s unbelievable.’
Journalist Damien Allemand, who works for newspaper Nice Matin, said: ‘I saw bodies flying like bowling pins along its route. Heard noises, cries I will never forget.’ Dozens of desperate people, including families with young children, threw themselves into the sea in a bid to escape the bloodshed.
Robert Greene, from Coolock in Dubin, told how bodies were strewn across the street in the wake of the truck. ‘A woman dropped to her knees, someone in her family had been killed,’ he said. ‘There was not even a thing anyone could do.’
Dozens of people were injured in the stampede as terrified people ran screaming for their lives.
Many people shouted ‘shooting’ –leading others to run down side streets or barricade themselves inside restaurants and businesses.
Sally Gardiner was badly injured, suffering a suspected broken shoulder, after being flattened by others rushing to safety. ‘I got knocked down in the road with everyone running away from the truck and gunfire,’ she said.
Esther Serwah, 59, who was on her way to dinner, added: ‘People were screaming at me in French but I didn’t understand. Some people were lying on the streets dead and people were running over bodies.’
Briton Will Shore, who was drinking in a nearby bar, said: ‘I had to help a couple of people up who were in distress on the floor because everyone was in such a panic.’
The driver, now known to be drug-fuelled jihadist Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, screamed ‘Allahu Akbar’ as he mowed down his victims.
The deranged mass killer was also shooting from the vehicle – and is feared to have left dozens dead and maimed with gunshot wounds. Some bodies lay in an area enclosed by bollards and street lamps where the truck did not travel – suggesting the victims were shot.
One English café owner who witnessed the attack from 20 metres away, insisted many had died from gunshot wounds. The man, known only as Andy, told LBC Radio that the driver fired a gun into the crowd as he sped past. ‘He was firing into the sea side of the promenade, and people just dropped like nine pins, it was just unbelievable,’ he said. ‘The people who were killed in front of us were killed by gunfire.’
Meanwhile in an astonishing act of heroism, a motorcyclist pulled alongside the truck and leapt from his machine in a bid to end the bloodshed. It was not clear last night if he survived.
Others said they had seen brave pedestrians trying to cling on to the doors of the truck.
In the final stages of the atrocity, Bouhlel opened fire at three police officers outside L’Hotel Negresco.
They fired back, pursuing the truck for another 300 yards, shooting repeatedly at the cab before it finally came to a halt outside the Palais de la Mediterranee. By this stage it had travelled just over a mile, swinging back and forth between the road and promenade beside the sea.
Police, including a woman officer, fired more than 60 shots through the windscreen and doors before carefully approaching the vehicle.
After the shootout, Bouhlel’s head was seen dangling from the window of the truck cab. When the door was opened, his dead body fell to the ground.
In the cabin they found a 7.65mm automatic pistol, a second automatic pistol, two replica assault rifles – a Kalashnikov and an M16, a grenade and ammunition. In common with other Islamist attacks, Bouhlel had brought some documentation to prove his identity – in this case his driving licence and a bank card.
As hundreds of terrified people ran for their lives, 84 victims were left dead or dying on the abandoned street.
Many families were separated in the chaos, leaving the heart breaking sight of children’s pushchairs scattered across the road. A little girl lay dead, covered only by an emergency blanket, with her doll lying alongside her.
Survivors grabbed beach towels and sheets to cover the dead, only leaving the killer’s body exposed beside the truck. Damien Allemand, a journalist with the Nice Matin newspaper, said: ‘People from the beach were the first on the scene. They brought water for the injured and towels which they placed where there was no hope.’
Meanwhile emergency workers launched a desperate operation to tend to the 202 injured, including 52 people who were still fighting for their lives last night.
Prosecutors later said the lives of 25 people were saved at the scene by paramedics and passers-by.
Many shell-shocked survivors were left searching for their loved ones or clinging to their bodies.
Simon Coates, a solicitor from Leeds, said he scoured piles of disfigured and lifeless bodies as he tried to find his wife. ‘I had to check every body and they were so disfigured the only reliable way I could check was to look for her bike and her shoes as most people were not recognisable. I saw one woman lying on the ground, talking to her dead child.
‘Other people did what they could to save loved ones.’
As the shooting stopped, officers remained alert over fears an accomplice had fled the truck.
Weapons drawn, they took up positions behind cars and around restaurants as armed checkpoints were set up across the city.