I have never felt such relief - Sydney hostage

2014-12-17 11:02
Two hostages run for cover behind a policeman during a hostage siege in the central business district of Sydney. (William West, AFP)

Two hostages run for cover behind a policeman during a hostage siege in the central business district of Sydney. (William West, AFP)

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Sydney - The first hostage to escape the Lindt Cafe spoke on Wednesday of his terror and enormous relief of rushing into the arms of waiting police.

John O'Brien, aged 83, was the first person to escape the gunman, crawling up to the sliding glass doors, leaning down to release the lock and running out and around the corner to where police were waiting, guns drawn.

"All I was doing was going to see the eye doctor on the Monday morning to have my eyes checked, which I usually do every year, and then I go down to the Lindt coffee shop for a quick coffee," he told reporters.

"I have never felt such a relief as I did when I turned that corner and saw the armed police waiting."

O'Brien said he refused the gunman's order to lie on the floor, saying he was too old.

At 15:37 on Monday, six hours into the siege, he saw the gunman's attention was elsewhere and crept to a green button he had noticed on the floor by the door. He pressed it, the door opened and he ran out.

He was followed by Stefan Balafoutis, a lawyer. Another man, Lindt employee Paolo Vassallo, made it out the fire exit door while the gunman was stopping others running out the front door.

O'Brien read from a prepared statement at his home and said he could not say more as he was still being interviewed by police.

He paid tribute to the hostages who were killed - Katrina Dawson, aged 38, and Tori Johnson, aged 34 - and offered condolences to their family and friends.

"My thoughts and prayers are also with my fellow hostages."

The retiree thanked police and the media for their work during the siege. He said the siege gave him a terrible headache but he would relax in the afternoon playing his regular tennis match with friends.

It also emerged on Wednesday that several hostages begged with the gunman, Islamist extremist Man Horan Monis, to be allowed out to see their young children. Monis refused.

More reports emerged on Wednesday that the cafe manager Johnson twice tried to wrestle the gun from Monis. The first time two of the Lindt staff managed to escape and Monis beat Johnson.

At 02:10, when Monis appeared to be dozing off, Johnson made another grab for the sawn-off shotgun and five hostages ran out the door. Monis shot Johnson point blank.

It was on the sound of that shot and a report from a watching police sniper saying "hostage down" that police stormed the cafe.

It is not clear how prominent lawyer and mother of three Katrina Dawson was killed, but one witness said she was trying to protect her pregnant friend and fellow lawyer Julie Taylor.

Read more on:    australia  |  sydney siege

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