Ashford gas explosion: Heroic pair save lives as huge blast ‘blows off front of house’

A hero father and son saved the lives of three people today – including a 99-year-old woman – after racing into a burning row of houses seconds after a gas explosion, MailOnline can reveal.

Andy and Harry Hodges braved fire and choking smoke to save Ethel Hanford and her 75-year-old son Donald before going next door and plucking 22-year-old Shannon Pankhurst to safety.

The pair, who work in construction, were driving past the house in Willesborough in Ashford, Kent, just after 8am when they witnessed the aftermath of the blast, which saw two people airlifted to hospital and a further five hurt. 

They sprinted through a gaping hole where the front of Mrs Hanford’s house had been, before Andy grabbed Mrs Hanford – who was sitting in her dining room dazed from a nasty cut to her head – and lifted her over his shoulders.

Carefully negotiating the rubble on the floor he passed her to his son Harry, 22, who helped her over to a nearby patch of grass. 

The Hodges had already escorted Donald to safety and so dashed next door after hearing shouts for help. They kicked the door down and found Shannon – an old school friend of Harry’s – at the top of the stairs trying to reach her parents who were trapped in their bedroom.

However the flames had started to take hold and the intensity of the fire pushed them back so they helped Shannon to safety.

As they emerged from the burning house, fire crews in breathing apparatus had arrived and went in and rescued Shannon’s mother and father, understood to be James and Stephanie Pankhurst.  

Following the incident, a relative of great grandmother Ethel and her son Donald said: ‘They are both okay. Ethel has burns to her face and will stay in hospital overnight before staying with her son.

‘Donald has burns to his face and arms and will go to a specialist burns unit at the Queen Victoria Hospital in East Grinstead. 

Andy and Harry Hodges were driving past the house in Willesborough in Ashford, Kent, just after 8am when they witnessed the aftermath of the blast

Andy and Harry Hodges were driving past the house in Willesborough in Ashford, Kent, just after 8am when they witnessed the aftermath of the blast

Andy and Harry Hodges were driving past the house in Willesborough in Ashford, Kent, just after 8am when they witnessed the aftermath of the blast

The pair, who work in construction, were driving past the house in Willesborough in Ashford, Kent, just after 8am when they witnessed the aftermath of the blast. Two people were airlifted to hospital and a further five were hurt (pictured is the house on fire after the explosion)

The pair, who work in construction, were driving past the house in Willesborough in Ashford, Kent, just after 8am when they witnessed the aftermath of the blast. Two people were airlifted to hospital and a further five were hurt (pictured is the house on fire after the explosion)

The pair, who work in construction, were driving past the house in Willesborough in Ashford, Kent, just after 8am when they witnessed the aftermath of the blast. Two people were airlifted to hospital and a further five were hurt (pictured is the house on fire after the explosion)

Ethel Hanford

Ethel Hanford

Shannon Pankhurst

Shannon Pankhurst

The two men braved the fire and choking smoke to save Ethel Hanford  (left) and her 75-year-old son Donald before going next door to rescue 22-year-old Shannon Pankhurst (right)

Andy Hodges with his wife, Lisa

Andy Hodges with his wife, Lisa

Harry Hodges

Harry Hodges

Andy (left, with his wife, Lisa) and Harry Hodges  (right) braved fire and choking smoke to save Ethel Hanford and her 75-year-old son Donald before going next door and plucking 22-year-old Shannon Pankhurst to safety

Onlookers watched in horror as the inferno ripped through the home in Kent this morning

Onlookers watched in horror as the inferno ripped through the home in Kent this morning

Onlookers watched in horror as the inferno ripped through the home in Kent this morning 

Neighbours described how the explosion in Ashford 'shook' the whole street at just before 8am, with seven fire engines racing to the scene. Pictured: An aerial photo of the destroyed house, with only the chimney remaining standing

Neighbours described how the explosion in Ashford 'shook' the whole street at just before 8am, with seven fire engines racing to the scene. Pictured: An aerial photo of the destroyed house, with only the chimney remaining standing

Neighbours described how the explosion in Ashford ‘shook’ the whole street at just before 8am, with seven fire engines racing to the scene. Pictured: An aerial photo of the destroyed house, with only the chimney remaining standing 

‘We’d like to thank the heroes – especially Andy Hodges – for saving their lives. They deserve lots of credit for their bravery.’  

Footage from a doorbell camera obtained by MailOnline has captured the moment the house exploded, sending bricks and debris into the air.   

Harry told MailOnline today: ‘We were driving past and saw that a couple of houses had been destroyed, the roof on one of the properties had virtually caved in and there was a huge hole where the front door should have been.

‘Instinct then took over and everything happened in a bit of blur. We ran into the wreckage of the house and there was a man in his 70s wandering around what was left of the hallway. He was shocked and confused but didn’t appear to be too badly hurt. He said his mother was in the dining area.

‘We went in and found an elderly lady sitting down. Part of her hair had been singed and she had quite a nasty cut on her head. The force of the blast had blown bits of carpet up onto her face.

‘She kept asking us not to lift her up but we said we had to as we couldn’t keep her where she was because there was a fire. The smell of gas was very strong.

‘I helped the man outside while my dad carefully hoisted the elderly lady over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift and took her to the front of the house. I then took her and guided her to a patch of grass where her son was.

‘There was some shouting coming from next door so myself and dad kicked down the door and went in.

‘There was a girl at the top of the stairs, she was shouting down that her parents were trapped. She just kept on shouting ‘my mum and dad are trapped in there’. Part of the wall between their house and next door had collapsed and the fire was growing in intensity.

‘It became too much for us to do anything so we grabbed the girl, who I later found out was an old school mate, and got her outside to safety.

‘Fortunately as we came out, the firefighters were preparing to go in and we told them that there was a couple still trapped in an upstairs bedroom. They rescued the couple minutes later and brought them down, which was a huge relief.’

Harry, from Ashford added: ‘I don’t know if we are heroes, we just did what needed to be done.

‘But the fire really took hold soon after we came out of the second house. Had we not been there a few minutes earlier, who knows what could have happened. I’m just glad we were driving past at the time.’

Harry added that Shannon had since messaged him to thank him for saving her and her parents.    

Two people were airlifted to hospital with ‘serious injuries’ and five more hurt today after the huge gas explosion. 

Locals said the blast in Ashford ‘shook’ the whole street at just before 8am, with seven fire engines racing to the scene.  

Several people were trapped inside the £350,000 mid-terrace house before being rescued and all residents are now accounted for, police said. 

Dramatic video showed flames and smoke billowing from the property as a policeman shouted at passers-by to stay away. 

Pictures afterwards revealed a smoking ruin with a single chimney stack standing among twisted wreckage and rubble strewn across the street and the gardens of surrounding houses. 

Local resident Kaylie Bourne, 35, said: ‘One woman came out of the house and was screaming ‘my parents are in there’. I looked out and saw these three men in their 30s who ran in to rescue those inside.

‘It was scary as I could see a little flame as they were going in at the bottom before the whole thing eventually erupted with fire.’  

Plumes of smoke erupted into the air after the explosion in Willesborough in Ashford, Kent, just after 8am today

Plumes of smoke erupted into the air after the explosion in Willesborough in Ashford, Kent, just after 8am today

Plumes of smoke erupted into the air after the explosion in Willesborough in Ashford, Kent, just after 8am today

Several people were trapped inside the £350,000 property before being rescued, police said, with paramedics treating casualties at the scene

Several people were trapped inside the £350,000 property before being rescued, police said, with paramedics treating casualties at the scene

Several people were trapped inside the £350,000 property before being rescued, police said, with paramedics treating casualties at the scene 

Dramatic video shows flames and smoke billowing from the house in Ashford, Kent as police urge passers-by to stay away

Dramatic video shows flames and smoke billowing from the house in Ashford, Kent as police urge passers-by to stay away

Dramatic video shows flames and smoke billowing from the house in Ashford, Kent as police urge passers-by to stay away 

Kim Dew, 55, felt the ground shake under her feet as the house blew up just after she walked past with dogs Lola, Bear and Lottie.

She said: ‘I heard this horrendous bang so I looked behind and there was this volcano of rocks which cascaded over the path. I just ran with the dogs as two seconds earlier I would have been under that rubble.

‘It was split second timing and has really shaken me up. What if the dog went for a wee or something? I walk that route every single morning at the same time before work.

‘I’ve never seen anything like it. I was that close to it I could feel the ground going. It was mental.’

The care home manager ran back to her cafe worker daughter Kaylie Bourne, 35, and pounded on the door to get back to safety.

Ms Bourne added: ‘The house shook. I thought one of the kids had dropped something upstairs and shouted ”what was that?” then mum was banging on the door shouting ”open the door”. 

Takeaway worker Jakub Grynko, 19, said: ‘I just heard this huge bang. It literally shook the whole house.

‘I didn’t know what was going on until we saw all the smoke out the back window.’

One neighbour’s four-week-old new car has been written off by rubble.

Evacuated residents are not expected to be allowed back home until at least the evening. 

Chantal Weller, a local resident and journalism student, said she felt her house shake at 8am ‘like something had literally flown into the side of it’.

The 20-year-old, who lives on the road adjacent to the house explosion, said: ‘It didn’t make a lot of noise, but there was a big shudder.

‘I looked out the window and saw a lot of people looking down the road and looking worried.

‘I walked out onto the street and could see lots of police cars whizzing past down Osborne Road to get to the house. There were people everywhere because of the school run.’

She said the scene was ‘hectic’ with people panicking, but it had calmed down as the fire was brought under control.

An evacuation zone was set up around the house, approximately 200 yards in each direction. 

‘I can’t see any smoke coming from the house anymore, so I think they have got the fire under control,’ she added. 

The ambulance service said: ‘Two patients have been taken to hospital in London with serious injuries. A further five patients have been taken to William Harvey Hospital in Ashford with injuries thought to be less serious.’ 

Emergency services examining the charred remains of the property, which was destroyed by the explosion just before 8am

Emergency services examining the charred remains of the property, which was destroyed by the explosion just before 8am

Emergency services examining the charred remains of the property, which was destroyed by the explosion just before 8am 

A chimney stack remained tottering among the wreckage of the property this morning as emergency services cared for casualties

A chimney stack remained tottering among the wreckage of the property this morning as emergency services cared for casualties

A chimney stack remained tottering among the wreckage of the property this morning as emergency services cared for casualties 

The scene in Ashford, Kent today as shown from the air, with seven fire engines and large numbers of police cars and ambulances in attendance

The scene in Ashford, Kent today as shown from the air, with seven fire engines and large numbers of police cars and ambulances in attendance

The scene in Ashford, Kent today as shown from the air, with seven fire engines and large numbers of police cars and ambulances in attendance 

Graham Galpin, Conservative candidate for the area, said: ‘It is a central house in a block of three which we believe belonged to an elderly couple.

‘I think there was an act of heroism where a man pulled some people from the wreckage. He was very shaken up by what he saw.

‘Somebody told him there were other people in there but he couldn’t get back inside. Unfortunately there are casualties I believe.

‘This is a close community and this tragedy will absolutely shock the people that live here.’

Cllr Steve Campkin, who represents the ward for the Green Party, added: ‘They’ve closed most of the road off as there’s a risk of asbestos.

‘The house is completely gone. It’s absolutely awful. Emergency services have been absolutely magnificent. We’ve opened up the two churches for teas and coffees for them and those who have been evacuated.’

Canvassing has been suspended for the day ahead of local elections in light of the major incident.

A police helicopter can be seen hovering overhead and a red air ambulance from London was drafted in to help the Kent, Surrey and Sussex Air Ambulance team.

Officers have been warning neighbours to keep windows and doors shut while anyone walking outside is being asked to wear a mask – not for Covid but due to the airborne asbestos being present in the air.

Several people were trapped inside the £350,000 property before being rescued. All residents are now accounted for

Several people were trapped inside the £350,000 property before being rescued. All residents are now accounted for

Several people were trapped inside the £350,000 property before being rescued, police said. All residents are now accounted for

Several people were trapped inside the £350,000 property before being rescued, police said. All residents are now accounted for

Several people were trapped inside the £350,000 property before being rescued, police said. All residents are now accounted for

The fire burning after the blast, which saw the whole street evacuated over fears the explosion could have released asbestos

The fire burning after the blast, which saw the whole street evacuated over fears the explosion could have released asbestos

The fire burning after the blast, which saw the whole street evacuated over fears the explosion could have released asbestos 

Sniffer dogs were brought to the scene to look for people trapped in the wreckage. All residents have now been accounted for

Sniffer dogs were brought to the scene to look for people trapped in the wreckage. All residents have now been accounted for

Sniffer dogs were brought to the scene to look for people trapped in the wreckage. All residents have now been accounted for  

The charred shell of a mid-terrace property can be seen from the police tape.

A neighbour tweeted: ‘Huge gas explosion on my road, front of the house is completely gone’.  

Kent Police said: ‘Officers from Kent Police are currently working alongside colleagues from Kent Fire and Rescue Service and South East Coast Ambulance Service after being called to a report of an explosion in Mill View, Willesborough, Ashford at 7.57am on Tuesday.

‘Officers are advising people to avoid the area and asking local people to keep their windows closed.’ 

A Kent Fire and Rescue Service spokesman said: ‘Crews are working to extinguish any remaining signs of fire following an explosion at a house in Mill View, in Willesborough, Ashford.

‘Seven fire engines and a height vehicle are at the scene, as well as a team from the Technical Rescue Unit.’ 

An ambulance spokesman said: ‘We can confirm our attendance at an incident in Mill View, Willesborough, Ashford, following an explosion reported to us shortly before 8am today (4 May). Ambulance crews including our Hazardous Area Response Team (HART) have attended the scene along with police and fire colleagues. The air ambulance service also joined us at the scene.

‘Two patients have been taken to hospital in London with serious injuries. A further five patients have been taken to William Harvey Hospital in Ashford with injuries thought to be less serious.

‘We remain at the scene in support of our emergency service colleagues.’ 

Members of the public have been urged to avoid the area and residents have been asked to keep their windows closed

Members of the public have been urged to avoid the area and residents have been asked to keep their windows closed

Members of the public have been urged to avoid the area and residents have been asked to keep their windows closed

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