As debris rained down from a London theater’s ceiling Thursday night, Scott Daniels said he feared he’d put himself in the wrong place at the right time.
A Fort Worth native who now lives in Carrollton, Daniels was one of more than 725 people in the audience when the ceiling of the historic London Apollo Theatre collapsed. Officials said 79 people were injured, seven seriously.
“There’s always that thought when something like this happens that it’s a terrorist attack,” said Daniels in a telephone interview with the Star-Telegram on Friday.
Daniels arrived in London Thursday afternoon on the first day of a vacation and was one of the last people to get a ticket to the 7 p.m. performance of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time”. He said he was delighted to get an aisle seat six rows from the stage.
“About 45 minutes into the show there was a lot of action on the stage,” Daniels said. “Suddenly I heard people screaming in the balcony.”
Panic rapidly ensued as the nature and scope of the calamity dawned on people. Daniels said he fell to his hands and knees and joined hundreds of others who crawled through the debris and choking dust toward an exit next to the stage.
“As I got to the stage and turned left, I helped another man get up and we ran out the exit onto Shaftesbury Avenue,” Daniels said. “I wasn’t hurt bad enough to go to the hospital, so I got onto the tube [subway] and went back to my hotel.”
Daniels said he sustained superficial scrapes and bruises as more than 300 square feet of broken plaster and lumber fell into the audience.
“I looked like those people who were covered in dust after the World Trade Center towers collapsed,” Daniels said. “Chunks of plaster and wooden beams the size of park benches fell on people. About four rows behind me, a lady and her children were trapped by plaster.”
London authorities spent Friday inspecting all 52 of London’s famed West End theaters, trying to reassure theatergoers that the city’s elegant but aging venues are safe.
Police ruled out criminal activity as a cause for the partial ceiling collapse on Thursday night. One line of inquiry for investigators is whether a brief but intense rainstorm an hour before was a factor.
Westminster Council said an investigation was underway and an initial assessment by surveyors had found that the Apollo’s ceiling structure remained sound. It also said the Apollo’s health and safety checks were all up to date.
On Friday, Daniels said he saw the coat that had been in his lap draped over the seat in front of where he had been sitting as he looked at newspaper photos of the scene. Seats within a few feet of where he was sitting had disappeared under the debris.
He said he’s leaving London on Sunday to visit a son in Germany before returning to the U.S. Dec. 29.
“My first day in London this time and this happens,” Daniels said. “Boy do I have a story to tell.”