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article imageThe heroes who foiled the French train attack

By AFP     Aug 24, 2015 in World

Three young American friends on a European vacation and a British businessman who overpowered a heavily-armed man in a crowded, high-speed train to Paris were awarded France's highest honour on Monday.

Hailed as "heroes", the foursome were handed the prestigious Legion d'Honneur by French President Francois Hollande, who told them the whole world "admires their courage and cool composure".

Another Frenchman -- the first to come into contact with gunman Ayoub El Khazzani and tried to stop him -- was also due to be honoured. He has asked to remain anonymous.

Eric Tanty, a train driver who was not on duty, was also rewarded for helping out.

Here are the six and the role they played in foiling what could potentially have been a bloodbath.

- Spencer Stone -

Spencer Stone, a US Air Force member, was slashed in the neck and hand with a box-cutter as he confronted the gunman. His thumb was almost sliced off, and he accepted his award Monday with his heavily-bandaged arm in a sling.

Stone had just woken up from a "deep sleep" when he turned around and saw Khazzani holding an AK-47. He ran towards him with his friend Alek in close pursuit.

France's top Legion d'Honneur medals that have been awarded to (top  LtoR) off-duty US ser...
France's top Legion d'Honneur medals that have been awarded to (top, LtoR) off-duty US servicemen Aleksander Skarlatos and Spencer Stone, Antony Sadler and British business consultant Chris Norman in recognition of their bravery
Catherine Gaschka, Pool/AFP

"We tackled him and he hit the ground, and Alek grabbed the gun while I put him in a choke-hold. He kept pulling more weapons left and right.

"He pulled out a hand gun and a box-cutter and started jabbing at me with that."

Stone, 23, was described by the others as strong and quick, and with the presence of mind to help staunch the bleeding from a passenger who had been shot and seriously wounded, even while injured himself.

"I saw he was squirting blood out of his neck and I was going to use my shirt, but that wouldn't have worked.

This US Air Force photo obtained August24  2015 shows (Right to Left) Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone...
This US Air Force photo obtained August24, 2015 shows (Right to Left) Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone, Aleksander Skarlatos and Anthony Sadler as they pose for a photo in Paris August 23, 2015, following a foiled attack on a French train
Ryan Crane, US air force/AFP

"I stuck two of my fingers in the hole and found what I thought to be the artery and pushed down and the bleeding stopped, and I held that until the paramedics got there."

An airman first class, Stone is stationed at Lajes Air Base in the Azores. He is originally from the Sacramento suburb of Carmichael in California.

- Alek Skarlatos -

Skarlatos, a member of the Oregon National Guard who is also from Carmichael, had recently completed a deployment to Afghanistan and was treating himself to a month-long European vacation with his friends, US media reported.

His father Emmanuel Skarlatos told KATU News he was inspired by his 22-year-old son's actions.

Ayoub El-Khazzani (R)  is the 25-year-old suspected gunman in an attack on a train from Amsterdam to...
Ayoub El-Khazzani (R), is the 25-year-old suspected gunman in an attack on a train from Amsterdam to Paris who was overpowered by passengers
-, Social Network/AFP

"He said he and his friend took down a terrorist on a train heading to Paris. Just like that, like it was no big deal," said the elder Skarlatos, 65. "I said, 'What?!'"

Stone said Skarlatos had thumped Khazzani over the head with his own gun as the three Americans fought subdue him -- an act that Stone's mother believes saved her son's life.

"I really feel like they had a divine intervention," Stone's mother Joyce Eskel told Sacramento's ABC news station affiliate.

- Anthony Sadler -

The third American was 23-year-old Anthony Sadler, a student at Sacramento State University who was travelling around Europe with his friends Stone and Skarlatos.

Off-duty US servicemen Alek Skarlatos (L) and Spencer Stone leave after a reception at the Elysee Pa...
Off-duty US servicemen Alek Skarlatos (L) and Spencer Stone leave after a reception at the Elysee Palace in Paris on August 24, 2015
Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP

He and a British business consultant, Chris Norman, helped subdue the man and keep him held down after he was tackled.

"He leaves here a young man on an excursion and he comes back France's national hero. I'm still wrapping my head around that," his father, Anthony Sadler Sr, said in an interview with NBC television.

For Sadler, "hiding or sitting back" was never going to accomplish anything.

"The gunman would have been successful if my friend Spencer had not gotten up," he told reporters in Paris.

"I want that lesson to be learned. In times of terror like that to please do something. Don't just stand by and watch."

- Chris Norman -

"I don't feel like a hero," said 62-year-old Norman.

The business consultant is a Uganda-born British national who grew up in the south of France and had spent four years living in England, where he has family.

He is married with two children, one of whom is in the French navy, and two grandchildren.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper said he has lived in France for the past two decades and is based in the southern city of Nimes.

British business consultant Chris Norman reacts as he leaves on August 24  2015 the Elysee Palace in...
British business consultant Chris Norman reacts as he leaves on August 24, 2015 the Elysee Palace in Paris after been awarded with France's top Legion d'Honneur medal in recognition of his bravery after overpowered the train attacker
Kenzo Tribouillard, AFP

He said he helps African entrepreneurs find financing in Europe and was on his way back to France from a business trip.

Of his actions on the train, he said: "It was very rapid reasoning.

"My thought was, OK, I'm probably going to die anyway, so let's go. I'd rather die being active, trying to get him down, rather than simply sit in the corner and be shot.

"Once you start moving, you're not afraid any more."

Speaking at the Elysee presidential palace on Monday, his brand new medal clipped onto his suit, Norman said it was "difficult to believe that it's actually happened."

"I think that one way or another, we are going to be facing this kind of problem quite a few times in the future, and I would invite you all to think about 'what would I do in that situation'.

"Act if the opportunity presents itself. Obviously you don't want to throw yourself in a situation that is completely hopeless, but act if you can."

- Unidentified Frenchman -

A Frenchman who wishes to remain anonymous was the first person to discover the attacker in the train restroom -- with a Kalashnikov slung over his shoulder, according to French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.

He "courageously tried to tackle him before the attacker fired several shots," Cazeneuve added.

- Eric Tanty -

The Frenchman works as a driver on the high-speed train that links Amsterdam to Paris, but he was off duty and just happened to be on board.

He helped Norman and the three Americans to restrain Khazzani by pinning one of his arms down.

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