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Airman Describes How He Tackled Gunman on Paris-Bound Train

U.S. Ambassador to France Jane D. Hartley, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, college student Anthony Sadler, and National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos take their seats during a press conference in Paris, Aug. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
U.S. Ambassador to France Jane D. Hartley, U.S. Airman Spencer Stone, college student Anthony Sadler, and National Guardsman Alek Skarlatos take their seats during a press conference in Paris, Aug. 23, 2015. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)

The U.S. military member who with the help of his friends subdued a gunman on a Paris-bound train said he sprang into action after noticing that the assailant's AK-47 rifle jammed or wasn't working.

Airman 1st Class Spencer Stone and his friends, Alek Skarlatos, a National Guardsman from Oregon, and Anthony Sadler, a college student in California, along with two others -- an unidentified Frenchman and middle-aged Briton named Chris Norman -- are being hailed as heroes for thwarting the gunman, Moroccan national Ayoub El Khazzani now in police custody.

Stone, who was hospitalized for minor injuries after the gunman attacked him with a box cutter, on Sunday described for the first time how he responded during the incident, which occurred Friday on a high-speed train traveling from Amsterdam to Paris.

"I kind of just woke up from a deep sleep and my friend Alek was sitting next to me," he said during a press conference at the U.S. embassy in Paris, according to a CNN video. "I turned around and saw he had what looked to be an AK-47 and it looked like it was jammed or it wasn't working and he was trying to charge the weapon.

"Alek just hit me on the shoulder and said, 'Let's go.' And [I] ran down, tackled him. We hit the ground. Alek came up and grabbed the gun out of his hand while I put him in a choke hold.

"It seemed like he just kept pulling more weapons, left and right. [He] pulled out a handgun, Alek took that. [He] took out a box cutter, started jabbing at me with that. We let go. All three of us started punching him while he's in the middle of us. And then I was able to grab him again and choke him unconscious while Alek was hitting him in the head with the pistol or rifle, I can't really remember.

The young men are receiving praise from the highest quarters. U.S. President Barack Obama called them Saturday to commend them for their heroic actions. French President Francois Hollande plans to meet with the Americans on Monday to thank them in person.

Jane Hartley, the U.S. ambassador to France, had similar words of praise. "We often use the word hero and in this case I think that word has never been more appropriate," she said during the press briefing, at which she appeared alongside Stone.

On Saturday, while Stone was in a French hospital being treated for slashes to his neck, face and hand -- his friends said his thumb was nearly severed-- Skarlatos and Sadler spoke to the French and British media.

Skarlatos said he first heard a gunshot, then the sound of breaking glass. Here's how he described the ordeal to Sky News.

"I saw a guy entering the train with an AK and a handgun," he said. "At that point, I ducked down. Spencer, my friend next to me, ducked down. And I just looked over at Spencer and said, 'Let's go! Go! And he jumped up and I followed behind him by about three seconds.

"Spencer got to the guy first, grabbed the guy by the neck, and I grabbed the handgun, got the handgun away from the guy and threw it. And then I grabbed the AK, which was at his feet, and started muzzle thumping him in the head with it and ... everybody just started beating on the guy while Spencer held the chokehold, until he went unconscious.

"At that point, people started to restrain him. I grabbed the AK and started walking up and down a few of the cars, making sure there wasn't another gunman. I came back to the main car, where it all started and cleared the weapons and put them in a little pile.

"I noticed when I removed the round in the chamber of the AK that the primer had been struck, which means that he pulled the trigger on the AK, the primer was just faulty, so the gun didn't go off, luckily, and he didn't know how to fix it, which is also very lucky. And when I cleared the handgun, I noticed there was no magazine in it, so he either dropped it accidentally or he didn't load it properly so he was only able to get what appeared to be one shot off with the handgun."

Calls are already growing for the two servicemen to receive military decorations from the French and U.S. governments.

--Brendan McGarry can be reached at Brendan.McGarry@military.com.

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