A 99-YEAR-OLD great-gran and her son were just “two minutes from death” when their house was completely destroyed by a suspected gas explosion.
Fearless father and son duo Andy, 53, and Harry Hodges, 22, bravely ran into the burning building to save Ethel Hanford and her 75-year-old son Donald in Ashford, Kent.
Terrified locals said the huge blast left a “volcano of rocks” as emergency services scrambled to treat seven people – two being in a “serious” condition.
Dramatic doorbell CCTV footage captured the moment the huge blast destroyed several homes.
But the tragedy could have been a lot worse if the Hodges, who both work in construction, were not driving past the house at 8am yesterday.
The heroes saw the house ablaze and immediately pulled over to help.
They managed to save the elderly pair before going next door to rescue 22-year-old Shannon Pankhurst, who turned out to be an old school friend of Harry's.
HERO DAD AND SON
Two people were airlifted to hospital in London with serious injuries while five others were taken to hospital in Ashford by ambulance.
Andy recalled the moment he could hear the "crackling of flames", adding that "it just all went up so quickly".
He said: "If we were two minutes slower getting out, I think all four of us would have died.
“Everyone’s faces were covered in blood, it looked like their hair was singed and they were black with smoke. It was horrible to see.
If we were two minutes slower getting out, I think all four of us would have died.”
“It’s surprising anyone is still alive really. Within two minutes of us getting there, the homes had gone.
“We’re lucky anyone got out but you just don’t think that at the time – especially putting your own son in that situation.
"I do know Ethel is doing really well and apparently they’ll be releasing her, which is a miracle.
"The girl’s mum and dad were taken to a London hospital with serious injuries. Fingers crossed they pull through."
During the dramatic rescue, Andy sprinted towards the house and found a dazed Mrs Hanford in her dining room and lifted her out over his shoulders.
They had successfully rescued the trio but as the fire intensified they were unable to reach Shannon’s mum and dad.
Thankfully fire crews wearing breathing apparatus arrived and rushed upstairs to rescue the pair from the building next door.
Andy described the moment he saved Shannon from next, adding: “I kicked the front door in, ran inside and got her.
"Then I kicked all the other doors in but the gable end of the house had fell in.
“I couldn’t see anything but black smoke and fire but she was saying her mum and dad were still in there. By the time I went to go back in, both houses were just engulfed in flames.”
Describing the scene as he stormed the home, Andy said: “It seems like a gas explosion.
"It started off with a small fire in the living room the size of a dustbin and then there were just dots of fire up the stairs and the kitchen back wall had gone."
Donald was most concerned about saving his mum, according to Andy, while Ethel appeared confused at what had happened.
He added: “Donald is still struggling with his breathing but will hopefully be okay."
On the tremendous act of bravery, Harry said: “It was just a natural instinct really to run in there and get everybody out.
“We just wanted to help anyone who was in there and it was second nature. My dad was brilliant.
“It still feels very weird and hasn’t really sunk in that it happened. It’s not what you expect to happen on your way to work on a Tuesday morning.”
Shannon posted a photo of her parents on Facebook saying: “You take so much for granted these days and my mum and dad are the biggest thing…
We just wanted to help anyone who was in there and it was second nature. My dad was brilliant.”
“Today was a day I NEVER thought would’ve happened and I’ll NEVER forget it, all I want for you to know is that I love you both and was by your sides trying to help and wishing I could swap my place with you both.
“I wanted to get downstairs and see you both outside waiting for a big hug but I had to leave and I will never get over the pain of nearly losing you both!
“You two mean the world to me and not a day will go by where I’m not wishing you the speediest of recoveries, this will be life changing but the love I have you both never will change. I’ll come see you both very soon hang in there for me.”
Former support worker Wendy Charman, 57, said of Ethel: “Imagine living to that age for this terrible thing to happen. I hope she pulls through.
“Apparently three young men ran in afterwards and pulled her out. They deserve awards.
“The explosion woke me up and I heard all the ambulance crews racing past before the helicopter overhead.”
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Kim Dew, 55, felt the floor 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.”
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