The family of a blind pensioner who became known as the ‘man in the window’ after haunting images emerged of him trapped inside Grenfell Tower thought he was dead until friends spotted him on TV.
Blind Elpie Bonifacio came to symbolise the agony of residents when he was pictured waving a cloth from the 11th floor in a desperate bid to be rescued from the burning tower.
The married pensioner – who is in his 70s and had lived in the flat for 36 years – was eventually rescued from the fire 12 hours later and is still recovering in hospital.
Today, his son Gordon Bonifacio has revealed how their family thought he had died – and even said their goodbyes to him over the phone – until the images surfaced on television.
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The family of a blind pensioner who became known as the ‘man in the window’ after haunting images emerged of him trapped in Grenfell Tower (pictured) thought he was dead until friends spotted him on television
Today, his son Gordon has revealed how their family thought he had died – and even said their goodbyes to him over the phone – until the images surfaced on television
Before that, the family had been talking to Mr Bonifacio on the phone from below and feared he had perished when the phone line cut out.
Gordon Bonifacio told Good Morning Britain that he believes those images – which showed his father peering through the window as flames engulfed the tower around him – could have helped to save his life.
They had already woken him up to tell him to flee the fire, but he became trapped because the door was ‘too hot’ to open.
‘We told him to try and get out, but he couldn’t, he said the door was too hot. At that point, before the images were shown, we had kind of given up,’ he told the show.
‘On the phone he had already said his goodbyes. He said that the fire was here, that these were his last words.
‘I was on the phone, so was my wife and my brother – we were all distraught, we were panicking. Then the phone lines cut out. That’s the point you sort of lose hope.’
But, several hours later, after Gordon had scoured shelters in the area to try and track down his father, his phone went ‘crazy’ with family and friends saying they had spotted him on television.
‘Everyone was getting in touch who was at home watching the images, saying, “Is this him, this is him, this is him”.
Gordon believes the images – which showed his father peering through the window as flames engulfed the tower around him (pictured) – could have helped to save his father’s life
The pensioner, who is in his 70s, was rescued from the fire (pictured) 12 hours after it began
‘I wasn’t sure, but everyone else seemed sure, because I wasn’t anywhere near a telly.
‘But I took the images on my phone to one of the policemen nearby. I said, “Look, this is my dad”. They got on the radio to the fire brigade, took his name and flat number.
‘Still then, we were were not 100 per cent sure he was safe until much, much later that at the hospital. That was the point that we were relieved to see him.’
The devastating fire broke out at the west London block on Monday last week, ripping through the 24-storey tower, which stayed alight for several hours afterwards.
The official death toll of the disaster yesterday rose 79, with five victims formally identified.
Gordon old Good Morning Britain (pictured) said he and the family had lived in the tower since 1981
The pensioner is still recovering in hospital and is said to be ‘traumatised’ by what happened
Gordon, who also lives in London, said he had raced to the scene when his mother – who was at work and not at the flat – phoned him to tell him the news.
Gordon added: ‘I was alerted first at about 2am – friends and family were trying to contact me through the night, but I was eventually contacted by my mum.
‘I made my way immediately to the scene. We were actually on the phone to him during that time.
‘He was surprisingly calm. We woke him up because he was asleep – as you would be at that time of the evening. We woke him up said “there’s a fire”. He could smell the smoke.’
Describing the moment he saw his father again, he said: ‘It was such a relief.
Mr Bonifacio (pictured) had lived in the flat for 36 years. He tried to escape but said the door was too hot to open
‘Myself and mum were waiting in the hospital for confirmation that it was actually him, to see him out of there.
‘He was in a bad way – he was already in an induced coma because of the smoke inhalation to protect his lungs.’
Gordon said his father is ‘traumatised’ by what has happened but does not know the full extent of the tragedy.
‘He was taken off the ventilator on Saturday, he is awake,’ he said.
‘We have spoken to him – he is incoherent and traumatised. I’m not sure if he realises the full extent.
‘He is blind, you see, so he might have thought it was just a few storeys. We have told him, but he is very confused.’
The devastating fire broke out at the west London block on Monday last week, ripping through the 24-storey tower block, which stayed alight for several hours afterwards
Gordon said this mother and brother are being housed in temporary accommodation but that they are still waiting for news of where they will live after.
‘As far as permanent accommodation is concerned, we have not been told anything,’ he said.
‘We have spoken to the council, social workers and housing and they will assess his needs.
‘That was our family home – we all grew up there. my father lived there for 36 years, we all moved in in 1981. That tower was centre to the community.’
He also added that the extent of the fire was ‘unbelievable’.
‘We were always concerned about fire safety, even back in the day,’ he added.
‘There have been other fires in the tower in the past which have been isolated to the flat that was in.
‘So that’s the surprising thing for me – there have been other fires, but it was just that flat that was affected. For it to spread in this way is unbelievable.’