The crowd had turned its eyes away from the slowly moving Soviet trucks passing in front of the reviewing stand and was watching Mirage jets swoop low overhead leaving trails of bright red, blue and white smoke in the brilliant blue sky when the first explosion came.

At first, I thought it was more fireworks for the parade being reviewed by Anwar Sadat on the eighth anniversary of his greatest military accomplishment, the launching of the October war against Israel in 1973.

But then several of the soldiers who had been sitting in the back of a truck that had come to an abrupt halt immediately in front of the reviewing stand were leaping to the ground and running toward the stand, and the second explosion came.

And then the automatic rifles started firing, and the mad, ghastly recognition that I was watching the assassination of the most important American ally in the Arab World took shape in my mind.

I looked down toward the spot where I had glimpsed Sadat sitting, about 150 yards away, a few minutes before. Dressed in his blue field marshal's uniform with a colorful green sash, he had been chatting amiably with his aides. But now the pandemonium had begun, and everyone was diving for cover in all directions.

Several of the soldiers involved in the attack had stayed up on the shiny Soviet trucks, which had been hauling new South Korean artillery pieces on display for the first time, and they were now pouring automatic rifle fire into the official party around Sadat.

Screams in a number of different languages broke from the crowd of officials and invited guests sitting in covered cement stands alongside the main official reviewing box. Chairs went crashing to the ground, and a stampede for the exit began.

Around me, some of my press colleagues and some Egyptian Army officers hit the deck. I decided this was a good way of getting myself crushed to death, and began moving through the surging crowd, toward the stand, to see if Sadat had been hit or killed.

Holding my press card high in the air, I walked past the stunned security men who had finally begun to return the fire after an agonizing delay of at least a minute and who had now subdued the attack.

But Sadat was evidently already being bundled away from the scene. Nobody paid any attention to me. I walked up to the main reviewing box and looked at a pile of bleeding bodies stretched out on bloodstained Oriental carpets. I recognized the bearded Bishop Samuel, one of the new leaders of the Christian Coptic Church.

He was flailing his arms and had a wild glare in his eyes. The others were lying inert or moaning as their aides scrambled for makeshift stretchers. In some cases they were simply using tables.

Medal-bedecked officers were running around excitedly waving pencils in the air, and several groups of soldiers and plainclothes security men were beating the daylights out of two of the soldiers who had opened fire. I remember the fear in their eyes and the sound of their pleading voices. I thought for a moment the security men were going to kill them, tear them apart, right there and then.

I asked again and again if anyone knew whether Sadat had been hit or was okay, but no officer or official could answer.

"We don't know," is all they kept saying, "we don't know."

Then I learned Sadat had already been taken away by helicopter.

Behind me there were still women, children and men, many of them Europeans who had been seated above the main reviewing stand. Several European men were wounded, and one wife was clutching her husband and shouting at people.

An Egyptian standing below the reviewing stand had put his head against the wall and was sobbing uncontrollably. The only word I understood was "Sadat, Sadat."

Then officers and plainclothes police were shouting at everyone to hit the deck, get down below the wall and lie quietly. Apparently, they thought one of the planes still flying over the stand was going to turn back and bomb the reviewing box. I looked over the edge of the wall, saw that the sky was clear and figured I had time to get out before any plane came. I started to scramble away, but I had to cross a cordon of jumpy military police before I could clear the area. One grabbed the binoculars of the Reuter bureau chief, David Rogers, and refused to give them back. We didn't argue.

Two impressions remain etched in my mind. First, there was practically no return fire from the security men for what seemed like a full minute after the soldiers began shooting. Clearly, the attackers had made good use of the element of surprise.

Secondly, I remember wondering how, with the tight security precautions we all had noticed coming in, a group of soldiers could pull something like this off, or even get the live ammunition for their rifles and grenades.

Six soldiers and a driver had somehow arranged to be placed together in one truck, had shot and killed the president, and had come dangerously close to wiping out the entire leadership of Egypt.