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Last Updated: Thursday, 29 May, 2003, 16:59 GMT 17:59 UK
Face to face with landmine

By Stuart Hughes
BBC News

Stuart Hughes is backing the MAG's campaign
Stuart Hughes is backing the MAG's campaign
BBC producer Stuart Hughes lost part of his right leg after stepping on a landmine in northern Iraq.

Stuart, 31, has returned to Cardiff, where he is being fitted with an artificial leg.

In part three of his weekly News Online diary, Stuart charts his recovery.

This week I came face to face with the mine that took away my foot.

In my first trip out of Cardiff since my operation, I travelled to Manchester to meet the directors of the Mines Advisory Group, the mine clearance charity that has asked me to become a patron.

At MAG's offices, I was shown a glass cabinet full of deactivated landmines from war zones around the world.

From inside the cabinet, MAG's executive director Lou McGrath picked out a device known as a PMN blast mine, identical to the one I probably stepped on.

Since the accident, many people have said that I'm lucky to be alive

It was made of brown plastic and about the same size as a tin of travel sweets.

Military experts describe the PMN anti-personnel mine as sturdy, dependable and often lethal.

Nicknamed the "Black Widow," it has probably killed and maimed more people than any other landmine.

Designed in the 1950s and originally manufactured in the former Soviet Union, it is one of the most commonly-found landmines in the world.

Threat

PMN mines litter large areas of Northern Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Cambodia and many other countries.

Once activated, it can remain a threat for decades.

The one I stepped one could well have been lying dormant for up to 20 years.

In a 10-day period following my accident some 5,000 PMNs were recovered around Kirkuk, near the town where I was injured.

PMN anti-personnel mine
A PMN mine similar to the one which injured Stuart Hughes

I had been asked in advance whether I objected to being shown the mine.

MAG's public relations advisor had suggested that a photograph of me holding one would make a dramatic image and as a journalist I could understand completely why he wanted me to do so.

I had not thought deeply about what my reaction would be but I found myself becoming unexpectedly upset when I finally held the mine in my hands.

Although rendered harmless, to come so close to the device that has wrought such devastation on my life was utterly chilling.

Tears

I found myself fighting back tears.

More chilling still was the explanation I was given of the likely cause of my cameraman Kaveh Golestan's death.

It had originally been thought that Kaveh was killed by a much larger anti-tank mine.

After inspecting the area, however, MAG's technical team now believe he stepped onto one PMN before falling onto a second.

His body took the full force of the blast. He didn't stand a chance.

Since the accident, many people have said that I'm lucky to be alive.

Hollow

Although meant with the best of intentions, the phrase always sounds hollow to me as I look down at my amputated leg from the confines of a wheelchair.

How could losing a foot in a landmine accident possibly be seen as lucky?

But as I learnt more about the devastating capacity of the PMN mine I began to realise just how accurate the phrase is.

Stepping out of a jeep and onto the grass near an abandoned trench in Northern Iraq, I detonated the device with my heel alone.

Had I stepped onto it with my whole foot the 240 grams of TNT packed inside would have probably blown off my entire leg - or far, far worse.

The potential for secondary injuries from fragments of the mine's bakelite casing just don't bear thinking about.

As I fight my way through another week of physiotherapy, dreaming of the day when I'll finally be able to walk again, luck seems like the one thing I need a good strong dose of.

But even with one foot instead of two I realise now that I was still lucky. Very lucky.


SEE ALSO:
Down to earth with a bump
22 May 03  |  Wales
Mine victim's road to recovery
15 May 03  |  Wales
Viewpoint: Dangers of war reporting
09 Apr 03  |  Middle East
Iraq journalist's leg amputated
08 Apr 03  |  Wales
BBC cameraman dies in Iraq
03 Apr 03  |  UK


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