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Last Updated: Thursday, 15 May, 2003, 14:22 GMT 15:22 UK
Mine victim's road to recovery
Stuart Hughes in hospital
Stuart Hughes was injured by a landmine

"As my foot touched the grass there was an explosion that knocked me to the ground.

"My right foot felt like a millstone had been dropped on top of it.

"When I looked down, I saw that my heel had been blown wide open by the blast."

BBC journalist Stuart Hughes describes the moment his life was changed forever when he stepped on an anti-personnel landmine in northern Iraq.

Stuart was part of a four-man team filming the Iraq War in Kurdish-held territory when they were mistakenly led into a minefield by local guide.

I realise that whoever laid the mines was probably a poor, scared soldier with limited training, following orders

In the explosions, Stuart's colleague, cameraman Kaveh Golestan, 52, was killed and Stuart's injuries were so severe that his foot later had to be amputated.

The 31-year-old is now undergoing rehabilitation in his home city of Cardiff, and this week begins writing a diary detailing his recovery for BBC Wales News Online.

Stuart was filming in the town of Kifri in Northern Iraq on 2 April when they asked a local guide to lead them to abandoned Iraqi trenches, which, unknown to them, had been mined.

In the terrifying moments that followed the first explosion, Stuart and his colleagues believed they were under attack by Iraqi forces.

"I assumed we were coming under mortar attack and curled into the foetal position, hugging the rear wheel of the jeep," he said.

"'I'm hit,' I shouted, trying to stem the panic rising in my throat.

Stuart Hughes in Kurdistan during the Iraq war
Stuart Hughes in Kurdistan during the Iraq war

"In the confusion I still had not realised that my injuries had not been caused by incoming fire.

"It was only when I heard our translator Rebeen Azad shout 'It's a minefield. We're in a minefield' that I began to comprehend fully what had happened.

"I had stepped on an anti-personnel mine."

In the confusion, award-winning Iranian cameraman Kaveh Golestan also stepped on a mine and was killed as he ran for cover.

Stuart added: "My memories of the next few minutes are a collage of shouts and fragmented images.

"They are of (reporter Jim Muir) Jim breathlessly asking 'where's Kaveh?'. Rebeen, close to tears shouting, 'I think he's dead' and the sound of my own shallow breathing as I lay in the boot of the car.

"I remember thinking what an unremarkable place it was to die. "I saw Kaveh only briefly after the accident.

"I glimpsed his head and shoulders as he was carried, wrapped in a blanket, into the first aid station I was rushed to for emergency treatment.

A PMN anti-personal mine like the one which injured Stuart Hughes
A PMN 'Black Widow' mine like the one which injured Stuart Hughes

"He looked serene, as though taking an afternoon nap. It was only after I had returned to the UK that I learnt the full extent of Kaveh's injuries.

"The blast left Kaveh's upper body intact but shattered his lower body completely, killing him instantly."

Stuart received emergency treatment at an American special forces field hospital in Iraq and an RAF base in Cyprus, before finally returning to Britain by air ambulance.

But when Stuart was taken to hospital in Cardiff, he was given the shattering news that his right foot and lower leg had to be amputated as reconstructive surgery was impossible.

"Obviously it's a heart-breaking thing to come to terms with but in a way it's been made easier by the fact that there were no options to consider," Stuart said.

Following the amputation, Stuart says he gets 'phantom' pains in the area where his foot was.

Kaveh Golestan
Cameraman Kaveh Golestan died in the explosions

He has lent his support to anti-landmine campaign group the Mines Advisory Group and has spoken of his anger at landmine manufacturers.

"My feelings are not of anger or hate," he said.

"I realise that whoever laid the mines was probably a poor, scared soldier with limited training, following orders.

"I direct my anger instead towards those involved in the international trade in landmines, which kill and maim people in at least 70 of the world's poorest countries.

"By the time Baghdad fell I was in hospital in Cardiff, mourning the loss of my foot and wondering what the future held."

Stuart began his career with the BBC at its Welsh headquarters in Cardiff, as a researcher on radio news programme Good Morning Wales.

He moved to work in radio news in London in 1997 as a producer.

Stuart's interest in foreign news led to a series of assignments abroad, including Jerusalem, before his posting to Iraq this year to cover the war.

In his BBC Wales News Online diary, Stuart describes his road to recovery and how the injury has changed his life.

He expects to be fitted with an artificial foot in the next month and as well as learning to walk again, Stuart plans to learn how to drive again with a specially-modified car.




SEE ALSO:
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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