How I Survived: A Bombing in Libya

Michael Christopher Brown, 33, Photographer

Mortar demonstration

Mortar demonstration     Photo: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Flickr

Michael Christopher Brown lived through a mortar attack in April that killed colleagues Chris Hondros and Tim Hetherington.

The four of us—Tim, Chris, Guy Martin, and myself—along with a couple other photographers and a large group of protestors, were walking up Tripoli Street, one of the front lines in Misurata. The city was under siege, completely surrounded and being shelled every day. Grad rockets, cluster bombs, and tank shelling were generally the Qaddafi artillery of choice. There were also snipers. The street was completely open, with little cover. At one point, the rebels advanced, but there were sniper shots. After the rebels ran to the side of the street for cover, we all flipped around and started moving quickly away from the front line. By this time in the afternoon, the rebels were exhausted. When I think about it now, it was a really good time for the Qaddafi forces to attack. Tim was looking at his camera. I had no flak jacket on; I was walking behind people, so I had at least one side covered. We were hit by an M120 mortar. I vaguely remember hearing it coming in, and as soon as it hit, it was like a shockwave. There was smoke everywhere. The guy who was right in front of me was hit really badly. He was blown off his feet and was bleeding everywhere. I don’t know what happened to him. I remember this feeling of hot metal in my arm and chest—and then a river of blood coming out of my body. I looked at my body and made sure that I had all of my limbs. Chris was immediately unconscious; he was hit in the head. And Tim was bleeding out there at the scene. He was hit in the artery in his leg, yelling for help. There was no way the photographer who was helping him could have stopped the bleeding. Before he reached the hospital, Tim was dead. Chris died later that night. The wound was in between my shoulder and my chest. By the time we got to the hospital, I was half-conscious and had lost something like half of my body’s blood and was starting to get cold. At the hospital, I could hear the other trucks coming in, which had the other bodies—the other photographers. I still have all the pictures from that day.

From Outside Magazine, Aug 2011 Get the Latest Issue

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