João Silva - small landmine likely

2010-10-24 22:54

Pretoria - An anti-personnel mine the size of a floor polish tin was probably responsible for the explosion which caused South African photographer João Silva to lose part of his lower legs.

How it happened that he stepped on a mine in Afghanistan, shortly after a de-mining team had "swept" the area, is still unclear.

Based on the available information, experts on Sunday said the fact that only Silva - who was working for The New York Times at the time of the incident - was seriously injured, points to an anti-personnel mine rather than the type of mines which can blow vehicles to pieces.

Silva was injured early on Saturday morning (South African time) in the Arghandab area in the south of Afghanistan while he and Carlotta Gall, a reporter, were embedded with the 4th infantry division of the US defence force.

The German embassy in Pretoria on Sunday helped Silva's wife, Vivian, to obtain emergency travel documents. She lives in Wendywood, Johannesburg, with their two young children.

She was expected to catch a flight to Germany on Sunday night.

After he was stabilised at a military hospital in Afghanistan, Silva was transported to a hospital in Germany where he will undergo more intensive surgery.


According to military expert Helmoed-Römer Heitman, a larger landmine's built-in fragmentation would have injured everyone in the group when it was detonated.

Gall wasn't injured, while three of the American soldiers sustained slight concussions.

Other conflict experts said it is also possible that the mine-sweeping team were simply exhausted and missed the mine.

The sniffer dogs in particular can only work for a certain number of hours before their efficacy is hampered by exhaustion.

Extreme weather conditions such as heat can accelerate this process.

It's also possible that Silva stepped just a fraction beyond the cleared path, and stepped on the mine like that.

The fact that he partly lost both legs below the knee indicates that it was a powerful bomb or that he had stepped or kneeled on the mine with his legs close together, the experts said.

If Silva is able to keep his knees, according to the experts there is no reason why he wouldn't soon be able to get along with artificial limbs.

Bill Keller, executive editor of The New York Times, also said in a memo to his colleagues that he believes Silva's intense passion for his work probably means this shutterbug will be back on the job soon.