Karl Hinett, Army private and burns survivor after his Warrior tank was petrol bombed during 2005 in Basra, Iraq.
Karl was part of a mission to free two undercover soldiers captured the day before at a police roadblock and held in Al Jameat prison. After requests to hand over the soldiers were ignored, concerns grew that militia groups had infiltrated the local police force and wanted to kill their captives.
A number of Warrior tanks approached and encircled the jail in order to secure the release of the soldiers, however an aggressive mob of local people rapidly grew and started to throw stones then petrol bombs.
Karl recalled, “A riot had broken out and we were the first tank on the scene. A mob quickly formed around our Warrior. What hit me first was a really strong smell of petrol. I never saw it coming at all. Then it engulfed my body as I was drenched in petrol”.
The Warrior filled with flames and produced one of the most iconic images of the war. Karl’s tank crewmate Sgt Long is seen in the horrific image jumping from the gun turret covered in flames whilst Karl was on fire inside.
“I guess it must have been the shock at first. As soon as I got a grip, I started to register the pain. I’ve never felt anything like it... hot, searing agony. I knew if I wanted to live I had to get out”.
Karl wrestled his way out of the tank and then passed out from the extreme pain of sustaining 37% burns to his hands, legs, arms and face.
From around the time of WW2 medical planners devised the “golden hour” as a timeframe target in which treatment should be administered to casualties in order to achieve the highest survival rates. In more recent times, this has evolved to the “platinum 10 minutes” based on findings that most battlefield deaths occur within 10 minutes after injury.
Fortunately, for Karl, within minutes of sustaining his injuries he was receiving medical attention from his comrades. All soldiers on operation receive basic first aid training and one in four soldiers have a role as an army team medic. The medical equipment used for pain relief and stem bleeding has also evolved since previous conflicts such as the Falklands.
With injuries as severe as Karl’s, medics call on Medical Emergency Response Teams (MERT) which use Chinook helicopters carrying highly specialist medical personnel to extract casualties. This level of mobile equipment would not have been available in previous conflicts such as the Falklands where Simon Weston was airlifted to a makeshift treatment centre.
Karl remembered regaining consciousness briefly whilst waiting for a MERT airlift and catching sight of his injuries while waiting to be airlifted to hospital. ‘My clothing had been burnt off. My skin was gone and I remember I was raw. I held up my hands and saw lots of dead, melted skin.
During the airlift, the MERT team would have delivered life saving care to Karl in order to stabilise his condition and prepare him for treatment (it is in effect a means of taking the A&E department to the battlefield) at the field hospital where he would have been rushed into the intensive care facility.
Army research has found that the average time between injury on the battlefield and arrival in a hospital bed is around 89 minutes. This is a huge improvement when compared to soldiers in WW1 who could typically take up to a week to make that same journey to treatment.
Karl was then flown back to the UK for treatment at Selly Oak hospital in Birmingham.
Karl underwent five years of skin grafts and operations at Selly Oak Hospital to heal his injuries. When sufficiently recovered he set himself a target to run a fundraising marathon in 2007 which he successfully completed.
Not satisfied with just running one marathon Karl decided to undertake an incredible challenge of running 52 marathons in 2011 covering a total of 1,363 miles to raise money for his local burns unit.
In 2012, he was part of a team of ex service personnel who planned to climb Mount Everest to raise money for Walking with the Wounded. Unfortunately unseasonably warm weather caused climbing conditions to be too hazardous due to the likelihood of avalanches.
Find out how other battlefield casualties have been healed.
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