Graveyard Shift

What It's Like to Be in an Explosion  

Kellen Perry
33.7k views 12 items

What is it like to be in an explosion? These survivors often talk about a "white light" and incredible heat. There's usually a metaphor for the intensity of the blast, like when one IED survivor told National Geographic that it's "like being kicked by a horse - a horse with a foot that could cover your entire body." But beyond those common themes, bomb survivors have a wide range of fascinating near-death experience stories, the details of which vary depending on their proximity to the destructive wave and the intensity of the device.

It takes quite a bit of good luck to survive this kind of scenario. It's not just projectiles or flames that end victims: so-called barotrauma can rupture your internal organs if you're too close to where the device detonates. Surviving this kind of destruction also depends greatly on the environment, as the shock waves can often send debris and broken glass flying at you at incredible speeds. Read on for some chilling accounts of what it's really like to survive.

'One Of My Balls Was Hanging Out Of The Sack'
'One Of My Balls Was Hanging O... is listed (or ranked) 1 on the list What It's Like to Be in an Explosion
Photo:  Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 2.0

Ben McBean was only 19 when he stepped on a land mine while serving with the Royal Marines in Afghanistan in 2007. The pain was so "horrendous," McBean told The Telegraph, that he "can’t even describe it." He did, however, do a fine job setting the scene immediately following the blast: "On my left leg my knee was coming off. One of my balls was hanging out of the sack."

McBean says he could immediately feel that one half of his body was lighter, which makes sense, considering the eruption removed an arm and a leg. Another shocking detail: McBean says it looked like there was meat everywhere because he'd "never seen the inside of [his] body before."

'It Starts Off Smelling Similar To A Barbecue'
'It Starts Off Smelling Simila... is listed (or ranked) 2 on the list What It's Like to Be in an Explosion
Photo:  Randall Jackson/Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain

Gal Ganzman told Esquire the first thing he noticed after surviving a 2003 incendiary incident outside the bar he owned in Tel Aviv was the smell. It starts off  "smelling similar to a barbecue. There's a charcoal-like whiff of gunpowder mixed with blood and burned flesh. It's thick and bitter, and it overpowers everything. You can taste it in your mouth."

Ganzman later discovered someone was on fire on the sidewalk outside his bar, and the torso of the culprit was hanging from a sign above his door.

'Like Ice Picks Plunging In Both Ears At Once'
'Like Ice Picks Plunging In Bo... is listed (or ranked) 3 on the list What It's Like to Be in an Explosion
Photo:  Al Jazeera English/Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

Journalist Mark Kukis survived several detonations while covering the Iraq War and told his story in Time Magazine in 2007. What's it like? If a mortar hits a large rock you're hiding under, it feels like "being punched hard in the back of the head with a big fist" while someone throws rocks in your face. If you're in an armored Humvee and a roadside device goes off right under where you're sitting, it feels "like ice picks plunging in both ears at once" followed by a "throbbing headache comparable to [your] most vicious hangovers."

If a huge mortar hits a doorway you just walked through, it feels like your "bones for a second had turned to metal, and someone had rung [you] with a sledgehammer."

'Like I'd Been Hit By A Frying Pan'
'Like I'd Been Hit By A Frying... is listed (or ranked) 4 on the list What It's Like to Be in an Explosion
Photo: Francis Tyers/Wikimedia Commons/CC BY SA 3.0

Martine Wright survived the 7/7 in London that ended more than 50 people and harmed more than 700. She lost both legs and later told The Guardian the feeling was "like I was in a Tom and Jerry cartoon and I'd been hit by a frying pan," but she doesn't recall the ensuing pain. She saw a big flash of white, but heard nothing.

The policeman who helped cut her out of the train showed her the scars in his hand she inadvertently gave him because she was digging into his skin with her fingers.