Graveyard Shift What It's Like to Be in an Explosion  

Kellen Perry
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What is it like to be in an explosion? Explosion 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 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 blast and the intensity of the device.

It takes quite a bit of good luck to survive a bomb blast. It’s not just shrapnel or flames that kills bomb victims: so-called barotrauma can rupture your internal organs if you’re too close to the blast. Surviving an explosion also depends greatly on environment, as the blast 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 an explosion.

"One of My Balls Was Hanging Out of the Sack"


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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 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 blast 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"


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Gal Ganzman told Esquire the first thing he noticed after surviving a 2003 suicide bombing 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 bomber was hanging from a sign above his door.

"Like Ice Picks Plunging in Both Ears at Once"


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Journalist Mark Kukis survived several explosions 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 bomb 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"


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Martine Wright survived the 7/7 bombings in London that killed more than 50 people and injured more than 700. She lost both legs in the blast 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.