Slain journalists' bodies shipped out of Misrata

21st April 2011, Comments 0 comments

The bodies of Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros, two award-winning war photographers killed by a mortar attack in the besieged Libyan city of Misrata, were Thursday being transported to the rebel stronghold of Benghazi.

Diplomatic representatives from Britain and the United States were to meet the ship and take possession of the bodies for repatriation, according to the men's employers.

Hetherington, a 40-year-old Briton with dual US nationality who resided in New York, worked for the magazine Vanity Fair and was nominated for an Oscar for a documentary he directed, "Restrepo," on Afghanistan.

Hondros, 41, was a US photographer for Getty, a partner agency of AFP. His work featured in publications around the world.

The two were killed Wednesday by a mortar strike as they were covering vicious combat in Misrata's shattered central district, along the main Tripoli Street.

An AFP photographer, Phil Moore, had been with them and other journalists hours before the deadly attack.

They were covering a rebel assault on a building used by snipers stationed there by forces loyal to Moamer Kadhafi, who have been blasting Misrata for more than six weeks to counter the insurgency there.

Moore, who took what is believed to be the last picture of Hetherington alive, said the situation was "very chaotic," with snipers suddenly firing again despite rebel assurance they had been neutralised, forcing the journalists to hastily exit the building.

"Tim had to escape from the roof of the building," down a ladder, Moore said.

"Everybody there was taking incredible risks, the fighting was suddenly around us and we were keeping close quarters with the rebels. Being hit was becoming an inevitability."

Moore and some other journalists decided to withdraw from the area.

Hetherington, Hondros and two other photographers stayed on for several hours more, looking to get more material.

According to witnesses, it was just as they, too, were pulling out that the mortar whistled in and struck their group.

Hetherington, who was not wearing body armour or a helmet, died almost immediately from multiple wounds including one to an artery.

Hondros, who was wearing protective gear, suffered a critical head wound that fractured his skull. He died hours later in hospital.

The two other journalists, Guy Martin, a freelance photographer working for Panos, and Michael Brown, working for Corbis, suffered non-critical injuries. Martin had his spleen ruptured by shrapnel, requiring surgery. Brown was said to have taken a wound to his shoulder.

News of the casualties spread rapidly among the dozen other foreign journalists working in Misrata at the time.

Correspondents from US and British newspapers rushed to the hospital where the wounded were being treated, and contacted the men's employers.

One of them recounted to AFP with tears in her eyes how she was handed Hondros's helmet, which was stained with traces of his grievous injury.

The head of the International Organisation for Migration mission in Libya, Jeremy Haslam, organised space on the ferry taking out refugees for a refrigerated truck carrying the remains of the two photographers, and that of a Ukrainian doctor killed in a separate mortar attack elsewhere in Misrata the same day.

Another AFP photographer, Odd Andersen, recorded the delivery of the remains, contained in body bags. Other reporters on the quay stood by distraught, several crying.

The sombre mood accompanied returning journalists on the vessel on the 18-hour trip to Benghazi.

It was a stark contrast to the outgoing voyage last weekend from Benghazi to Misrata, when Hetherington, Hondros and an AFP team -- Andersen and this reporter -- shared a cabin on the very same ship.

Then, Hetherington and Hondros seemed calm, prepared -- and also pleased that they were about to contribute to covering one of the biggest stories in the world.

Hetherington said he had originally been assigned to cover the Libyan conflict for Vanity Fair, and had already compiled a number of photos.

But a scheduling problem with a writer meant he was now doing the assignment freelance, on his own account. He said he intended to do it as an in-depth project taking months, possibly culminating in another documentary.

The gear on his bunk included high-end photography gear and a handheld video camera.

On Hondros's bunk was a book, "Nausea," by the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre.

The novel is about a well-travelled man who feels sick because he believes the physical world stops him finding out who he truly is.

One of the passages in the book muses on life, with the main character thinking: "My whole life is behind me. I see it completely, I see its shape and the slow movements which have brought me this far. There is little to say about it: a lost game, that's all.... At the same time, I learned that you always lose. Only the rascals think they win."

© 2011 AFP

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