En route, Call Sign 4-2 stopped to scour a section of the muddy dirt path ahead of them for any signs of makeshift bombs. If the area looked familiar, it should have - the soldiers had been there just days earlier, responding to a small IED not far down the road. On neither occasion did they discover anything to give them pause.
Experts who later examined the scene said the soldiers likely never would have found the tremendous peril buried beneath their feet - several hundred pounds of homemade explosive, linked to a remote initiator by a command wire the length of a football field. It might have been there for several weeks.
That assessment would come as cold comfort to the survivors.
"We should have found it," Cpl. Shier says. "Maybe, if we'd tried a little bit harder, done something a little bit different, things might have been different."
The first time the patrol passes through, MCpl. Chinn sees a group of children in the distance, some of them making odd gestures. At first, he thinks nothing of it. Later, however, a realization will dawn: They appeared to be covering their ears.
After the stops to talk to locals, the LAVs lurch down the road at about 30 kilometres an hour, and Sgt. Collins surveys the landscape and soon recognizes the terrain. He knows the stories about convoys hitting IEDs on roads cleared just hours earlier. So he gets on the radio to Sgt. Miok, whose head he can see poking out from Charlie's hatch as it follows some 20 metres behind, and recommends stopping to perform another search.
Sgt. Miok, feigning exasperation, responds with an expletive. Sgt. Collins looks at his close friend and good-naturedly gives him the finger. Sgt. Miok returns the gesture.
In the next instant, the affable 28-year-old schoolteacher from Edmonton is dead.
The 20-tonne armour-plated assault vehicle lifts into the air like a toy. It appears to buckle in the middle as it begins to come apart. The turret, perfectly level, is spinning in the air toward Alpha. A soldier's lower body follows behind like a wet towel.
"I saw the dirt come out. I saw the tires blow off," Sgt. Collins recalls. "I saw the grey explosion. I saw chunks of men come out."
Dirt, shrapnel and debris shower down on the surviving vehicle. It sounds like heavy rain. Alpha's electronic optical system swivels to the rear. The monitor shows only blinding haze.
"Shit! Shit! Shit! We got hit!" Sgt. Collins shouts into his radio.
MCpl. Chinn, Alpha's 36-year-old crew commander, hopes the blast has only crippled Charlie's mobility. "Is it an M-kill?" he asks.
Sgt. Collins knows it's far worse. "It's a K-kill," he radios back.
Acutely aware of the risk of a second bomb or ambush, Sgt. Collins is momentarily paralyzed with fear. He has just seen his friend and comrade blown apart. Right now, he is certain of only one thing: He does not want to die like that.
Eyes wide and hearts thumping, Sgt. Collins and Cpl. Shier head slowly toward the crippled vehicle, eyes wide and hearts thumping. Sgt. Collins peers inside, and lets out a profanity. It looks like something out of a Friday the 13th movie.
Enclosed in the steel cocoon of the light armoured vehicle, Ms. Saeed had been sitting across from and chatting amicably with Ms. Lang, the Calgary reporter. The day's outing would likely yield three stories, Ms. Lang had been saying.
She did not finish her sentence.
The sound an IED makes when it explodes is nothing like the rich, orchestral expressions of Hollywood's special-effects industry. Ms. Saeed later describes it as "a deafening loud sound, like a very big crack. … Just the loudest sound I had ever heard. Nothing that loud can be good."
Then, suddenly, the sound is gone, replaced by an eerie quiet. Ms. Saeed finds herself lying flat on her back.
It is dark. She is pinned. Her heart is pounding violently. She is having trouble breathing. She fears she is being buried alive. She wiggles her fingers. She moves her arms. She feels her face, brushing away choking debris. Determined not to panic, she takes a deep breath. It dawns on her she is not dead.
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