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Sgt. Jimmy Collins shows his tattoo at his Kamloops, B.C., home, Dec. 20, 2010. The tattoo bears the initials of Pte. Garrett Chidley, Sgt. George Miok, Cpl. Zachery McCormack, Sgt. Kirk Taylor and journalist Michelle Lang, who were all killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan Dec. 30, 2009. (Jonathan Hayward/Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)
Sgt. Jimmy Collins shows his tattoo at his Kamloops, B.C., home, Dec. 20, 2010. The tattoo bears the initials of Pte. Garrett Chidley, Sgt. George Miok, Cpl. Zachery McCormack, Sgt. Kirk Taylor and journalist Michelle Lang, who were all killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan Dec. 30, 2009. (Jonathan Hayward/Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press)

One year later

The full story of one of Canada's deadliest days in Afghanistan Add to ...

Ms. Saeed twists herself on to her side. She can see silhouettes in the interior gloom. They are not moving. Convinced she is the only one alive, she begins trying to drag herself toward the back of the vehicle, its heavy steel ramp blown open by the blast.

Her rummaging hands find body parts - one of them a severed leg with a seemingly familiar boot.

"I vividly remember moving a leg and thinking that it was mine," she says. "After that, I knew something horrible had happened."

She is more terrified at the thought of being taken hostage, tortured, raped and slowly killed at the hands of insurgents. She spots Sgt. Collins peering inside the vehicle and begins to scream.

"Help me, help me," she cries. "Get me out of here."

Triage and tribulations

One minute, Cpl. Quast had been sitting shoulder to shoulder with Ms. Saeed, his mind drifting idly. He looked across at Cpl. Fraser, who was beside Ms. Lang with his head resting on the butt of his rifle. The next thing he remembers is a loud thump - a heavy, percussive bass sound.

"I didn't know up from down, left from right," he recalls. "Then, all of a sudden, I was on a pile of bodies on the ceiling in the back of the LAV, looking out the back of the upside-down vehicle."

A woman's screams pierce the silence.

"Help me!"

"The medic is in the other vehicle," Cpl. Quast answers. "They are coming to help us as soon as they can."

As he crawls free, Cpl. Quast surveys the scene. Lying a few feet away is Cpl. Volochtchik, who was blown clear. He has three broken vertebrae, he has a broken and dislocated shoulder, and a piece of his buttocks has been torn off. His jaw is cracked; his teeth are broken.

"Fedor, Fedor," Cpl. Quast calls. He gets no answer.

Pain - "the most intense pain that I have ever felt in my life," Cpl. Quast later calls it - forces him to take off his boot to make room for the rapid swelling. "I could see the bones pushing out of the skin."

A couple of metres away, Cpl. Fraser has learned the hard way the dangers of using a rifle as a headrest: As the blast propelled him out the rear hatch, it rammed the butt of the weapon into his face, shattering his nose. "I just remember a loud snap or crack," he recalls, "and a feeling of getting sucked up to the ceiling."

Cpl. Yee should have been in Charlie, his regular vehicle. But the 27-year-old reservist was moved to Alpha to make space for Ms. Saeed and Ms. Lang. It was from Alpha that Cpl. Yee had watched the two women shadow Sgt. Taylor, noting the crowds forming around them.

Now, he finds himself edging down Alpha's ramp with the medic to go see if anyone in Charlie is still alive.

Cpl. Yee spots three men on a low roof a few hundred metres away. He radios Sgt. Collins, who is pondering whether to open fire on the trio when he sees a bewildered Cpl. Volochtchik, half-sitting in a depression on the road and waving his pistol wildly.

Sgt. Collins barks an order at Cpl. Shier to relieve Cpl. Volochtchik of his sidearm. He looks back at the roof. The men have disappeared.

Cpl. Yee is hoping against hope that Charlie has withstood the blast, which has left a massive crater in the road. But as he approaches the wreckage, his heart sinks. The vehicle is on its roof, its nose buried in the soft earth. The wheels have been blown off and there's a gaping hole in the undercarriage. Diesel fuel is spilling into the debris-strewn mud.

Sgt. Taylor is clearly in bad shape. There's little visible blood, but he is ghostly pale and barely conscious. The deformities in his lower legs are obvious. He is able to move one arm. He clutches at one of Cpl. Yee's legs. Cpl. Yee looks down and catches a glimpse of Sgt. Taylor's cloudy eyes.

"I don't want to lose my legs," Sgt. Taylor murmurs.

"Medevac's on the way," Cpl. Yee offers. "You're going to be fine."

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