Photographer Phil Coburn has described the moment last week that a roadside bomb laid by the Taliban killed his friend and Sunday Mirror colleague, Rupert Hamer.
From his bed in the military wing of Birmingham’s Selly Oak hospital, surrounded by injured soldiers, Coburn told colleague Dennis Ellam that Hamer’s final minutes were spent “joshing and joking”.
Coburn also paid tribute to his friend Hamer, the first British reporter to be killed in the current Afghanistan conflict, calling him “one of the finest reporters of his generation”.
Hamer and Coburn were travelling with American troops in an armoured vehicle near Nawa in Helmand province to report on the US advance into Taliban strongholds when they were hit by the roadside bomb at 11.55am last Saturday.
The blast killed Hamer, who was married with three children, and US marine Mark David Juarez leaving Coburn with serious injuries.
“I can remember exactly how the explosion happened it was like some surreal film in slow motion,” Coburn told the Sunday Mirror.
“It was routine up to then. Inside the vehicle there was some joshing and joking and typically at the centre of it was Rupert, and that was the final sound – laughter.
“I only hope those who loved him take some small comfort in knowing he was happy, doing the job he loved.”
In the immediate aftermath of the blast, 42-year-old Coburn was lifted by his shoulders from the wreckage by a soldier and he could see Hamer lying nearby, at that moment he assumed his colleague was unconscious.
Coburn has suffered sever injuries as a result of the explosion. His right foot has been amputated above the ankle, the Sunday Mirror reported. He has a spinal fracture and the bones in his lower left leg and foot have been shattered.
Ellam wrote: “Without question this is the toughest interview I have ever been asked to do”. He asked why two family men would leave their loved ones on New Year’s Eve to spend a month of immense danger?
Coburn said: “This time we had to wait in Kabul before we could join the Americans, and we were sitting in an evening, chatting over drinks.
“We both began to ask the question, ‘Why are we here?’
“Rupert had three kids, I have one.
“And of course we gave ourselves the answer, ‘This is our job, someone has to be doing it, and we try to do it well’.
“Bear in mind, we were just tourists.
“The British soldier does six months out there, the American seven or 12, that was the point Rupert was always keen to make – show these men respect for their bravery and commitment.
“And I don’t think people, even some of his closest colleagues and friends, realised just how courageous Rupert was.
“How he faced danger. And how skilled he was at reporting what he saw, in very frightening and confusing situations.”
The Sunday Mirror yesterday published a tribute edition to its former defence correspondent with four pages of coverage and a separate pullout dedicated to Hamer.
Paying tribute to Hamer, who was at his side through many dangerous assignments, Coburn said he had lost “his best friend”.
He said: “He was courageous, he was determined; he was second to none… I truly believe that with the death of Rupert Hamer we have lost one of the finest reporters of his generation.”