Ex-soldier burned in tank attack to run 52 marathons

By Caroline Gall
BBC News Online


After suffering severe burns in a petrol bomb attack on his tank in Iraq, former soldier Karl Hinett set himself tough rehabilitation goals.

Five years ago, images of the ex-gunner and his colleagues on fire desperately climbing out of their Warrior tank were flashed on TV news bulletins around the world.

They came under attack in Basra in 2005 as an angry Iraqi mob chanted and taunted them.

The 23-year-old blacked out before he was taken to a field hospital.

He was put to sleep there and woke up "a week or two later" in Selly Oak Hospital in Birmingham with 37% burns to his hands, legs, arms and face.

Over the past five years he has lost count of the number of operations and skin grafts he has had there.

But now, after making a strong recovery, the former serviceman from Tipton in the Black Country said he wanted to say thank you to the staff that had treated him.

He plans to raise money for the burns unit by running a marathon every weekend for a year.

"I suppose I'm a glutton for punishment," he said.

As his surgery is almost at end, Mr Hinett said he wanted to show staff at the hospital how much he appreciated their efforts.

"The staff were always there smiling, even when my family were looking pretty miserable."

The attack in the southern Iraqi city came at a time when tensions were high in the area, with anti-British demonstrations taking place.

Image caption, Mr Hinett is funding the marathons himself

The soldiers, from the Staffordshire Regiment, were taking part in an Army rescue operation to free two British soldiers who were being held in Basra.

Petrol bombs were thrown at the tank and one entered the vehicle as the hatches were open, Mr Hinett's comrades said afterwards.

The soldiers were filmed leaping from the burning vehicle.

Recalling the incident, Mr Hinett told BBC News he remembered bricks being thrown at the vehicle and then being covered in flames and inhaling fumes.

"At first I was overwhelmed with panic," he said.

"I managed to get a grip on myself, I heard my commander say over the radio 'keep calm' - this was while he was on fire himself.

"I managed to get out and when I did get out I blacked out. Next thing I was aware of I was being stretchered away. The pain came later."

He said he had since had the word "unscarred" tattooed on his stomach to prove his spirit was not broken.

During the regiment's six-month tour of duty, five soldiers from the county's battle group were killed - three of them on one day in July.

After his return to the UK, Mr Hinett said he wanted to return to front-line activities with the Army but had now accepted that was not possible.

"I tried going back for a little while," he said.

'Surgery ending'

"The Army was fantastic about my options but I realised myself I would actually be more of a burden going back to that job role and that was the job that I loved.

"So, I decided myself and with my superiors it would be best if I had medical discharge.

"They did give me the option to stay. But my job role, or what I wanted to be, was an infantryman on the front-line."

He said he had since trained as a gym instructor and took part in the London Marathon in 2007.

He now enjoys travelling and exploring and said he was looking forward to the worldwide locations of each marathon he would be joining.

Mr Hinett begins in Zurich in January and said he was funding the runs himself.

"My surgery is coming to an end and to say thanks I was going to run a marathon every weekend for a year next year," he said.

"Hopefully I can raise a lot of money for the burns unit."

And, like his treatment and rehabilitation since the attack, he said: "It'll be long, but it'll be worth it."

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