Articles

How to escape a minefield


Photo: US Army Sgt. Tracy Knowles

Getting stuck in a minefield is the kind of situation where soiling yourself is understandable but not helpful. Most nations have agreed to stop buying mines and to destroy existing stockpiles, but minefields from decades ago are still a threat to modern troops.

Two airmen were stuck in a minefield just outside Bagram Air Force Base, Afghanistan in 2004. A group of British paratroopers were trapped by a field in 2006.

Here are some strategies that help troops get out alive:

Don't move, but do call for help.

It's much better to call this dog and have sniff out a safe route than to try and find a route out on your own. Photo: US Air Force Tech. Sgt. Samuel Padilla

If at all possible, don't move. Call for help. It's best if you can just call out verbally, but use a phone or radio if you have to. Minimize your transmissions. The signals could trigger remote-operated mines.

Hopefully, a nearby unit will be able to grab you. The British paratroopers were rescued by Blackhawk helicopters with winches and the U.S. airmen were saved by Army engineers.

Until rescue arrives, it's imperative that movement is limited. In the British emergency, one soldier stumbled while trying to catch a water bottle and lost his leg. Another slipped off the rock he was standing on and lost his foot.

Step in existing footsteps and tire marks

If no help is coming, there's a threat of enemy attack, or you can't wait for rescue, you may have to escape the minefield on your own.

Aim for existing footprints or tire tracks. These areas are less likely to have mines since the explosives would've been triggered by the soldiers and vehicles that moved over them before.

At the very least your own footprints leading into the field will be present, so follow them out. Remember to step in the actual footprint, matching your earlier position as closely as possible. Missing by just an inch could trigger a dormant mine.

Mines like the Claymore are commonly triggered by tripwires, so look carefully while moving. Photo: US Army Staff Sgt. Tramel Garrett

Remember to also watch out for trip wires as you step. You may not have snagged a wire on the way in, but these near-invisible wires could still be triggered by your passage out.

Finding your own way out

Photo: US Army Spc. Kelly McDowell

Of course, sometimes no help is coming and your earlier route may be impassable. In this scenario, you'll have to clear your own way out.

First, look for any minefield markings you may have missed. Markers painted white and red, signs with a skull and crossbones, or signs with the word "mines" on it could mark the edge of the field. If you can't see markers, try to exit as close to where you entered as possible.

Obviously, ground-penetrating radar or a metal detector is the best way to search out potential mines in your escape route.

As an alternative, you can slide a stick into the ground at an angle. Most mines are sensitive to downward pressure, so something entering the dirt at an angle is less likely to trigger it. Getting onto your hands and knees to do this is dangerous, so scan your area carefully before getting down.

If possible, leave anything metal with a buddy. Some mines are triggered magnetically and a rifle, compass, or even dog tags could cause an explosion. Once you get out safely, he can follow your path and get out behind you.

WATCH: 'Kilo Two Bravo' tells the harrowing true story of soldiers trapped in an Afghan minefield >

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