SHU’AIBA PORT, Kuwait — The young driver looked like a man back from the grave as he emerged, covered in oil, dirt and hydraulic fluid from a hole in the ground at the Kuwaiti port of Shu’aiba on Tuesday.

Moments earlier soldiers and port workers had dug a hole to free the driver, Pfc. Randy Freeman of Company B, 2nd Engineers, from his M-113 armored personnel carrier. The carrier flipped during operations to unload more than 1,800 2nd Infantry Division, 2nd Brigade Combat Team (Strikeforce) vehicles at the port.

Soldiers from 2nd ID’s 2nd Engineers Battalion were loading the M-113 onto a contractor’s flatbed truck to move to the Strikeforce’s temporary home at Camp Buehring when the accident happened.

The vehicle drove onto the truck without incident, said Spc. Sean Dohner, of Company A, 2nd Engineers Battalion, who was driving a following vehicle.

Disaster struck after the M-113 stopped on the flatbed.

“You could see it [the flatbed] starting to slide and bend,” Dohner said.

Another witness, Pfc. Tom Fisher, also of Company A, was standing on a truck to one side of the flatbed.

“Once he pulled it on you could hear metal bending. The right track slid off and in slow motion it just fell over,” said Fisher, who immediately ran to the upturned vehicle.

The soldiers were worried that Freeman might have been injured or killed when the massive machine flipped.

M-113 drivers poke their heads out of a hatch on top of the vehicles when they are driving and have to duck down and brace themselves to avoid injury in a roll-over. A driver who fails to do this correctly during such an accident risks having his head pounded into the ground by a 25-ton hammer.

Fisher was concerned as he approached the vehicle because Freeman was not calling for help.

“He wasn’t making any sounds, and all of a sudden you just saw his head pop out,” he said.

The problem was, equipment inside the vehicle piled up in the accident, blocking the rear exit hatches, and there was no way for Freeman to get out since his hatch now faced the ground.

“It was very, very scary. I just wanted to get out,” Freeman said later.

The young soldier started to panic, fearing that the M-113 was about to become a giant oven and that he would be baked alive inside it, he said.

“I thought it was going to catch fire. It was very hot and I thought there was a gas leak or something. The engine was running. … My biggest fear was that I was going to be burned alive,” he said.

Outside the vehicle, soldiers and port workers dug into the hard ground in the marshalling yard, tunneling under the stricken M-113 to reach the trapped driver. They poured water on the rock-hard ground to soften it so that shovels could chip away a hole large enough for a man to squirm out.

When the hole was big enough, Freeman wriggled out, gasping for air in the hot Middle Eastern sun. He looked like a man who had been rescued after being buried alive as he pulled off his grimy T-shirt.

“Once I realized I was out I was relieved. I never want to see than happen again or be part of something like that again,” he said.

Nearby, the man who guided him up onto the truck, Pfc. John Shoup, of Company A, 2nd Engineers, took time out to collect himself.

“Any time a vehicle rolls over it sucks. It sucks, but it happens. Everything goes in slow motion,” said Shoup, who has been in a rollover himself.

The safety officer, Staff Sgt. Vernon Wilson of the 385th Transportation Battalion, said the accident was the most dangerous event he had seen in several months working at Shu’aiba Port.

The Army is investigating the incident.

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Seth Robson is a Tokyo-based reporter who has been with Stars and Stripes since 2003. He has been stationed in Japan, South Korea and Germany, with frequent assignments to Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Australia and the Philippines.

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