‘I thought I was dead when bomb exploded’

File photo dated 23/02/1982 of an Argentinian bomb exploding on board the Royal Navy frigate HMS Antelope. The Falklands War saw 255 British service deaths in just over 70 bloody days in 1982. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday February 9, 2010. The number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan is know greater than that of British causalities killed in the Falklands War. See PA story DEFENCE Afghanistan Falklands. Photo credit should read: Martin Cleaver/PA Wire

File photo dated 23/02/1982 of an Argentinian bomb exploding on board the Royal Navy frigate HMS Antelope. The Falklands War saw 255 British service deaths in just over 70 bloody days in 1982. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Issue date: Tuesday February 9, 2010. The number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan is know greater than that of British causalities killed in the Falklands War. See PA story DEFENCE Afghanistan Falklands. Photo credit should read: Martin Cleaver/PA Wire

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IT’S an iconic image of the Falklands War.

But for John Phillips, the famous photo of HMS Antelope exploding in a massive fireball is a painful reminder of the day his life changed forever.

John Phillips, survivor of HMS Antelope tragedy

John Phillips, survivor of HMS Antelope tragedy

‘It sends shivers down my spine every time I see it,’ the 69-year-old said.

Thirty years ago today, the army explosives expert and his colleague Staff Sergeant Jim Prescott were called to the crippled frigate to defuse two unexploded 1,000lb bombs dropped by Argentine Skyhawk jets as she defended San Carlos.

The day before, the pair had successfully defused a bomb on HMS Argonaut which had also been dropped from such a low height that it didn’t explode.

John told The News: ‘As we approached the ship, I said to Jim “it’s the same as the one we dealt with yesterday”. I could tell from the hole of entry it was the same, which gave us some confidence.’

One bomb had hit Antelope’s port side, ripping into the ship and killing 18-year-old sailor Mark Stephens.

The other was lodged in a starboard refrigeration unit, which the bomb experts decided to tackle first.

‘We were doing it remotely using a rocket wrench to try and remove the fuse but it wasn’t working,’ said John, who was a Sergeant Major.

‘We tried a fourth or fifth time and then it exploded.

‘We were about 30ft away with two bulkheads between us and it – so we weren’t far away when it went off.’

He added: ‘The blast ripped the hatch doors off like they were paper clips.

‘One door took my left arm off. Another hit Jim square in the chest and killed him straight away.

‘I was flying through the air – it was cartoon-like.

‘I only travelled three or four metres but it seemed like it was for miles.

‘I thought I was dead. I was calm and collected and there were no flashbacks.

‘I know it’s a cliche, but I felt like I was travelling down a dark tunnel and there was a light at the end of it where I could see the silhouette of my father who’d died a few years earlier. Behind him, I could see there were green fields and blue skies.

‘Then I hit a bulkhead and came straight back to reality. It was very weird.’

A sailor found John and helped him get away. He had to leave Jim’s body behind.

Moments after the ship’s company left the burning warship on a landing craft, the raging fires sparked the huge blast which sank her.

John said: ‘I’m on borrowed time. That day will never leave me – every morning when I look in the mirror I’m reminded of it.’

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