During the War in Bosnia hand grenades could be found in almost every household. Unfortunately, this caused many, many problems, and as you may imagine these are very dangerous toys.
I was almost a victim of one of those. The following story happened in 1995, almost at the end of the war. Four of my friends and me were having a nice time in one of the popular cafes in Tuzla, which is a city in northeastern Bosnia.
There was a frail truce, and it was a spring so it was one of the rare occasions when young people could go out and socialize. Cafe was full – around 40 people were inside, and maybe 40 more in the garden in front. We were sitting at a table which was just by the long bar, having a cup of espresso and generally enjoying ourselves.
I immediately noticed a young soldier who entered the place obviously drunk, but not too much. He did not have any side weapon with him, however, I noticed 2 hand grenades hanging from his belt. He was in an obviously extremely good mood and he went straight to the bar to be served with a strong type of alcoholic beverage native to Balkans called rakija (a type of plum brandy). He was toasting to us, celebrating who knows what, and in the one moment he came to our table and said:”OK, guys, you seem like a nice bunch, I want to give you a present!”. And then he took a hand grenade of of his belt and put it on our table. We were a bunch of 18-year old, and very familiar with weapons, so we kindly refused the present and offered to buy him a drink just to make him go away. He also thanked us and he took the grenade in his hand to show us that it was OK for us to take it.
It was a delayed impact fuse hand grenade which needs to have a protective cover removed from the fuse and then one needs to hit a firm surface with a fuse with 5 seconds to throw it before detonating. So this idiot took of the cover to show us that it was real but harmless, and since he was drunk while he was turning around he accidentally dropped it on the floor by our table!
There was a loud pop which meant that fuse was ignited and one of my friends shouted “BOMB!”. The grenade was steaming on the floor waiting to explode, and what happened next was purely instinctive set of reactions which probably saved many lives. The friend sitting by me jumped on his feet and hit the grenade like a football aiming to the nearby corner between the wall and bar and succeeded – it stopped around 20 cm from the corner. While I was jumping on my feet I almost immediately grabbed the edge of the heavy wooden table we were sitting at and flipped it towards the corner with the grenade. This way we effectively blocked it from three sides.
At the same time, as you may imagine, there was complete havoc inside the cafe with people running out while others jumped on the ground. We obviously didn’t have time to run out, so my friends and me just jumped away from the grenade to land on the floor. I can even today remember myself jumping and landing at least 2 meters away and hoping that this will be far enough. Only later, by the pain in my rib cage, I felt that my landing was not too soft but at the moment flight-or-fight reaction numbed my pain. I was lying on my stomach, with my feet towards the grenade. I remember while lying on the ground that I covered my head with my arms and even remembered to open my mouth in order to protect my eardrums from explosion.
As you can see a lots can happen in 5 second and it is incredible how much the time is slowed down when there is a surge of adrenaline running through your body. Whenever I see bullet time scene in the movie – I can appreciate how well it describes the moment when you are in imminent mortal danger.
And in that moment it exploded – a strong blast almost lifted me from the ground. And then the moment of silence. I remained on the ground trying to feel if there is a pain in any part of my body. I felt some pain at the right side of my head! I touched it and felt the small rounded piece of shrapnel entangled in my hair. Boy, I was glad that it was long 🙂 It was still hot and it just burned my skin – no hole in my head. I jumped to my feet visually inspecting my body only to see that I was completely unharmed!
The place was filled with thick bluish smoke so I tried to see what happened with my friends – one of them had a shrapnel in the sole of his foot, another one was just scratched on his arm. Other two were unharmed as well. There was a girl lying with some blood on her skirt – she got a couple of small pieces in the back of her thighs – but again, nothing serious. Several other people also had minor injuries, but none was fatally injured, there were no severed limbs.
I looked towards the table I flipped and saw that it was pushed by the explosion 2 m away. Most of the shrapnel ended in it or in the wall or in the bar. Later we were told that we were very lucky as this particular type of grenade was filled with lead pellets and its killing power is much lower. Nevertheless, we have been told that combination of the action of my friend and me most probably saved lives of many.
So from my first hand experience, this is what I did when someone threw a grenade on me 🙂
Nermin Salkic – Gastroenterologist in love with tech