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Authors: Chris Ryan

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If only he would come closer, we might get a shot at him.

The red light in the chin turret winked and a burst of shells blasted over our heads. Snow and earth rained down on us. The gunner took another burst, chewing up the bush to my left, then evidently decided to take a closer look. The Apache's nose dipped and it came skimming in towards us, moving fast, chain-gun rattling as it came.

I could feel the rounds hosing closer and closer, kicking up debris as they detonated in the snow; I could smell the phosphorus from the tracer in the base of each round. The noise of the twin engines was intensely loud, the rotor thudding almost directly over where we lay, whipping up the snow into a blur around us. The gunner was firing in short bursts, but he was shooting behind us.

Now was the moment. I jumped up from the snow, my weapon vertical, and swung the grenade launcher towards the dark shape overhead, aiming for the centre of the main rotor disk. It would take an extraordinarily lucky shot to penetrate the Apache's armour with the 23mm grenade. I was shooting at extreme range, but there was a chance I might frighten the pilot off. If not, I had definitely given away our position to the gunner for his next pass.

Where the round went I didn't see but there was no flash of an explosion. I worked the slide swiftly, chambering a fresh round; rifle fire was useless against the Apache's thick armour.

The helicopter swung back round in a tight circle, put its nose down again and came swooping back for the kill, angered by the infantryman who had dared to fight back with his puny weapon. Cannon shells burst around me as I sprinted forward in a desperate attempt to lead the firing away from where Concha lay.

Then I saw Nobby jump up from where he had been lying away to my left, the last RPG tube clamped to his shoulder. Hardly pausing to aim, he squeezed the trigger. There was a swish and the rocket grenade scorched upward, trailing smoke. The pilot must have seen it, because the Apache banked violently on to the starboard wing-stub. I thought the grenade was going to miss, but then I saw the flash of an explosion as the warhead detonated under the tail rotor.

The Apache was already banking hard over. It climbed for a moment, then, deprived of the stabilising thrust of the tail rotor,

it spun round several times, flipped over on to its back and fell away from us, plummeting downwards.

There was nothing the pilot could do. In another instant the craft struck the ground a hundred metres away with a terrific impact, exploding violently into flames.

I ran back to where Concha lay. "Are you OK?" I cried.

She got to her feet and nodded shakily as she stared at the horror of the blazing crash. The crew never stood a chance of getting out.

"The phone?" she said.

I nodded. "I was stupid. Of course the Argentines would be monitoring the phones. Seb must have told them the system. They homed in on the GPS signal and ran us down. He didn't care if he died so long as he took us with him."

Nobby was stumbling jubilantly through the snow to join us, Kiwi and Doug following him. Amazingly none of us had been hit by the shelling or the rockets. The burning helicopter was throwing off a fierce heat and spare rounds from the chain-gun were popping off like firecrackers. In the lurid light of the fire, choking smoke drifted across the snow-covered ground.

"We need to move out fast," I said. "This lot will bring out everyone in the neighbourhood. We've an hour before dawn to make the border."

"The border is not far from here," Concha said, 'and I know a way across."

Dawn had reached us, and a keen wind was blowing from clear skies. The snow was crisp and hard along the path. I had lost count of how far we had walked. According to my watch we had been going two hours. The country here was unchanging -featureless pampas with clumps of long grass, heather and gorse. The reaction from the attack had set in and we were drained. I felt as if I had been walking all night.

Led by Concha, we had circled round the border crossing and were making for a village on the Chilean side. There were no markings that I could see, unless we had passed them earlier in the darkness. We might be

"Someone's coming," called Kiwi, who was scouting in front. "Looks like a kid with a bike."

"Hide yourselves," Concha said. "I will ask for directions."

Wearily we ducked down behind a clump of grass and waited. The boy approached slowly, pushing his bicycle through the snow. He wore a red hat and was singing a little tune to himself. He greeted Concha politely, and they spoke in Spanish for some minutes. Concha seemed to be questioning him animatedly. The boy pointed down the track. Shit, I thought, we've still a way to go.

At last they bade one another farewell and the boy trudged on.

Concha came leaping through the snow to join us. Her face was beaming.

I stood up. "How much further?"

She laughed. "Haifa kilo metre to the village. But it is OK, we are in Chilean territory. We are safe!"

There were whoops of relief from the others. "About fucking time!" Doug said as he sat down in the snow.

Concha was still smiling. I looked at her. "There's something else, isn't there?" I said. "What else did the boy tell you?"

She nodded. "The boy was an Argentine but living in Chile. He was on his way to catch the bus to Rio Grande. He said that on the news half an hour ago it was reported from Buenos Aires that the military junta has fallen. Argentina is free again!"

"So the fighting is over," I said. My mind was so dulled with fatigue I could hardly take it in.

She flung her arms around my neck. "The fighting is over. You have fought your last mission, soldier."

Chris Ryan was born near Newcastle in 1961, he joined the SAS in 1984. During his ten years he was involved in overt and covert operations he was also Sniper team commander of the anti-terrorist team. During the Gulf War, Chris was the only member of an eight-man team to escape from Iraq, of which three colleagues were killed and four captured. It was the longest escape and evasion in the history of the SAS. For this he was awarded the Military Medal. For his last two years he was selecting and training potential recruits for the SAS. He wrote about his experiences in the bestseller The One That Got Away (1995) which was also adapted for screen. He is also the author of the bestsellers, Stand By, Stand By (1996), Zero Option (1997), The Kremlin Device (1998), Tenth Man Down (1999),77?e Hit List (2000) and The Watchman (2001). Chris Ryan's SAS Fitness Book is also published by Century. He lectures in business motivation and security and is currently workinp as a bodyguard in America.

Author's photo: Michael Trevillion ISBN: 0 7126 1545 8

BOOK: Land of Fire
12.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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