21 Apr 2011

Two photographers die in Libyan rocket attack

British filmmaker Tim Hetherington and US photographer Chris Hondros were killed and two other journalists injured by mortar fire in the besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Jonathan Miller pays tribute.

Tim Hetherington at an awards ceremony last year (Reuters)

Tim Hetherington, co-director of Oscar-nominated war documentary Restrepo, was working with Getty photographer Chris Hondros as part of a group on Tripoli Street in Misrata, a main road and the scene of fighting between rebels and forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi.

“It was quiet and we were trying to get away and then a mortar landed and we heard explosions,” Spanish photographer Guillermo Cervera said. The only rebel-held city in western Libya has come under weeks of relentless shelling by Government troops that has killed hundreds of Libyans.

Mr Hetherington, who is reported to have recently married, wrote on his Twitter profile last night, saying: “In besieged Libyan city of Misrata. Indiscriminate shelling by Qaddafi forces. No sign of Nato.”

Libya Government ‘sorry’

The Libyan Government expressed sadness over the deaths of the photographers.

Spokesman Moussa Ibrahim said: “We are sorry for the loss of any human life, of course. We have said this before, we are sorry for the loss of the rebels’ lives, and we said we want people to stop fighting, so no one dies.

“We do not kill anyone that does not fight us. We need to check the circumstances in which [these] journalists died. And it’s war of course. People die from our side, from their side, people get caught in the middle. We need to check the circumstances. But of course we are very sad that someone died.”

In Pictures – Photo Gallery: Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros

Click on the image to see more photos from Tim Hetherington and Chris Hondros

Mr Hetherington, 41, who was born in Liverpool and studied Literature at Oxford University, was a contributing photographer for Vanity Fair magazine. His family issued a statement saying they had learned of his death with great sadness and said that he would be remembered “for his amazing images and his Academy Award nominated documentary Restrepo.”

Chris Hondros was also an experienced photographer and had worked in many major conflict zones including Kosovo, Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq. Two other journalists were also hit, with one other, Guy Martin, in a very serious condition.

Mr Hetherington, who had dual British and American nationality, was best known for his work in Afghanistan, and won the World Press Photo of the Year Award in 2007. His work in Afghanistan led to his creation of the 2010 Oscar-nominated documentary Restrepo.

Fired up by injustice
Tim Hetherington was on the side of the side of the angels
. He was a man fired up by injustice, who used his huge creative talents to give voice to the voiceless. That's why he'll have been in Misrata.

His intention – as it was so many times in the past – would have been to paint a thoughtful portrait of life in the line of fire. To show the reality of life for those holding out against Muammar Gaddafi's repressive regime…and to give a lie to its lies that the Libyan armed forces are not firing indiscriminately into civilian areas. Sadly, his death is proof that they were.

At great personal risk, Tim Hetherington would have sought to ensure that the watching world could not plead ignorance of the tragic humanitarian disaster unfolding in Misrata.

Read more in Jonathan Miller's blog, Tim Hetherington: a tribute

He also made short films about the soldiers he met in the Korengal Valley in eastern Afghanistan and released a book of pictures, called Infidel, showing the lives of the men of a battle company of the 173rd Airborne.

A statement on the Vanity Fair website said: “Hetherington was widely respected by his peers for his bravery and camaraderie. His imaginative, even artistic, approach to photojournalistic subjects led to many honours.”

PR worker Cathy Saypol, who represented Hetherington for several years, said: “We are saddened beyond words that our friend, photographer and film-maker, Tim Hetherington, was killed in Misrata this morning.”

Heavy mortar fire continued to hit Misrata overnight, killing three rebel fighters and wounding 17 more, according to a rebel spokesman.