British couple die after shell blast in Saudi desert

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The Independent Online

A British couple died in the Saudia Arabia desert yesterday in a bizarre incident which reportedly involved an unexploded shell.

A British couple died in the Saudia Arabia desert yesterday in a bizarre incident which reportedly involved an unexploded shell.

The husband, who had worked in Saudi Arabia for 25 years, died after picking up a metal object which exploded, and his wife, left stranded in the desert, died later of thirst.

She tried to call for help on her mobile phone but could not say exactly where she was. She was found dead three and a half hours later.

Ian McGhee, 48, and Susan Hawson, 36, worked in Jeddah and on Friday set out to picnic in the desert near the small working-class town of Bahrah, 25 miles east of Jeddah.

It is now believed that Mr McGhee picked up an unexploded shell and that the couple had strayed into a military training area.

In July, three children were killed and three others were seriously injured in the same area after playing with an artillery shell which exploded.

A Foreign Office spokesman yesterday confirmed the couple's death. "It appears that the two strayed into an area used for military training and were killed after approaching an as-yet unidentified explosive device."

Ms Hawson had called the Saudi authorities on her mobile phone but could not give them a precise location. A search and rescue party found her dead three and a half hours later. Doctors said she had died of thirst and exhaustion after continuous exposure to the sun.

Temperatures in that area reach more than 45C (113F) at this time of year.

The Saudi Gazette newspaper said Mr McGhee had been working in Saudi Arabia for 25 years.

Ms Hawson worked at King Khaled's National Guards hospital in Jeddah. The couple's bodies have been transferred to the King Khaled hospital.

A British Embassy spokeswoman in Saudi said yesterday: "The military are supposed to be sending out a search party in the area where the explosion happened, to try and find out what exactly it was that caused these deaths."

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