I remember thinking, this is crazy. It couldn't be. I was going to die in the middle of the jungle of Guyana, so far away from my family and friends.
We were in the process of boarding the two small planes at Port Kaituma's jungle landing strip near the end of a curious story about a congressman wanting to investigate a freaky religious commune in Guyana. Suddenly the story was no longer zany. Three men on a dump truck and tractor approaching our aircraft began shooting at us. I went down.
The bodies of my fellow passengers started rolling over me as the shooting intensified. The shots were louder now - and closer. I could feel dirt spraying over me but I didn't hear anyone screaming or moaning. Just the pop-pop-pop of the bullets.
I lay there behind the plane's wheel, still, hoping they would think I was dead. Just how long the assault lasted I don't know. I heard the shots seemingly being further away. Once I got up it was clear that the expedition led by Congressman Leo J. Ryan of California had ended in a tragedy.
In retrospect, only the 16 disaffected members of the People's Temple who had decided to leave that day with the congressman viewed the appearance of the dump truck and tractor from Jonestown with a sense of foreboding. There was going to be trouble, they said.
I remember several of us saying that nothing was going to happen. The dump truck and tractor were at the other end of the strip, too far away to cause any problems. We were in the process of deciding who was going to go on the two planes and who would stay behind for lack of space.
The congressman and his assistant, Jackie Speier, became more anxious to get people boarded. They must have sensed that the situation was becoming explosive.
It was then I saw the men from the Jonestown tractor starting across the strip toward us. They didn't appear to be armed. I thought maybe they would try to keep by force some of those who had decided to abandon the sect.
I remember seeing the three men pushing a group of Guyanese who had gathered back from the aircraft. The the shooting began.
It was coming from the side of the aircraft where I was standing. I didn't bother to look. When I dove behind the plane's wheel, I landed on top of someone already there, thinking that the wheel might protect me from the shots being fired on the other side of the plane.
I knew then I was in the wrong place because they had come around to my side of the plane. Suddenly, my left hip burned. I felt a part of a tooth chip, and I knew I had been hit.
I was helpless. I thought that I wanted to be home. I was waiting to die and, as the seconds went by, I became resigned. Okay, I was ready, Let's just have it.
Then after shots seemed further away, I peered down the runway. I saw the tractor and the truck leaving. I suddenly became aware that the plane's engines were revving up. If that plane was going, I was going to get on it.
I jumped up and ran around to the plane's door on the other side. Jackie Speier was standing by the luggage door. She said she was injured, that she couldn't make it in. I grabbed her waist and got her on board. I jumped in after.
I remember her saying that she was badly hurt and her asking if her boss, Congressman Ryan, was okay. I said I didn't know.
The plane was disabled, however. The tire opposite the one I laid behind had been shot. One engine, too, had been damaged.
After a few seconds it became apparent that the plane couldn't take off. Someone ordered us out.
Most of those aboard were people who had defected from Jonestown that day. About six of them ran for the jungle on the side of the airstrip.
Richard Dwyer, the deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy; Bob Flick, the NBC producer; and Neville Annibourne, the Guyanese information officer who was serving as the government liaison decided to join them.
I looked back at the plane. Bodies were scattered under and around it. Less than two feet from where I had lain was the body of congressman Ryan. Two feet on the other side of the wheel was the body of Don Harris of NBC.
Under the plane was the body of Greg Robinson of the San Francisco Examiner. A woman, who I was later to find out was Patricia Parks, a sect member, was lying dead near the plane door.
At the back of the plane, near the tail, was Bob Brown, the NBC cameraman. Near him was Steve Song, another NBC technician, very badly wounded. Nearby was Tony Katsaris, whose sister Maria was one of those in the hierarchy at Jonestown. He was badly wounded. Dwyer, himself shot in the thigh, took charge. He was tireless, frim and brave.
We moved the badly wounded into the brush at the side of the runway. There were rumors, told to us by townspeople, that the Jonestown gunmen were coming back to finish us off. Whenever we heard a motor on the road at the far end of the runway, the Guyanese would all run away. We would run into the brush.
One nightmare was over but another had begun. The Guyanese weren't sure who was really responsible for the massacre. We were under suspicion. Dwyer got the local police to set up a roadblock and to radio for help. But we were never sure that the roadblock was permanent, nor were we absolutely sure that word had been relayed to Georgetown.
We were told that the Guyanese Army was coming to evacuate us. We waited for a plane to land. We waited for help - all the while fearing another attack from Jonestown.
We moved the wounded to a small army tent at the end of the runway, manned by four armed soldiers who had done nothing to stop the massacre nor the Jonestown people from getting away. But there was nowhere else, as the evening turned into a moonless night, to put the four people who couldn't walk.
Dwyer and Flick stayed with the wounded throughout the night. I was more or less in charge of the others who spent the night in the Rum House, a small bar not far from the air strip.
It was guarded by a man with a gun and another with a knife. In fact, we were again helpless.
The disaffected members of the People's Temple who were in the Rum House told us their stories of horror about the concentration camp they had lived in. They also told us they had no doubt the gunmen would return.
Every time we heard a truck or a strange noise, we hid as best we could.
Every now and then, someone would come to tell us the army was on its way. Finally, about 6:00 a.m. yesterday, some 13 hours after the massacre, the first army units arrived.
The terror was almost over. I went with Dwyer, who had come to see if we were all right, to the tent where the wounded had spent the night. It was a sad, awful sight. The bugs were running over the bodies of the three men and one woman who had spent the night on the earthen floor of the Army tent. But at least no one had died.
I kept thinking that if the bullet that had grazed my hip had been an inch or two to the right, I would be in the tent with the badly wounded. Or dead.
Someone would say that Leo J. Ryan was right. He knew something was terribly wrong at Jonestown. He sensed - even if he might be ridiculed for making the trip - that he should come and try to unmask horror.
We were along for the ride.
When I flew out of Port Kaituma yesterday afternoon, Mr. Ryan's body was right where it was when he died. So were the bodies of the four others, exactly where they had been when the gunmen opened fire. I took one last look at them as the rescue plane tore down the runway for Georgetown.