Briton abandoned in jungle survives for 22 days

Click to follow
The Independent Online
PAPUA NEW GUINEA is described by the Foreign Office as an island that poses a "constant threat of danger". Clive Sutton, a British tourist, found this out in a manner he will never forget. Abandoned by a local guide he had hired for a perilous jungle trek, he was forced to fend for himself in the tropical wilderness for 22 days.

Mr Sutton had set out on the Kokoda trail, a 150-mile route that crosses the eastern end of the country, on 21 December. But one day into the trek his guide left him.

Twenty-two days later, Mr Sutton, 30, from Bristol, was discovered by a local family walking along the trail, where more than 2,000 Australians and 13,000 Japanese died in combat during the Second World War. For more than three weeks he had survived on rehydrated noodles and fruit he had foraged in bushland known to be one of the most inhospitable parts of the world.

Yesterday, as Mr Sutton was recovering in a hospital in Australia, his father revealed that he had left Britain partly to forget a car crash on Christmas Day 1992 in which a mother and a young man were killed. Mr Sutton, who had more than twice the legal level of alcohol in his blood when the accident happened, was sentenced to four years in prison after admitting to two charges at Bristol Crown Court of causing death by dangerous driving.

It is not known why Mr Sutton's guide left him stranded, but Jennifer Cox, of guidebook publisher Lonely Planet, suggested he may have been a local man who then robbed him and ran off. She added that now was the worst time of year to trek in Papua New Guinea. "It is the monsoon season at the moment, which makes it dangerously muddy and hazardous. It is very hot and humid and there are ravines full of water with leeches and malaria- carrying mosquitoes," she said.

Mr Sutton was "very, very lucky indeed to be alive", she added. "Papua New Guinea is a tribal society and it is not unusual to come across different tribes fighting each other with bows and arrows. There are also bandits along the way. It is always advisable to get an official guide who knows exactly what they are doing."

Word of Mr Sutton's whereabouts passed from village to village and eventually reached a Salvation Army officer in the capital, Port Moresby. A helicopter crew from the Australian army found him lying in a creek bed near the Gogol river, clutching a half-litre bottle of fetid water.

When rescuers reached him on Wednesday afternoon, he was in too poor condition to be moved. According to yesterday's edition of the Brisbane Courier-Mail, the helicopter pilot, Lewis Beech, said Mr Sutton had "the worst case of tropical foot-rot [caused when blisters burst and go septic] I've ever seen." He is also suffering from malaria and dehydration.

But by the time he was stretchered from an ambulance at the end of his journey to hospital in Cairns, in northern Queensland, Mr Sutton was fit enough to wave at waiting news crews.

A Foreign Office spokesman confirmed Mr Sutton was rescued from the highlands in Papua New Guinea after his guide abandoned him. "We are very grateful to the Australian authorities for the rescue. The High Commissioner has informed Mr Sutton's next of kin and we are following his progress via the Consular General in Brisbane," he said.

The spokesman added that while the Foreign Office did not go as far as advising against non-essential travel to Papua New Guinea, it did warn that the law and order climate remained "extremely poor".