'Dover coastguard, we need your help. Our location? The Amazon...'


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The Independent Online

A retired British couple who spent the past four-and-a-half years travelling across South America in a military-style truck have been rescued after becoming trapped in a ravine in the Amazon jungle.

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Lesley Norris and Bruce Scott, who are from London and in their 60s, made a 5,000-mile Mayday call to relatives in England after a bridge they were driving across collapsed. Their motor-home fell into the ravine 200 miles south-west of the nearest city, Manaus in Brazil.

Trapped inside their vehicle, Mrs Norris, a former BA stewardess, raised the alarm with her brother-in-law who lives in Eastbourne, Sussex. Speaking on a satellite phone, Mrs Norris was able to pass on the GPS co-ordinates of their location.

He contacted Dover Coastguard, which alerted Falmouth Coastguard, an international liaison station. A Brazilian search-and-rescue team was dispatched to the ravine by helicopter.

The couple, said to be "shaken" but unhurt, were taken to Manaus. The Foreign Office was kept informed.

Mrs Norris, who worked for BA for 20 years and Mr Scott, a former professional photographer with "a passion for travel", embarked on their South American odyssey in 2006 after selling their studio flat in Kensington and buying a Mercedes Unimog all-terrain van, used in jungles and deserts as a military vehicle.

They launched their expedition from Altamira on the east coast of Mexico with a plan to drive from there to Panama, ship the van to Ecuador and "drive across and down the length of South America".

Plotting their progress on their TreadTheWorld.com blog, the most recent entry, posted last week, reported that Mr Scott was suffering from the extreme heat as the couple headed to Manaus. Ms Norris wrote: "We have just travelled over 800km from the north Pantanal (tropical wetland) towards Porto Velho in the north-east (upper Amazon river basin) in the searing heat – rising to 40 degrees in the afternoon. Sleeping in the truck in this temperature has not been pleasant, and then Bruce got a cold."

Mr Scott is an experienced traveller who visited the Amazon in 1974 and then one year later escorted and drove several tour groups through Africa. Ms Norris planned to practise her Spanish while in South America.

The blog refers to their "treasured" Unimog vehicle. A post reads: "This is both our transport and our home, complete with double bed and porcelain flushing toilet ... What more could you want when travelling?"

Explaining the motivation for their journey, they wrote: "After working in London for the past 20 years as a photographer ... [Bruce] decided to take a risk, sold his studio flat in West Kensington and invested in the Unimog.

"London Transport-trained on the Routemaster double-decker, his driving skills are well up to the mark." The entry adds: "But will he let Lesley take the helm of his beloved vehicle?"

Coastguards in Falmouth said they were "very happy" that the rescue had been successful. A spokesman said: "We are used to worldwide rescues, the unusual thing is this involved a vehicle accident." The Foreign Office advises British travellers who are in Brazil to drive cautiously because of the poor quality of roads and reckless drivers in many rural areas.