Student stranded in jungle battles his way to safety

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The Independent US

A British student who went missing in South America after falling into a river and being swept over a waterfall, has been found safe and well. He was saved by the air in his backpack, which kept him afloat, but was then marooned alone in the jungle for nearly two weeks.

A British student who went missing in South America after falling into a river and being swept over a waterfall, has been found safe and well. He was saved by the air in his backpack, which kept him afloat, but was then marooned alone in the jungle for nearly two weeks.

Luke Dance was found on a bus heading towards the Bolivian capital La Paz. He was discovered during a routine check by police who recognised him from a poster issued by the British embassy. Interpol, the Foreign Office and the Peruvian, Bolivian and Chilean embassies had all joined forces to hunt for the missing student.

Luke. aged, 19, had gone trekking alone in the Bolivian jungle for the last two weeks of an eight-week trip to South America. The alarm was raised when he failed to arrive for a rendezvous with friends.

Michael Dance, his father, who flew to Bolivia at the weekend to search for his son, said Luke had built himself a camp and was hoping to signal to passers by but after two weeks when his food was running out he realised he would have to try and make his own way out - over another waterfall.

Luke, who is about to start the second year of a management science course at Loughborough University and is due to join the Royal Engineers after his degree, was part of a 12-strong Officer Training Corps expedition to South America. The group had planned to retrace the routes of Inca trails and map them for the Peruvian government but their sponsorship fell through at the last minute. They decided, however, to make the trip anyway.

A month ago, Luke, who had kept in regular touch with his divorced parents in Sussex, sent his father an e-mail to say he was planning to travel alone for three weeks before meeting up with his friends in the Peruvian capital, Lima, to catch a flight home on 15 September.

That was the last they heard from him.

On the fourth day of his solo trek in the Yungas - an sub-tropical area of lush, steep-sided valleys - Luke ran into trouble. His father said yesterday: "It was wet. He ended up on the wrong path and lost his footing in the mud.

"The weight of his backpack took him over the side and he fell into the river. He could not climb back out because it was too steep. He ended up falling over a 15ft waterfall."

When Luke eventually realised that no help was coming, and he was down to the last of his rations, he had to take the only route out he could find. He tumbled over waterfalls and rapids for two days before managing to get out of the river valley and make his way to the nearest village. From there he took a bus heading for La Paz.

"He is OK in himself," said his father yesterday.

"He has got some injuries to his legs and has lost two stone. He is very weak."

Earlier this week, Mr Dance, from Climping, near Littlehampton, West Sussex, said his son was "incredibly fit" and well equipped to deal with potentially dangerous activities such as climbing and trekking. A keen sportsman, he has done a parachute jump, and a bungee jump, a 6,000 metre mountain climb as well as whitewater rafting.

Mr Dance and his son are expected to fly home today.

Luke's mother, Lynn Coleman, from Crawley, West Sussex, said she had spoken to her son who was "a little subdued and extremely tired".

"He sounded like he just wanted to come home to his family and get back to university this weekend," she said.

"He's a little bit battered and bruised, he told me he slipped off the track and fell down a the mountainside. He said he couldn't climb backup and it just took him that long to find his way back to civilisation."

The Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We are very pleased that Luke Dance has been found safe and well and we are grateful to our staff in La Paz and Lima and also to the Bolivian authorities."

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