Rescued British Explorer had Malaria and Made Farewell Video to Family

Benedict Allen awaiting rescue from heart of Papua New Guinea

By Jonathan Manning
Published 17 Nov 2017, 00:12 GMT
Benedict Allen reads maps on a previous 1,000-mile crossing of the Namib Desert.
Benedict Allen reads maps on a previous 1,000-mile crossing of the Namib Desert.
Photograph by adrian arbib / Alamy Stock Photo

Back home after his dramatic rescue from the jungle in Papua New Guinea, the British explorer Benedict Allen has told of his life-threatening ordeal.

Allen was found alive close to a remote airstrip in the jungle weak with malaria, after being out of contact with the outside world for three weeks.

He had set off on an expedition to reach the Yaifo tribe, but fears for his safety had risen after he failed to return to the capital, Port Moresby.

Speaking to the BBC, Allen said an entire set of circumstances had combined against him.

"There was a huge amount of unexpected rains, one of the great vine bridges we had to use got swept away in the torrents, then as I climbed higher and higher and higher (I was trying to track down people I used to live with) I began to feel chills and uncomfortable at night I knew I might have malaria. I’ve had it five times and almost died of it twice," he said.

"And then I discovered there was a war going on ahead between two communities, so my way out of the forest was blocked."

Fearing for his survival, he made a 'heartrending' farewell video to his three children, aged 2, 7 and 10.

"I talked to the camera saying. 'I haven’t given up, I still aim to get out, I won’t fail you', but in my heart I thought I might well fail them," said Allen.

Fears had been mounting for the safety of Benedict Allen.
Photograph by @FrankRGardner

He had been travelling solo and without either a satellite phone or GPS, because, as he wrote in his final blog before departing, “this is how I do my journeys of exploration. I grow older but no wiser, it seems."

His final tweet before flying to Papua New Guinea had echoes of Captain Lawrence Oates, a member of Captain Robert Scott’s doomed Antarctic mission: “I may be some time (don’t try to rescue me please – where I’m going in PNG you won’t ever find me you know…).

British explorer Benedict Allen.
Photograph by Niall McDiarmid / Alamy Stock Photo

Allen had been heading deep into the jungle to find the Yaifo, a tribe he first encountered 30 years ago, and considered to be, “the remotest people in Papua New Guinea, and one of the last people on the entire planet who are out-of-contact with our interconnected world.”

His goal had been, “to create a brief record of their lives,” and if possible track down some of the Yaifo he first met three decades ago. But rather ominously, he added, “Of course, I may not even make it there – even aged 26 it was a very hard hike up through rather treacherous terrain.”

Fellow explorer, Will Millard, went missing for weeks in the Papua rainforest five years ago after getting lost, and had to hack his way through enveloping jungle to reach safety. He told The Guardian, “There were parts of the forest where you couldn’t see in front of your face. There were some days when we’d cut for 15 hours and only make 500 metres. It was completely disheartening. But the best thing you can do is keep going.

“You lose track of time completely. You think about your family and what you’ve left behind at home. You consider that your actions are probably quite selfish. But you just think: ‘Today we’re going to make it to that tree and then that ridge line.’”

Allen is an experienced and highly regarded explorer, whose expeditions include a crossing of Mongolia and the Gobi Desert, a trek from the mouth of the Orinoco to the mouth of the Amazon, and a thousand-mile trek with camels through the Namib Desert in Africa.

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