Shot SA adventurer 'has heart of a lion'

2012-08-28 09:00

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Durban - A young Durban adventurer was left to die in the Peruvian jungle when two bandits blasted him with shotguns as he paddled a tributary of the Amazon River.

Conservationist Davey du Plessis, 24, was on his own in the thick of the South American jungle attempting a gruelling journey along the length of the mighty river when he was attacked on Saturday afternoon.

Severely wounded with a punctured lung and burning pellets embedded in his body, Du Plessis thought the end had come.

But, as his tearful mom Robyn Wolff recounted from her Umhlanga home on Monday, her son refused to give up.

“You don’t understand this child, he’s not normal,” she said through sobs, talking about her son’s tenacity. “He’s got the heart of a lion.”

Without such spirit, Du Plessis may never have survived the ordeal in one of the remotest regions on the planet.

He was attempting the first authentic and self-documented solo navigation of the Amazon - all 6 500km of it - from its source in the Andes to Brazil, where it empties into the Atlantic Ocean. He began on July 1 and was expecting to finish in December. The trip was intended to draw attention to conservation of the Earth.

The attack came at about 16:00 (21:00 SA time) as he was drifting down the Ucayali River, one of the Amazon’s main tributaries. The nearest town - Pucallpa - was hours away by boat.

Wolff said her son had notified the military he was entering the area and also told the head of the local indigenous tribe. He was given their approval.

Du Plessis was paddling in a collapsible kayak and because of its fragile nature and the lively attention of the waterway’s inquisitive river dolphins, he stuck closer to the shore.

That, believes Wolff, gave his assailants an opportunity. Without warning, they fired on him.

In a tumultuous few minutes, Du Plessis was shot numerous times and at that point, as he told his mother later by phone from his hospital bed, he thought it was all over.

“They stole everything from him,” said Wolff, including his satellite phone and a rescue beacon. In all, he lost R100 000 of equipment.

Summoning all his strength, Du Plessis fled from his attackers and stumbled five kilometres through the jungle, with wounds to the head, neck, back, torso and arms.

Eventually, a village on the other side of the river came into view and Du Plessis tried to hail the residents.

“But when he shouted, no sound came out because he had been shot in the neck,” cried Wolff.

When the villagers finally came to his aid, they spent an hour demanding money from him. It was only when he started vomiting blood that they jumped into action.

Wolff said her son was wrapped in blankets and plastic, placed in a boat and taken to Pucallpa, a journey of about four hours.

The first Wolff knew of her son’s ordeal was about 16:00 on Sunday, SA time. A man who identified himself as Darwin called her from a public phone and told her Du Plessis had been in an accident.

Because of the language barrier, Wolff had no more information to go on and the panic set in. “I couldn’t understand this guy. He couldn’t tell me where he was.”

An hour later she finally got a call from her son, who used a doctor’s phone to call home.

Wolff got hold of his medical insurance company and a chartered flight was arranged to the Anglo America hospital in Lima.

Wolff, who hopes to fly to South America this week, said her son’s dad, Louis, who lives in the United States, arrived on Monday.

She was told the facility was first-class and that doctors were waiting for him to regain his strength before operating.

She said surgeons were most concerned about shotgun pellets lodged dangerously close to his heart and in his throat.

They would also look to remove pellets from his skull and damaged lung. His condition has been described as stable.

Officials from department of international relations and co-operation were trying to confirm details of the incident on Monday night, as was South African Breweries, whose local staff came to the assistance of Du Plessis in Pucallpa and have remained at his side since.

Visit worldwonderer.co.za for more on Du Plessis’s adventure.

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