TV ex­plorer van­ishes search­ing for lost tribe of head­hunters

Scottish Daily Mail - - Front Page - By Sam Green­hill Chief Re­porter­hill@dai­ly­

A BRI­TISH ex­plorer has van­ished on a quest to reach a lost tribe of head­hunters.

Bene­dict Allen was dropped by he­li­copter into the re­mote jun­gles of Pa­pua New Guinea three weeks ago and has not been heard of since.

His wife Lenka is fran­tic with worry be­cause he is sup­posed to have started his jour­ney home by Sun­day.

The 57-year-old fa­ther of three, who has ex­plored the Gobi desert and the Ama­zon in a life­time of ad­ven­tur­ing – once eat­ing his own dog to sur­vive, has no phone or GPS de­vice.

He was on a mis­sion to reach the Yaifo – a tribe thought to be one of the last on Earth to have no con­tact with out­siders.

They live in the croc­o­dile-in­fested jun­gles of East Sepik, a prov­ince lack­ing proper roads or nav­i­ga­ble rivers.

Mr Allen, who has made six TV se­ries

‘Quite a scary bunch’

for the BBC, was ex­pected back in the cap­i­tal Port Moresby on Sun­day for a flight to Hong Kong to give a speech at its branch of the Royal Ge­o­graph­i­cal So­ci­ety.

‘His wife Lenka has not heard from him,’ said his agent Joanna Sarsby. ‘She is very wor­ried. He would never miss some­thing like the Hong Kong talk un­less some­thing had hap­pened.

‘He is a highly ex­pe­ri­enced ex­plorer, very clever and re­source­ful and adept at sur­viv­ing in the most hos­tile places on Earth, and he would never give up. He may not be a young man any more but he is very fit.

‘He was try­ing to reach the Yaifo peo­ple, a very re­mote and reclu­sive tribe – pos­si­bly head­hunters, quite a scary bunch. Good­ness knows what has hap­pened.

‘I just imag­ine he might have been taken ill or is ly­ing in­jured some­where, per­haps with a bro­ken leg, and maybe be­ing helped by lo­cals. He never takes a phone with him – he be­lieves in liv­ing like the lo­cals. For him not to come back is re­ally odd.’

Mr Allen and his Czech-born wife mar­ried in 2007 and have a house in Bris­tol with their chil­dren Natalya, ten, Fred­die, seven, and Beatrice, two.

Be­fore meet­ing his wife he briefly dated Mick Jag­ger’s ex-wife, model Jerry Hall.

His ad­ven­tures in­clude the first doc­u­mented jour­ney the length of the Namib Desert and be­ing the only per­son known to have crossed the full width of the 1,000-mile Gobi Desert with camels alone.

Mr Allen sur­vived by eat­ing his own dog dur­ing a 1982 trek across the Brazil­ian rain­for­est. He and the stray – whose paw he had healed – got lost in the jun­gle af­ter flee­ing gold­min­ers who at­tacked him. He says they got steadily weaker un­til ‘I was starv­ing to death – the only thing left was to eat the dog’.

Ear­lier this year, BBC2 screened a doc­u­men­tary in which Mr Allen took BBC cor­re­spon­dent Frank Gard­ner, who uses a wheel­chair, on a per­ilous jour­ney into the heart of Pa­pua New Guinea in search of rare birds of par­adise.

The far-flung is­land na­tion, just north of Aus­tralia, is al­most en­tirely dense jun­gle. Mr Allen first met the Yaifo peo­ple 30 years ago as a young ex­plorer, and set off in search of the same guide he met then, hop­ing to film them for a BBC doc­u­men­tary.

In his fi­nal blog post on his web­site, he wrote ex­cit­edly about his lat­est quest, say­ing: ‘The Yaifo are one of the last peo­ple on the en­tire planet who are out of con­tact with our in­ter­con­nected world.

‘I’m hir­ing a he­li­copter to drop me off at the aban­doned mis­sion sta­tion, Biso­rio – a for­lorn place.

‘Last time, the Yaifo greeted me with a terrifying show of strength, an en­er­getic dance fea­tur­ing their bows and ar­rows. On this oc­ca­sion who knows if the Yaifo will do the same. Nor do I have an ob­vi­ous means of re­turn­ing to the out­side world, which is some­what wor­ry­ing, es­pe­cially at my ad­vanced age.

‘Ei­ther I must pad­dle down river for a week or so – or en­list the help of the Yaifo, as I did last time.

‘So, if this web­site or my Twit­ter ac­count falls more than usu­ally silent – I’m due back mid-Novem­ber – it’s be­cause I am still out there some­where.

‘So, don’t bother to call or text! Just like the good old days, I won’t be tak­ing a satel­lite phone, GPS or com­pan­ion. Or any­thing else much. Be­cause this is how I do my jour­neys of ex­plo­ration. I grow older but no wiser, it seems.’

Last night a For­eign Of­fice spokesman said: ‘Our staff are as­sist­ing the fam­ily of a Bri­tish man who has been re­ported miss­ing in Pa­pua New Guinea, and are con­tact­ing the lo­cal au­thor­i­ties.’

On his maiden visit to the coun­try, aged 24, Mr Allen be­came the first out­sider to un­dergo a ‘croc­o­dile ini­ti­a­tion cer­e­mony’.

There were no croc­o­diles, but the ini­ti­a­tion in­volved be­ing held in a small en­clo­sure for six weeks and be­ing cer­e­mo­ni­ously beaten, leav­ing him scarred for life with ‘croc­o­dile skin’ mark­ings.

In­trepid ad­ven­turer: Bene­dict Allen with wife Lenka

TV ad­ven­turer: Bene­dict Allen in Pa­pua New Guinea with the BBC’s Frank Gard­ner last year Doc­u­men­tary: Mr Allen mak­ing a film on medicine men in Indonesia and, be­low, with his wife Lenka, who is des­per­ate for news of him

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