TV explorer vanishes searching for lost tribe of headhunters
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