Matthew Scott could have started college last fall. Instead the
British engineering student took a year off to bum around South
America. He hoped to accomplish three things: learn Spanish, do
some charity work and hone his circus skills. "He is very
interested in juggling," says his father, James. Matthew, 19,
never figured he'd spend part of his "gap year," as the British
call it, performing a death-defying high-wire act.
On Sept. 12 Scott and seven other backpackers were seized by
gunmen while hiking to the ruins of Ciudad Perdida (the Lost
City), a pre-Columbian archeological site in Colombia's Sierra
Nevada National Park. The leftist National Liberation Army (ELN)
claimed responsibility for the abduction, saying it was part of
operation Allende Lives, marking the 30th anniversary of the
military coup that toppled Chile's Socialist president Salvador
Allende, who died during the insurrection. According to the
guerrillas the abduction was supposed to draw attention to the
plight of the Sierra Nevada's peasants and Indians, whose food
supply had been cut off by soldiers and outlawed paramilitary
Scott and the other captives--four Israelis, a Briton, a German
and a Spaniard--were marched through the mountains. On Day 10 of
the ordeal Scott broke free. He leaped off a cliff and into a
swollen river. "It was raining in the mountains, the visibility
wasn't good," he later said. "I saw a chance and ran. I heard the
river on the right, and I followed the sound. I jumped over the
edge very quickly. I was lucky not to break my arms or legs."
Unable to find his way back to Ciudad Perdida, Scott wandered
alone through the jungle. For two days he lived on fruit and
river water. Dizzy and vomiting, he finally stumbled upon a group
of Kogi Indians, who fed him soup and beans and led him to safety.
After being helicoptered to a hospital in Santa Marta, Scott was
debriefed at the British Embassy in hopes he could help rescuers
locate the remaining hostages. Though negotiations between the
Colombian government and the ELN--who released a statement saying
the group was seeking "a peaceful solution to this
operation"--are under way, as of Monday no backpackers had been
released. Some 1,200 Colombian troops meanwhile continued to
search a zone in the mountains between 10,000 and 11,500 feet.
Last week Scott flew to England and was reunited with his family
in the London suburbs. This week he begins his coursework at
Oxford. "I'm happy to be back with my family, and I'm looking
forward to university," he said. "I'm going to be just fine. Life
is looking pretty good." --Franz Lidz
COLOR PHOTO: RCN VIA APTN/AP SURVIVOR'S STORY Scott faced the mikes from his hospital bed in Santa Marta.
IN HARM'S WAY
MATTHEW SCOTT is not the only adventurer to encounter hazards
beyond those found in nature. Here are three other similarly
--AUG. 12, 2000 Four U.S. climbers on an expedition in Kyrgyzstan
are taken hostage by a guerrilla group linked to al-Qaeda. They
escape six days later when one climber allegedly pushes a guard
off a cliff.
--DEC. 5, 2001 Sailor Sir Peter Blake of New Zealand is on a
two-month expedition on the Amazon when pirates attack his
schooner Seamaster. Blake, the 1995 and 2000 America's Cup
winner, is fatally shot.
--FEBRUARY 2003 Thirty-two European trekkers are abducted in the
Sahara 1,000 miles south of Algiers by extreme Islamic
fundamentalists. All but one are released by August. One dies in