Kiwi survives Papua New Guinea jungle attack

Last updated 11:20 30/06/2011
FRIGHTENING ORDEAL: Matt Scheurich's attacker wanted to marry his  girlfriend.
FRIGHTENING ORDEAL: Matt Scheurich's attacker wanted to marry his girlfriend.

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Kiwi Matthew Scheurich is back in hospital fighting an infection after a horrific arrow attack in Papua New Guinea.

His father, Greg Scheurich, said this morning that Matthew, 28, was "in a great deal of pain" but recovering after he was attacked while intervening to save his partner, Anais Gerard, from a sexual assault near Suabi, in Papua New Guinea's Western Province, 11 days ago.

"We are eternally grateful for the care Matthew has received in PNG and Australia," he said.

"We would like to thank the medical professionals who operated on Matthew. He is recovering well but is still receiving treatment."

One arrow went into Matthew's right lung and the other through his ribs, under his liver and through his stomach, stopping short of the aorta.

After being air-lifted to Kiunga Hospital - a 30 minute flight away - visiting Port Moresby surgeon Dr Charlie Turhars and Australian volunteer doctor Josette Docherty performed four hours of surgery to repair his wounds. Docherty's partner Allan Mason also donated a unit of blood.

Mr Scheurich, who lives in Auckland, said he was flying tomorrow to be at Matthew's bedside.

Matthew was a very private person who did not want his plight in the media, Mr Scheurich said.

"He's still trying to deal with his own trauma and in a great deal of physical pain and trying to deal with that. He's just very very very lucky to be alive."

Matthew's life was saved because Gerard, 29, a French anthropology student, managed to activate a personal locator beacon, and the pair escaped to a village aid post, where they were able to organise an airlift to the port town of Kiunga, a 30-minute flight away.

In the meantime, Matthew, who is from Hamilton and lately from Melbourne, pulled the arrows from his body, causing significant bleeding. His face was also cut by rocks thrown at him. One above his right eye was cut right to the bone.

Mr Scheurich said he had a "huge amount of respect" for not only his son but for his son's girlfriend who had the presence of mind to trigger their emergency locator beacon after the attack. "She is remarkable."

At Kiunga Hospital, Dr Docherty was surprised to see a deathly pale white man being taken into the operating theatre.

In a medical report she said: "Matt had remained conscious throughout [the attack] and was in severe pain."

Mason also performed first aid on Gerard, who had human bites, cuts, scratches and bruises. The injured pair had to wait two more days for a transfer to Australia. Matthew was initially discharged from Cairns Base Hospital on Tuesday.

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His former workmates have reacted with amazement at the jungle heroics of a colleague they remember as a slightly built and quietly spoken man.

He attended Hillcrest High School and studied at Wintec before working at the Waikato Times for 10 months in 2005 as a graphic designer.

While working at the Times he featured on the cover of lifestyle magazine Tempo, when the shaggy-haired graphic designer was transformed in a makeover which involved shorter hair and new clothes.

Colleague and Waikato Times graphic artist Andy McGregor remembered Matthew as a multi-talented "geek" with wide-ranging interests.

He was shocked to hear of his narrow escape: "I don't know what he was doing out there being a hero."

He said Matthew was a fan of the hip-hop genre nerdcore, and performed and recorded several music videos under the name MC Stormtroopa.

He also worked at the Waikato University student magazine Nexus and was involved in Mammoth, a Hamilton-based gig guide venture with friends Shane Dudfield and Pete Dawson, before he headed off overseas.

Dudfield said he could not comment because Matthew had asked not to be contacted.

"I hope he's well," his friend said.

A spokeswoman for Australian Doctors International said the personal locator beacon probably saved Matthew's life.

"The guy was lucky because of his age and because the village [Suabi] had a radio, an aid post and an airstrip, so the plane could get in," she said. Without the locator beacon, he would have bled to death. The spokeswoman said the violent attack was "an extremely unfortunate and rare incident. Generally, we find the people there warm, hospitable and proud to share their culture with foreigners".

Catholic Bishop Gilles Cote, of PNG's Daru-Kiunga diocese, said it appeared the couple's attacker was a tribesman who wanted to marry Gerard but turned aggressive when he was rejected.

In March, Matthew blogged: "Out of office: Gone to Papua New Guinea to live in the jungle, be back in 6 months' time or so."

- The Dominion Post and Waikato Times

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