Kiwi caught in PNG bandit attack

MICHAEL FIELD
Last updated 17:59 12/09/2013
Nick Benett
The National
IN HARM'S WAY: New Zealander Nick Bennett.

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A New Zealander caught in a bandit attack while trekking in a remote area of Papua New Guinea has given a vivid description of how he was beaten before two of the tour party's porters were hacked to death by machetes.

Nick Bennett, a former policeman from Rotorua, was belted on the head with a rifle butt when the Australia-based adventurers and their local guides were ambushed on the Black Cat Track in northern PNG's Morobe province on Tuesday night.

The 55-year-old Queensland businessman recounted the horrific encounter before the group left the PNG capital Port Moresby for Cairns in Far North Queensland today.

"We just witnessed a butchery. A slaughter. I still don't really know how to explain it to be honest. It's just appalling.

"We're very, very fortunate," Bennett told Channel 9, as he comforted fellow trekker Rod Clarke.

"The porters, their families, the villagers, we just feel so, so sorry for them."

Bennett's head was gashed when he was struck with a rifle butt when he opened his tent after hearing a commotion.

He then witnessed one of the porters being slashed with a bush knife.

"I was in the tent, I heard a lot of shouting, and I thought the boys had actually found an animal or something like that," he told the Seven Network.

"There was a lot of excitement outside and I started to put my head out of the tent and I thought I'd been shot.

"What I realised after was I'd been clubbed with a rifle barrel and it had opened my head up.

"I was just confused, just did not know what was going on until I looked up and could see a boy walking away with a mask on, shouting.

"When I looked to my left ... I could see one of the guys just attacking the porters with a bush knife and it was just a butchery.

"They would go up to the porters and attack again and again," said Bennett, who has lived in Australia for 34 years.

He went to primary school in Tokoroa, Hamilton and Rotorua before joining the police in the mid-1970s.

Up to six men armed with machetes, bush knives, a rifle and a homemade gun, were involved in the attack; at least two of the nine trekkers sustained injuries, including Peter Stevens, who suffered a leg wound.

"The first thing they did was lay into the porters, basically hacking and slashing," Stevens told the Australian Associated Press.

"They killed one guy just about outright."

Stevens said he and the rest of the group were forced to lie on the ground as the men ransacked their packs, stealing passports and other items.

"They then laid into us with bush knives, hitting us with the flats of the knives," said Stevens, who had feared they too might be killed.

"You can't tell whether they're going to hit you with the flat side. Some people were cut."

Two of the attackers were quite obviously on drugs and "they did the most damage", he said.

After their ordeal the trekkers, led by expat Australian Christie King, walked four hours along a trail also used by their attackers to reach safety in the town of Wau - a move described by local officials as "pretty gutsy".

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"The porters were in no condition to move at that stage," Stevens said.

"There were no lights and a couple of false alarms. We could smell the marijuana ahead of us. We could see tracks on the path."

He praised the bravery of King, the only woman in the group.

"Christie King, the tour guide, was amazing. When the raskols [attackers] demanded to speak to the boss man, Christie stood up."

Bennett, who runs a team building business in Mackay, told Fairfax Media he had completed PNG's iconic Kokoda Track in 2006 and had trained for a year to be fit enough for the six-day trek which cost A$3895 (NZ$4467) a head.

The group first visited the wreckage of a World War II US B17 bomber before continuing on to the village of Banis Donki, where they set up camp for the night.

PNG Prime Minister Peter O'Neill said the attackers would face the newly introduced death penalty if convicted.

It is understood some of the men had escaped from a police station in Wau. Police and villagers are hunting them.

* Correction: This article was originally accompanied by a photograph of another member of the party incorrectly identified as Bennett.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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