Machete attack survivor saved by wristwatch in Papua New Guinea jungle ambush
A Kiwi photographer ambushed in the Papua New Guinea jungle says his 'miracle' wristwatch saved him when a violent attacker slashed him with a machete.
Colin Monteath, 70, only survived because the weapon directly struck his $20 timepiece, which shattered upon impact.
He said he regretted putting himself at risk for his camera gear – but he would happily go back to PNG again despite last week's attack.
Speaking from hospital in Christchurch as he awaited surgery on his thumb, Monteath told Stuff on Monday of the ambush and his efforts fighting off the gang of attackers.
Professional photographer Monteath and two Australian friends had flown from Australia's Blue Mountains to Cape York Peninsula in far north Queensland, then over to Mount Hagen in PNG's Western Highlands.
Monteath had been taking photos of wildlife, people and landscapes in places including the headwaters of the mighty Fly River and went snorkelling on the vast island's north coast.
"The ambush happened right at the end of the trip."
Monteath and his Australian friends – a pilot and a navigator – were travelling with a driver in a minivan up a steep, winding road towards a lodge about an hour's drive from Mount Hagen.
They had no idea a gang of armed thieves was lying in wait in the bushes.
"What they do is, they chop down a tree, 99 per cent."
Then the gang of at least seven attackers waited for a target, and finished cutting the tree, blocking the minivan.
"You can't go forward...They either slash the tyres or let the tyres down."
The gang then started ripping apart the doors and stole the minivan keys.
"Then they took the keys and threw them into the jungle."
Monteath regretted not taking one of his usual safety measures.
"The stupidity was, for the last 30 years, I took the film or the digital cards out of the cameras. I hadn't done that so what I stupidly defended was my camera gear."
An attacker using the flat side of the machete blade hit Monteath about six times but the photographer refused to hand over his camera.
The furious thief then switched the machete round and "let loose", slashing at Monteath's wrist with the full force of the sharpened blade.
"The miracle was, the machete hit my wristwatch.
"They rushed off with all our baggage including the keys to the aeroplane."
The whole ambush took only two minutes, Monteath said.
Luckily, a local woman witnessed the attack and saw where the bandits had thrown the minivan keys.
Monteath and his friends rushed back on flat tyres to Mount Hagen, where Monteath had three tendons "sewn up" as he spent the night in hospital.
Thanks to the efforts of local villagers and some contacts in the PNG Highlands, the trio now had about 80 per cent of their baggage returned.
Cash and cellphones were still missing, Monteath said.
But at least six men had been arrested and Monteath said many local people had apologised to him and tracked the thieves down.
"Hundreds of local people [were] all saying 'I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry' ... They were quite upset for us."
Monteath said he'd never experienced any violence in remote places before but he still loved PNG.
He had some "delayed shock" and was not even sure what day he arrived back in New Zealand.
His pilot and navigator friends have gone back to Australia.
After the adrenaline and shock of the attack, Monteath was reflecting.
Family had visited him in hospital and he told them: "Unless you're defending your family, never ever defend any material goods."