The National – Monday, February 14, 2011
By DAVID TERRY of police media
SITTING bare-chested on his hospital bed with a drip line affixed to his left hand, 33-year-old police First Const Mathew Kami from Tambunum village in Angoram, East Sepik, appears frail but composed.
In his brush with death, Kami spent 52 hours struggling strenuously against the harsh elements of nature deep in the jungle of Upele, between Tari Gap and Beneria, in the Southern Highlands.
He took regular swigs from a water bottle and ate small quantities of mashed ripe banana and pineapple.
He had lost his appetite after consuming inedible plant suckers, wild berries and ferns and the doctors had advised him to eat fruits for the time being.
He could lie down and turn in the comfort of his cosy bed, pull a warm blanket over or switch the light on anytime to read or talk to someone.
But, a few days ago, Kami’s life was hell.
Soaked, hungry and tired, Kami had shivered in chillingly cold temperatures in the jungle in pitch darkness.
He had slept on a slope in the jungle and, when it rained, the drops prickled him like sharp icy pins forcing him to cling onto dangling vines and tree roots to avoid being washed away by streams of water gushing down the slope.
The recurring imaginations that something was lurking in the dark, the buzzing sound of nocturnal insects and the fear of poisonous snakes petrified him.
In this exclusive interview, the survivor told of how he prayed fervently and even cursed God for allowing him to go through this horrendous experience.
Throughout his ordeal, Kami refused to think about his beautiful daughters Christophila, 8, and Cresensia, 5, and his wife Elsie who was expecting their third child.
“I did not want to die like this; it seemed like betrayal.
“Elsie was expecting and my girls were too young,” Kami said while relating his incredible story of survival.
It all happened when a gang, armed with clubs, knives and guns, placed a barricade of logs across the notorious Ambua highway before robbing and raping the travellers.
More than K10,000 was reportedly stolen from one of the occupants of a PMV and six women, including two students, were gang-raped in the attack.
First Const Kami and his colleagues, attached with the Mendi-based police mobile squad 10, were in Tari to assist local police when directives were issued for them to track down the suspects.
After arriving at the crime scene, Kami and three of his colleagues combed through the bushes near the highway and found two tracks leading into the jungle.
While his three colleagues followed a track into the jungle, Kami opted to follow the second track so he could relieve himself and join his colleagues in the search.
Kami was alone when he heard voices nearby and thought they belonged to the suspects.
He walked a few yards and quickly drew his high-powered police-issued A2 rifle on two men who appeared on the track.
The two said they were hunters and they showed him a cuscus and bags of vegetables they were taking back to a village, not far from the crime scene.
After allowing the two men to pass, Kami heard the voices again and continued to follow the track until he came to a river.
He crossed the river and the voices appeared again, prompting him to walk on until he crossed another river and climbed a hill.
He descended and found himself surrounded by huge trees and thick foliage.
The voices had stopped and he walked on further before turning, but the track had disappeared.
Apparently lost, Kami fire several shots into the air and heard his colleagues responding, indicating their location.
Trying to find a path to follow, Kami tripped on a tree root and fell into a mud puddle with his weapon.
He then removed the bolt group, an important component of the gun, to render the weapon useless, and used the strand of a fern leaf to clean out the mud lodged in the nozzle of the gun.
After cleaning his gun, he got up and walked for several metres before realising that he had not taken the bolt group from where he had left it.
He tried to walk back to the mud puddle to retrieve the gun part but, according to Kami, the mud puddle and gun part had disappeared.
Unable to discharge gunshots into the air to alert rescuers, Kami used his cellphone to call his colleagues and told them he was lost.
He became disorientated and kept walking through the jungle until he came across a fallen tree trunk.
The policeman said he kicked the tree trunk and his shoe chipped away a bit of the trunk’s decaying bark.
He walked over the trunk and went further into the jungle and came across the same tree trunk bearing his foot mark.
“The same tree trunk reappeared several times as I walked on aimlessly into the jungle until I became exhausted and weak,” Kami recalled.
He then used his cellphone to contact his colleagues and told them that he was standing below a hill in the jungle.
As it was getting dark, they told him to stay in that location so they could send in a search and rescue team early the next day.
After his first night, Kami’s phone went dead and he heard the sound of a helicopter hoovering above the jungle canopy but he could not find a clearing to alert the rescuers of his position.
He spent one more night in drenching cold jungle temperature and, the next morning, he kept walking until he came to a river
Weak, exhausted and hungry, Kami drank from the river, ate wild berries and bits of wild taro.
Kami jumped into the cold river current and used his hands and feet to support himself against the boulders as he floated downstream until he saw a hunter’s hut.
He pulled himself ashore, removed his clothes and was lying close to a log near the hut when he heard voices.
Feeling weak and delirious, Kami thought he was hallucinating but he heard someone yelling his name and, using whatever energy left in him, the policeman yelled for help.
The five local men, who arrived at the scene, said Kami was found lying completely naked close to a coiled serpent when they found him.
They found his weapon near where he was lying and, after reciting a prayer, the snake slithered away before they fed him with tinned fish soup and a piece if biscuit.
Kami’s body refused to digest the food and he threw up so the six Huli men had to carry him on a stretcher, made of tree branches and vines, back to Ambua where the police were camping.
He was quickly rushed to the hospital and is responding to treatment.