British explorer in search of lost tribe of headhunters ‘found safe and well’ in Papua New Guinea

Benedict Allen was expected to give talk in Hong Kong and had not been heard from for three weeks

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 16 November, 2017, 9:11am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 28 November, 2017, 11:17am

A British explorer who was reported missing in the remote jungles of Papua New Guinea during a mission to find a lost tribe of headhunters has been found safe and well, according to reports in the British media.

Benedict Allen, 57, who had not been heard from for three weeks – and had been scheduled to give a talk on Wednesday at the Hong Kong branch of the Royal Geographic Society – has asked for a rescue party to be sent to pick him up.

The news came after the BBC’s security correspondent, Frank Gardner – who sought to publicise the 57-year-old’s disappearance after he missed a planned flight home via Hong Kong – tweeted that his friend had been sighted.

Gardner said: “ … UK explorer @benedictallen has been sighted, ‘alive and well’ nr airstrip in Papua New Guinea after being reported missing while trekking”.

Allen’s agent, Joanna Sarsby, based in Bristol in the UK said: “Keith Copley, the coordinating director for New Tribe Mission in Papua New Guinea has confirmed Benedict Allen is safe and well, and located at a remote airstrip 20 miles northwest of Porgera, Enga Province. Confirmation on his exact location coordinates are now being confirmed to arrange evacuation.”

Officials from the society in Hong Kong have still not responded to requests for an interview about Allen’s disappearance and reported reappearance. A notice advertising the talk on the society’s website said: “Please note this talk has been rescheduled to next year.”

The father-of-three, who has also written books on exploration, was trying to locate the Yaifo, one of the few remaining tribes in the world who have no contact with outsiders.

Allen was travelling with no phone or GPS device, and the most recent entry on his blog is titled: “I may be some time …”

In it, he wrote: “The Yaifo, a band of people I made first outside contact with some 30 years ago, are still living in the remote Central Range of PNG. Furthermore, no outsider has made the journey to visit them since the rather perilous journey I made as a young man three decades ago.

“This would make them the remotest people in Papua New Guinea, and one of the last people on the entire planet who are out of contact with our interconnected world.

“In October I’m hiring a helicopter to drop me off at the abandoned mission station, Bisorio … If – and only if – it seems ethical, I’ll try to assemble a small party, as I did all those years ago, and head off upslope into the mists to visit the Yaifo in their remote abode. The aim is to create a brief record of their lives …”

Allen said that on his previous trip, he was greeted with “a terrifying show of strength, an energetic dance featuring their bows and arrows”. He speculated whether the same would happen on this trip, or if he would even reach their home, given the “treacherous terrain”.

Sarsby had earlier told the UK newspaper Daily Mail: “His wife Lenka has not heard from him. She is very worried. He would never miss something like the Hong Kong talk unless something had happened.

“He is a highly experienced explorer, very clever and resourceful and adept at surviving in the most hostile places on Earth, and he would never give up. He may not be a young man any more, but he is very fit.

She added: “He was trying to reach the Yaifo people, a very remote and reclusive tribe – possibly headhunters, quite a scary bunch. Goodness knows what has happened.”

In a tweet sent en route to the airport before leaving the UK, Allen said: “Marching off to Heathrow (airport). I may be some time (don’t try to rescue me, please – where I’m going in PNG you won’t ever find me you know …).