The travel horror story to rule them all
“We watched as it happened in slow motion from the channel, my first thought was ‘oh my god, this guy’s dead,” Greg Long tells me of a grim incident that took place five years ago in remote Madagascar. He and Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker spent two months on the country’s east coast, searching for waves they […]
“We watched as it happened in slow motion from the channel, my first thought was ‘oh my god, this guy’s dead,” Greg Long tells me of a grim incident that took place five years ago in remote Madagascar. He and Grant ‘Twiggy’ Baker spent two months on the country’s east coast, searching for waves they wont let you in on. “The first part of the trip,” says Greg, “was on a boat, we were camping on land and boating up the whole east coast. The second month we spent on land, hiking and looking for waves.”
In the distant ocean, they came across a playful right hand reef pass. “The captain of the boat didn’t have a lot of experience operating in and around the surf,” Greg quips. “He kept drifting into the lineup and getting too close.”
“So, we had a conversation with him. We tried to teach him to triangulate a spot on the beach to the lineup stay within a certain area.” So there they were, miles from any shape of civilisation, trading waves and keeping an eye on their boat that continued to drift into peril. The first mate, who was also the captain of another boat sat with his legs dangling off the bow, cheering on Greg and Twig from the channel. “His first mate was this 65 year old Malagasy man, just the most incredible little human. The whole trip he was having so much fun and was so impressed watching us ride waves. His life was spent on boats. He’d never seen surfing before and came along just to watch us.”
“Sure enough, 30 minutes later the boat started drifting too close again. A wide set came though, our captain freaked out and powered through this wave at full throttle. As he hit the wave, the bow of the boat went up 20 feet, and our little Malagasy friend went cartwheeling in the air and came back down on the boat’s railing.”
Twiggy and Greg jammed towards the boat as the sun started its descent. “I thought there’s no way he’s alive, his back’s broken at the very least,” Mr Long continues. “Thankfully we had another filmer on board who had the wherewithal to pull him back onto the boat. I was expecting the worst case scenario. And it was… short of a broken back, neck or death. He had a broken femur, tibia and fibula. His leg was in a Z pattern, he was out cold and we were literally in the middle of nowhere. I have advanced medical training and we had a pretty extensive medical kit, but this was immediately a life or death situation.”
“We idled the boat back in-between the reef pass. He woke up in shock and was shaking uncontrollably while we tried to deal with his broken leg. His tib and fib were compound fractures, his bones were nearly protruding out of his skin and his femur was twisted in the wrong direction. I’d practiced splinting legs before, but never in my life had I thought how to do something this extensive.”
“The little guy had never taken meds before and we had some pretty strong pain killers, so we got him going on those. And then came the gnarliest part, splinting his leg. Twiggy held his knee while I applied downward pressure to get it somewhat in-line. We couldn’t do it the way it was, we had to reset his tib and fib until his leg was relatively straight.” After the crepitus grind of broken bones and cartilage, the next step was figuring out how to get this man to medical attention. “That was one of the heaviest and hardest things I’ve ever had to do. First knowing the sensitivity of the situation, if his broken femur pierced his femoral artery (which is common with the injury) he could be bleeding out internally, right then and there. Second, the risk of trying to reset such a significant break is potentially very dangerous, but there was no way we could’ve moved him with his leg the way it was. Something had to be done.”
“I’m not a squeamish person when it comes to dealing with medical situations, but this time my heart was in my throat, just watching the pain he was in. The beauty of it was, he was a tiny little man who’d never taken pain killers, those helped significantly. We packed him up and splinted his femur”
“The sun was going down, and he needed immediate medical attention,” Greg carries on. “Our captain knew where we were, there was village close by and a dirt road 15 miles away. The captain’s first declaration was that we couldn’t do anything until the morning. I knew he might not make it ‘till then, that was not an option and I battled for a plan B. The question was; how do we get him from point A to point B in the dark?”
Greg and Twiggy hiked into the local village, searching for a small boat they could use to transport their injured Malagasy friend. Inside the reef pass was a big channel that ran parallel to shore. “By luck there was an oversized fishing boat, that was basically a giant dug out canoe with an outboard, it had just pulled in that night. We talked them into coming along. We had a SUP on the trip that Twiggy had brought along. We used it as a backboard and strapped him down, put him the canoe and were able to go five miles down the coast along the shoreline. The reef eventually connected and we couldn’t drive any further.”
“We stopped and pulled him onto the shore. With a couple locals guiding us, we walked with him on top of our shoulders for five miles through soft sand. We made it to this footpath, and walked him the rest of the way through the jungle on our shoulders. He didn’t make a sound the entire time. There were moments where I though he’s either dead, or just the toughest human being I’ve ever met in my entire life. Each time we brought him down to check on him, he gave us a thumbs up and we carried on our way.”
By the time they got him to the town, the next hurdle was ever-so-present. What separated them from the town was a river mouth, one that’s notoriously riddled with sharks. “The locals don’t swim in it,” says Greg. “We laid the board down and paddled him across the river to where the road was. With our Sat phone we got a car organised to meet us. It took over five hours to get him there and the car pulled up 30 minutes later.”
“That night we got him to the nearest airport and in the morning he was airlifted to the army hospital in the capital of Madagascar. It was the most terrifying and downright worst case scenario you could ever experience on a trip of the sort. At the end of it all we were exhausted and had to walk back to our camp beneath the moonlight. Nobody said a word.”
“He had emergency surgery, they reset his leg and put the steel rods and pins in there. After that the first part of our trip was pretty much over, we boated back to where we started, then we went to the capital and visited him. He was still smiling, the guy’s an absolute champion of a man. He’s walking now and is apparently all good. I’ve been back a few times, the last trip there, we made some calls and found him back working on his boat.”
“It was wild,” says Greg. “When you think about it in the end, to have that boat there and able to help for the first five miles and to have the SUP… I was cursing Twiggy the entire trip for how much space the thing was taking up in the boat. He had just hurt his knee and was recovering, so he was mainly SUPing. He was adamant about it coming along. It was one of the craziest experiences from start to finish, but the pieces that fell into place for us to actually pull it off was basically a miracle.”
“Twiggy and I during the second part of the trip ended up finding the best wave in the world and we’ve been going back ever since,” he wraps up with a silver bow.
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