Scuba divers chase off Komodo dragon

June 10, 2008 4:30:38 AM PDT
Elena Neralairen threw rocks at an aggressive Komodo dragon and scavenged for mussels on a remote Indonesian island where she and fellow divers were stranded for days after being swept away in treacherous currents.

The group - three from Britain and one each from France and Sweden - drifted 20 miles in sharp-infested waters before landing after nightfall on Rinca's palm-fringed beach, their last chance to avoid being swept into the open ocean.

But the next morning, it became clear their ordeal was not yet over. They came face-to-face with a deadly Komodo dragon, which can weigh as much as 365 pounds, and scared the beast away by screaming and pelting it with rocks and sticks.

"It took my diving hood," a smiling Neralairen told The Associated Press on Monday, relieved to finally be heading home.

The Swedish tourist described how the five struggled to find food and water.

"We found some mussels, that's the only thing," she said, adding that there were no coconut or fruit trees on the tiny, near-deserted island.

The area where the diving trip took place, near the islands of Tatawa and Komodo, is famous for its rich marine diversity, including sharks, manta rays and sea turtles. But it is also known for its powerful and unpredictable seas.

Recommended only for experienced divers, it is in a place where the Indian and Pacific oceans meet, creating currents that converge and separate. Whirlpools and eddies can pull divers downwards.

Charlotte Allin, 24, told Britain's Daily Mail there were many times she thought she and her boyfriend, James Manning, 30, would not survive.

"But I quickly brushed those thoughts from my mind," said the British tourist, who later told her mother she was in a state of complete shock. "We had to keep our spirits up. I knew that if we lost hope of being found, that would be it."

After being caught in what felt like a rip tide, the five found a log and clung to it, roping each other together. They spent two nights on Rinca before rescuers aboard one of 30 boats searching the waters spotted them waving frantically on the shore.

The divers were taken to Flores island for medical treatment and - with the exception of Kathleen Mitchinson, the British dive instructor - left Monday for Bali island to catch connecting flights back home.

Komodo dragons, the world's largest lizards, can grow up to 10 feet long.

Attacks on humans are rare, but with its shark-like serrated teeth the Komodo's bite can be deadly. Their saliva is poisonous, with dozens of species of bacteria, so if a wound is not cleaned properly septicemia sets in within days.

There are believed to be 4,000 left in the world and they are only found in the wild on a handful of islands in eastern Indonesia.

Thousands of tourists visit the area each year to see the lizards in their natural habitat. They are normally shown around the arid and rocky island by guides who carry large, forked sticks to ward off the animals.


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