Two weeks ago, we drove up to the tropical rainforest close to the La Soufriere volcano in Guadeloupe to see the beautiful waterfalls of Chutes du Carbet. There are three spectacularly high waterfalls so we parked the car and bought our tickets to the national park. We started to walk the well designed path and followed the trail that got steeper and steeper with an elevation of 900 metres to the first waterfall in the cloud forest. According to the signs, it would take one hour and 40 minutes to get there. We made some stops along the lush way and enjoyed the beautiful rainforest with exotic flowers, amazingly huge leaves and tender light floating through the giant bracken. After more than one hour of hike, we passed a creek, easily jumping over the stones. We met people coming back from the waterfalls saying it was not far away, but the path turned up and down and sometimes got really narrow so we had to press ourselves between the rocks. Finally we arrived to the first cascade of the Carbet waterfalls and Nilla enjoyed a quick bath in the red vulcano water at the bottom of the waterfall.
Then a strong rainfall began and we hurried back. The path quickly turned to a small stream with raindrops pounding on the leaves around us. Everything got wetter and wetter. After 15 minutes we came back to the small creek, that had now grown to a river with a strong steam. We understood that we were trapped on the wrong side of the trail. It was 3pm and we only had three hours until it would get dark. Stranded with us were three French hikers sharing the same destiny. They checked different ways and tried to call for rescue, but there was no reception. They shouted to us: “Don´t go over!”. Anders checked the depth of the stream with his hiking sticks. Nilla borrowed one stick of Anders and carefully proceeded into the water, thinking: “It should be possible, there are so many rocks to gain a foothold.”
Anders quickly changed the car key from the pant pocket to a waterproof pocket in his jacket, telling Nilla to wait. Which she didn’t hear and the water pulled her up, she lost the grip and floated away over the rocky edge.
Nilla thinking: “No. no. no, this is not good, this could end really bad. There is no way back.” She floated fast forward from side to side in the splashing water. Then downwards in the cascade falling 12-19 metres. For maybe minute she hold her breath while diving deep into the water, surrounded by moving water and bubbles of air. “Soon I need some air, otherwise I will drown here”, Nilla thought, praying: “God, please let me live, the life is still so short, it cannot end here and now, please let me life, I need to be there for my son.” The water pushed her forward, throwing her downwards from side to side without holding, just falling and floating in the never-ending stream. Until the rush ended with Nillas feet going under a branch. The stream was somewhat flatter and the branch stopped her from floating forward to a 125 meter high cascade! The waterproof rucksack that she was wearing surely protected her back all the way and gave her more volume, hindering her from sliding under the branch.
As Anders saw Nilla float away over the edge, just seeing the rucksack disappear down the cascade, he slowly walked over the creek with robust hiking shoes and managed to reach the other side and then quickly walked down the muddy path in fear of with had happened to Nilla.
“My darkest 20 hours, ends miraculously well… Last Wednesday Nilla and I hiked the 2 hours on steep tracks to the first of the three big falls at Chute du Carbis here in Guadaloupe. On the way down, a bit above the second fall (seen in the photo) we had passed or walked across a small creek. On the way back we got a really heavy tropical rain and the tiny creek changed in a moment into a small river, with powerful water streams. No phone coverage, no alternative route… Nilla took the lead in an attempt to cross. In a moment I saw her floating away in the water, over the edge and disappearing out of sight, due to steep sloops and unpenetratable rainforest. No way to find or help her- I crossed the river – and managed to get on the path down to towards base station.About the time I came down, the first police and fire brigade people arrived – but it was close to darkness – and the search was postponed till 6AM yesterday. The light in my life was switched off. I had little hope to see my Nilla again. “
Nilla telling: – When the water sunk a bit, I managed to climb up on the nearest rock. I didn’t know how far the rocky ride had taken me, if I was far out in the forest, or if I were closer to the trail. I shouted loudly: “Hallo, help, Aide!” I felt blood streaming down my neck and I took a selfie to see where the blood came from. There was no reception where I was. I pulled up a clean towel from my rucksack and pressed it hard around my head to stop the bleeding. I lost one shoe in the fall and was only wearing bikini, so I put on my wet shorts and a wet shirt. Then I twirl my ribbon around my knee to cover the wound and still the blood flow. I was shouting again very loud, but the only answer was the frogs loud quaking. A crab is climbing on the rock next to me, staring at me, the intruder, before it continues to climb and slowly cross the river. Maybe its showing the way? It starts to pour again and the water level underneath is rising. I have to climb up on another rock closer to the high wall of rainforest. The sun sets around 6Pm and I prepare to stay on the rock all night, no one will search for me in the dark. I sit and lean against my rucksack with the rock behind me, stretching out my legs.
I stay in that position for the whole night, just moving some centimetres, sucking water from the towel on my head. Some bright fireflies lightens up the dark night now and then, flying around in circles. I thank God for having survived the fall and send out thoughts to Birk and Anders, telling “I’m alive, please search until you find me!”. I sing a little, to hear a voice in the night and its comforting and makes time pass. Luckily my watch was intact and I could watch the minutes pass by. Its raining and everything is could and wet. The river is loud and the noice of the frogs and birds is close and shrill. I collect some rainwater in a bag on my lap, it can take a long time until someone finds me.
Anders telling: The most painful night of my life, I was looked after by Karin and Holger on SY Rivercafé. The loveliest people on earth. After calling family in Finland and Sweden we drove back to the mountain and now the SAR operation got momentum with 50 people in 4 teams. No helicopters due to weather, no dogs due to too much water. Most difficult terrain. I felt not much hope, but I prayed. At 9.30 when on the phone with Nilla’s lovely Birk who telling me he knows his mother is still alive, this rescue officer approach with the thumb up. They had found her sitting on a stone 400 meters downstream and after falling down two waterfalls of 15-20m hight according to the police. Seven men help her to climb back the 400 meters up the path where an helicopter winched her up and brought her to the hospital. Nothing broken, but severely bruised and many deep cuts. She was released in the evening and we went back to the marina were hugged, kissed and pampered by Karin and Holger. “
Nilla telling: Never before have I been awaiting the dawn so intense. The night lightens up around me and I can see what’s around me again. I pick up the leftovers from the nut bar. That one almond and some coconut crumbles is the best meal I´ve ever had and I cherish that moment. It gives me some energy and I slowly put my feet on the rocks underneath me and try to walk, but the body is stiff and my legs are shaking. I put my red wet t-shirt from yesterday on and a cap to protect me from the never-ending drops falling on my head. There is no way to go so I sit down again with the wet towel as a blanket to cover my cold feet. Its 7Am and I shout and shout for help. Finally, I hear voices answering me!!! Slowly, two men covered in orange neoprene are climbing down the rocks. I am so so happy and thankful to see them and they shout of joy to see me. They only speak French, but we can communicate somehow. I ask them if they now if my husband is safe, and they say yes, so I hope there is no miscommunication. Daye stays with me and offers me some yoghurt drink and cookies. David climbs back up in the rainforest to get some reception and call the rescue team. The water may be rising again so Daye checks the flow with a stick and carefully helps me to the other side of the river where it is a little flatter and safer. He also lends me a rain coat and puts on a life jacket. After a while a policeman comes to check the possibilities for the helicopter to come close. He takes this picture.
Unfortunately, there are too many clouds for the helicopter to come closer where I am, the wall is also too steep on one side. The team discusse intense in French and then Maccs, who speaks English asks if I am able to walk up the hill through the rainforest. I can move my legs and I’ve got some energy after a warm cup of tea and half an orange. I truly want to escape the place to go somewhere where it is warmer, so I say yes. The team quickly discuss the best way and Fabrici takes off his shoes and offers them to me and I am so grateful how kind everyone is. He walks barefoot instead. I put my arm around the climber and with the help of the rescue team I slowly walk and drag myself through the thick rainforest. Maccs takes the lead and cuts big leaves and lianes and shows me which tree I shouldn’t touch. I get some thorns in my hand and David lends me his gloves. The path is steep and Fabrici attaches a rope so I can pull myself up four more metres, while Daye and David pushes from behind. Slowly, slowly we work ourselves the 400 meters back to the point I was falling from. The team shows me where to place my feet step by step. I feel very secure and in good hands.
The policeman lends me his clothes, I am so happy to finally have a dry shirt and the blue Gendarmerie jacket covers me well. I enjoy a chocolate bar, so delicious, I think I’m dreaming. Soon I hear the sound of the helicopter and the firemen Daye and David bend over me to protect me from the strong wind. They get a harness, which I put on. A fireman is launched down and connects me. Slowly we are hoisted up in the air. I hug the fireman and hold so tight, hoping to be safe soon. Im being dragged into the helicopter and I am finally finally on a warm place. I lay down with a rescue quilt around my body. The helicopter slowly flies along the river I’ve been floating through the day before and I wish I could see it, but I am too tired and very pleased just to lay on the floor, smiling. Soon I will see Anders again! The ride is quick and we land on a green field, the doors open and I am so happy to see and feel the warm sun again. The pilot greets me and says I’m a survivor. Everyone is laughing at my police clothes and they say they are so happy to see me alive. – And by the way, helicopter flying is free in Guadeloupe, they say. I am happy, but very very tired.
I arrive in the hospital and hear that one five year old girl that was missing in the same area as me, has been found dead. One 70 year old man is still missing. I get really worried. I haven’t heard anything from Anders yet. I had the hope that he hadn’t crossed the river after me, but how could I know? Quickly, but gentle I am moved from on room to another. My clothes are taken off and I am brushed and cleaned from most of the dirt. Now its cold again! The temperature is taken, 35,6 degrees! I have a deep open wound in my head and get a CT scan. The injected contrast fluid is like fire in my veins and it feels so good! I get back to the doctor and now I hear that my husband is close. I see him and cry. I am so relieved and thankful for seeing him alive. The joy is so great.
The other good news are that the CT scan is good. ” There is nothing inside” according to the doctor. The Xray of hips and knees also disperses the worries for fractures. No single fracture after such a rocky horror show!
The three French hikers that where trapped on the same place, but waited and later called the rescue service came to pay me a visit in the hospital. Charlie said she had been praying for me the whole night and Virgil and Marylou where so happy to see me alive. They said they heard me scream in the forest and could tell it to the police. I am so happy to see them again.
The hospital was overloaded, so without fractures, I could go home. I was happy to be with Anders again and Karin and Holger on the catamaran Rivercafe welcomed us to sleep on their boat that night. Thanks God, I was back safe, reunited with my loved ones after this long ordeal.
Here are some links from the French press:
This one with audio from the interview on Friday with the French press.