Man to spend six weeks in WA wilderness on raft, bush tucker
An Australian pilot is braving crocodiles, heat and some of the most rugged terrain in Australia to recreate the miraculous survival journey of two German aviators who crashed in the Kimberley 80 years ago.
Mike Atkinson has set off on a six-week odyssey from Wyndham on a raft hand-made — with precise historical accuracy — from old fuel drums and bush poles.
“There’s crocs and sharks and I’ll be on an open raft,” he said.
“It’s a risk I’m willing to take, and I have done a lot in small boats in northern waters.”
In May 1932, German aviators Hans Bertram and Adolf Klausmann were on a round-the-world flight in their Junkers seaplane when they ran out of fuel after a storm and landed near Cape Bernier.
With no way of raising the alarm, and faced with the daunting prospect of dying while trying to escape, Bertram and his engineer Klausmann cut a float off their seaplane Atlantis.
They turned the float into a raft with a sail made from a blanket.
However, their attempt to reach safety failed, and they were forced to endure harsh conditions surviving on meagre food and water.
Aboriginal people found the pair close to death and sheltered in a cave, 39 days after the crash landing.
“They were a day away from dying,” said Mr Atkinson, a former military pilot and outback survival instructor.
“I’m not going to re-enact exactly what they did. But I want to know if I use the same materials as them, can I get out with the skills that I’ve got?”
Mr Atkinson has gathered a “time capsule” of tools from the 1930s for the expedition, including antique screw drivers, hessian ropes and a pocket watch — all carried in a canvas sack.
He will not have any plastic water bottles.
His sole nod to modernity is the high-tech camera gear he will carry to record his trip.
‘I’ve been on some extreme expeditions’
Mr Atkinson said he would be relying on his extensive knowledge of northern Australia’s bush food to know what to eat.
“I’ve always been into bush tucker since I was a little kid and I’ve been on some extreme expeditions. I’m just putting all these skills together,” he said.
“I may get into a similar situation if I had to eject or my chopper runs out of fuel. That’s why I’ve trained as a survivalist, it’s my day-to-day job.”
To replicate the seaplane floats, Mr Atkinson spent a week in Wyndham welding together 12 metal fuel drums.
The 44-gallon drums were then lashed together with hand-cut bush logs for a platform.
Mr Atkinson plans to motor the raft 200 kilometres north of Wyndham, near where the aviators landed, before sailing for up to 100km.
He will then walk 50km inland before retracing his steps.
“When I get to where they landed, I’ll be on bush tucker only for three or four weeks, gathering my own water,” he said.
His trip has taken months of planning, including meeting with traditional owner groups to get permission to access the land.
“They are the direct relatives of the people who helped save the aviators in 1932,” Mr Atkinson said.
Bertram and Klausmann’s story was told in a book before being made into an ABC TV mini-series, both called Flight into Hell.
The canoe made from the Junkers seaplane float remains in the WA Museum.
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