Lots of stories today about Brazilian pilot Antonio Cena, who on January 28 crashed his Cessna 210 while ferrying fuel to an illegal goldmine called ‘California’, deep in the Amazonian jungle.

Most of the articles focus on the environmental impact of wildcat mining operations, the slack attitude of Brazilian authorities towards them, blah-blah environment-environment, etc… I’m only interested in the survival aspect. If Cena’s account has been told in detail anywhere, then mainstream media have failed to pass it on. What little we know emphasises the fundamental tenets of survival lore.

First and foremost was his preparation. Cena was a skilled pilot, so when his aircraft went down he landed it without serious injury to himself. Coated in diesel, he got out of the plane before it exploded, but then (#survival_101) went back to the site and waited. But when the canopy began closing up and SAR aircraft failed to locate him, he knew he’d need to save himself. Luckily, he was fighting fit.

Second most important was … preparation. After staying alive, fit and uninjured, Cena had the relevant basic survival skills to walk himself out of the jungle. He’d done a survival course ‘a long time ago‘ but retained the fundamentals. After returning to the plane, he conducted an inventory and found he had:

Four cans of soft drink
Three bottles of water
Two pocketknives
Two lighters
One cell phone
One bag of bread
One pack of trash bags
One change of clothes
One flashlight
One rope

What is uncounted is the extra cordage, for example, that he could have salvaged even from an exploded plane. There almost certainly would have been useful gear to loot. He had nothing to boil water in to make it potable, for example, but could have repurposed something from the Cessna as a billy or pot.

Nevertheless, he had some useful stuff. Even with rationing, the food went before he set off on foot. He was in rainforest, so water collection would have been simple. His survival training told him to avoid waterways because that’s where the major predators hunt, so he camped on hilltops in the jungle.

That’s smart, but it’s also dumb.

Survivalism (and common sense) tell you that small creeks flow downhill into streams, which flow into rivers, which empty into the sea or large bodies of water. People live, work and travel through the jungle on these riverine superhighways. If you avoid creeks because of jaguars, then you’re reducing the likelihood of discovery exponentially.

The third smart thing Cena did was create fire in the rainforest. Unless you’ve tried, I can’t explain how difficult this is. I’m not sure if he carried embers between camps, but regardless, this guy had skill. He was also methodical — walked until midday, then spent a couple hours foraging, fire-building and setting camp. He walks less distance, but didn’t die in the dark.

He watched animals. Most things a monkey eats will be disgusting, but probably safe. He fought daily battles with territorial spider monkeys, and it must have been frightening because never wants to see another in his life. He overtly avoided the anacondas, crocodiles and jaguars, but a troupe of monkeys will eat you down to the bone.

Cena was in the jungle for 36 days, losing 25kg weight. He ate fruit and some eggs, but was getting weaker every day. He finally stumbled across a family of chestnut pickers near a stream (see!) after spotting their colourful tarp from a distance. They evacuated him to safety, and reunited him with his family.

Until I read the book, that’s all there is to know. It will be fascinating reading. I’ve always harbored a survivalist fantasy of walking through the Amazon armedwith nothing but a knife, but in reality I’d be dead in days. I want to hear about the other perils — the heat exhaustion, the insect bites, the explosive diarrhoea from drinking unclean water. I just hope to read the book before Hollywood ruins it. You’ll know its happening when Orlando Blooms starts going to the gym and grows a beard.

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