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Thursday, March 4, 1999 Published at 13:05 GMT

World: Africa

Survivor relives Ugandan terror

Survivor Danja Walthers: "I thought I had finished with my life"

Swiss air hostess Danja Walthers had a narrow escape in the jungles of Uganda after choosing to stay with the English-speaking tourists singled out by the kidnappers.

Steven Gibbs reports: Stories like these increase pressure to capture killers
"I was thinking I was going to be killed and I was thinking, I'd rather die with my friends," she told journalists in Kampala after her ordeal.

She had booked a place on the gorilla safari to get over the trauma of losing friends on Swissair flight 111 from New York to Geneva, which crashed with no survivors last year.

[ image: Rebels sought out the English-speaking tourists]
Rebels sought out the English-speaking tourists
She had been on standby for that flight herself and had hoped the remote tranquillity of the Bwindi National Park would help her recover emotionally.

She said the Rwandan rebels told their captives to remove their shoes and walk barefoot through the jungle.

Tourists were apparently picked out at random and killed during the day-long march.

Danja Walthers praised the role played by Mark Ross, the tour operator, who told her to be especially careful with the rebels.

Danja Walthers: It was like a move
"He said: 'This guy is really keen on you' and I realise I better shut my mouth. I tried to look at the floor and avoid eye contact."

At one point she thought it was her turn. "I felt someone grab me on my head. I started to cry. I thought I had finished with my life. I began praying but Mark saved me."

Martin Dawes reports on the tourists who now have to come to terms with what happened
But some of her companions were not so lucky.

"Two of my friends were taken to one side. I pleaded that one of the men was my brother and to let him stay with us. That was the last I saw of them."

Tour guides

The parents of another survivor, Gary Tappenden, from Bromley in Kent, said: "Gary wouldn't be here if it wasn't for [tour guide] Mark Ross."

[ image: Mark Ross
Mark Ross "helped saved companions"
Some of the survivors returned to the UK early on Thursday.

The first to arrive was Mark Avis, whose wife Rhonda was among those killed. He was whisked through a side entrance at Gatwick airport to avoid waiting reporters.

Mr Tappenden, who lost his travelling companion Martin Friend, will be staying in Uganda for a few days.

Mark Ross describes one survivor's lucky escape
Andrew Morley, the brother of tour operator Fiona Morley, said he had spoken to her several times since the incident.

"Fiona survived the massacre and, as you can imagine, she has been traumatised." She was "probably in the best spirits she could be in the circumstances", he said after she had identified the bodies.

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