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Last Updated: Saturday, 27 September, 2003, 01:00 GMT 02:00 UK
Reunion joy for kidnap Briton
Matthew Scott is reunited with his family
Matthew Scott is looking forward to university
A British backpacker who escaped armed kidnappers in the Colombian jungle has arrived back in the UK.

Londoner Matthew Scott, 19, who fled his captors by leaping from a cliff into a river and spent 12 days alone in the jungle, flew into London at about 1355 BST on Friday.

He enjoyed an emotional reunion with his family at Heathrow airport, looking tired but grinning as he hugged his parents and siblings.

At a press conference the gap-year student said his thoughts were with the remaining seven hostages, including 31-year-old Mark Henderson, from North Yorkshire.

Mr Scott said: "I trekked alone without food for 12 days through the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta to escape my captors and was picked up by the indigenous people of the area.

"I would like to thank [them] and the Colombian Army who were very efficient.

We were walking on the mountain and the sides were very steep, I heard the river and I jumped off a cliff very quickly
Matthew Scott

"I am very concerned for Mark Henderson and the other hostages. They are not just names and faces to me - I travelled with these people, they are my companions, they are my friends."

Mr Scott - who begins an engineering course at Oxford University in 10 days - said he could not say much about his ordeal because it could impact on the hostages still being held.

But he added: "I am so grateful to be back in England. I'm happy to be back with my family, I'm looking forward to university, I'm going to be just fine. Life's looking pretty good."

His father James said: "It's a miracle, several miracles."

Earlier he had said: "It was very risky and foolhardy what he did.

HOSTAGE ESCAPE
1. Eight tourists taken hostage while hiking to the ancient ruin Ciudad Perdida [Lost City]
2. Matthew Scott escapes by diving off a steep sided ravine into a river
3. Mr Scott taken to Santa Marta by Indian villagers after being found dazed and wandering in the mountains
"He could have broken his arms or legs or he could have been shot."

The retired surgeon earlier said that his wife Kate and Matthew's brothers and sisters Ned, 17, Molly, 13, Charlotte, 29, and Sophie, 31, had been eagerly awaiting his return.

On his way into the press conference in the Arrivals Lounge of Terminal 4, Matthew bumped into former Beatle Sir Paul McCartney and the pair chatted for a while.

On Thursday, the student described how he made his break for freedom, escaping during a forced march in rain and poor visibility.

"We were walking on the mountain and the sides were very steep," he said.

"I heard the river on the right hand and I followed the sound. I jumped off a cliff very quickly."

He spent time recovering from exhaustion, dehydration, sunburn and cuts at an army base in the north of Colombia.

Massive manhunt

The Colombian army is still hunting for the other hostages, who were snatched while hiking to Colombia's "Lost City," a spectacular 2,500-year-old ruin nestling in the northern Sierra Nevada mountains.

Mark Henderson
Matthew has said that Mark had been kind to him during the brief period they were in captivity together
Mark Henderson's father, Christopher

They said they had already acted on information supplied by Mr Scott.

The eight had been part of a larger group of 15 tourists who were sleeping in a cabin when armed guerrillas, described by witnesses as aged 18 to 20, burst in.

After careful selection the other seven were not taken, either because they were physically unfit or did not have sturdy walking shoes, they told reporters.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe has blamed the Cuban-inspired National Liberation Army for the kidnapping.

The rebels use ransom money to finance a four-decade-old guerrilla war.


WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Robert Hall
"Today's smiles ending two weeks of agonising uncertainty"



SEE ALSO:
Parents' joy at son's escape
25 Sep 03  |  Americas
Father talks of kidnapped son
16 Sep 03  |  North Yorkshire
Kidnap danger to tourists
15 Sep 03  |  UK
Colombia's most powerful rebels
19 Sep 03  |  Americas


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