Page last updated at 15:35 GMT, Monday, 15 December 2008

Hippo sinks scout leaders' canoe

Geoff Ryder, Michael Dillworth and Brian Sheen
Sail Away: Geoff Ryder, Michael Dillworth and Brian Sheen in a canoe

Three scout leaders from Cornwall are back home after their canoe was sunk by a hippopotamus in west Africa.

Brian Sheen, 66, Geoff Ryder, 59, and Michael Dillworth, 23, had to abandon their dugout canoe after the hippo attacked four days into the trip.

They had to trek through the jungle for five days to reach a small village where they received help.

Mr Sheen said, despite training for the dangers of hippos, nothing could have prepared them for the surprise attack.

The three adventurers had planned to paddle 2,500 miles (4,000km) down the river from Faranah in Guinea to promote the scouting movement.

Mr Sheen said: "We were on full hippo watch and all of a sudden we came to an abrupt halt.

"I thought we had hit a rock. Then the front went up and the middle went up.

"Then the back flew in the air and Geoff, who is 16 stone [102kg], was suddenly airborne and landed in the water beside the boat."

Mr Sheen said there was "not the slightest inkling" that there were hippos about on the stretch of river where they were attacked.

Brian Sheen
It burst on us like a submarine-launched missile
Brian Sheen, hippo attack victim

"It burst on us like a submarine-launched missile," he said.

"It happened so quickly we didn't have time to be scared."

After dragging Geoff Ryder back on board, the trio managed to get their semi-submerged boat to a mud bank.

"The canoe was going down fast," said Mr Sheen.

"The hippo was about 20 yards away looking at us."

His concerns were raised when the animal was heard running through the undergrowth nearby.

"We hoped he wouldn't come back for a second bite," said Mr Sheen who was relieved to see the beast heading inland.

The three then ditched most of their gear, apart from satellite navigation systems, and started a trek through head-high elephant grass and bamboo.

Geoff Ryder, Michael Billworth and Brian Sheen
The three get their first proper meal after their ordeal

It took five days and nights.

"Every few yards there were crevasses where the rainwater had run down to the river.

"We had seen a village before the attack. It was our only hope," said Mr Sheen.

"We were pretty whacked. The temperature was 100F [38C] during the day."

The villagers, who were initially wary, fed the adventurers before giving them all a lift 60 miles (96km) on motorcycles back to Faranah, where they had begun.

The men, who have all returned to Cornwall, now hope to revisit the area next year, but said they would be taking a ferry next time.

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