WELLINGTON, New Zealand - A young couple who took a dip in a river in a remote part of Papua New Guinea are recovering from a harrowing attack by a tribesman who shot the man with arrows twice before attempting to sexually assault the woman.
Police in Papua New Guinea said the attacker is being sought, and a hospital official said the suspect previously has been imprisoned for rape. The couple have declined requests to speak to the media, but interviews by The Associated Press this week with the local doctor who first treated the pair, along with other accounts from Papua New Guinea, are shedding new light on the rare attack near Nomad in the isolated North Fly District.
Dr. Charlie Turharus said the tribesman had been covertly tracking the pair for perhaps an hour or two before the June 19 attack. He fired an arrow at Matt Scheurich as the 28-year-old New Zealander relaxed on a river bank while his girlfriend, a French doctoral student studying tribal life, swam in the river.
The first arrow hit Scheurich on the right side of his chest, Dr. Turharus said. The attacker then emerged from his hiding spot and fired a second arrow at Scheurich which hit him in the left side of his chest and deflected down into his stomach.
"Normally they use these arrows for hunting, for shooting at cassowaries and bears," Dr. Turharus said.
Cassowaries are large, flightless birds native to Australia and Papua New Guinea.
The attacker also threw rocks at Scheurich's head, the doctor said. The man then attempted to sexually assault the French woman, but she managed to bite his hand and run to a nearby village, where she activated a personal locator beacon.
Such an attack is uncommon, though several countries have issued advisories that travellers be aware of relatively high levels of crime in Papua New Guinea, especially in remote areas.
Fortunately for the couple, there was an airstrip near the site of the attack, Dr. Turharus said. Scheurich was rescued from the riverside where he was "bleeding in pain and in agony."
The New Zealander had ripped the arrows from his body, the doctor said.
But bad weather prevented the pair from being transported to a large regional hospital, Rumginae, and the couple were instead taken to the small and basic Kiunga Hospital where Dr. Turharus, who works for the Ok Tedi Mining company, operated on Scheurich.
Scheurich lost a significant amount of blood and there wasn't enough blood remaining at the hospital to treat him, Dr. Turharus said. Australian Doctors International volunteer Allan Mason donated a pint of his blood to help out.
The woman suffered minor injuries to her hand and arm as well as scrapes to her legs, Dr. Turharus said. The AP generally does not name the victims of sexual assault.
After being treated at Kiunga Hospital, Scheurich was transported first to Port Moresby and then to Cairns in Australia, where he was admitted to Cairns Base Hospital. Scheurich was released but then readmitted due to an infection related to his injuries. He remains at the Australian hospital in a stable condition.
Dr. Turharus said both Scheurich and his girlfriend were traumatized by the incident.
Dr. Daniel Priest, the medical superintendent at Rumginae Hospital, said in an email sent to Ok Tedi staff that the suspect has committed previous attacks.
"The perpetrator was a known felon who has been imprisoned before for rape and has supposedly offended at least four times," Dr. Priest wrote.
Superintendent Dominic Kakas, a spokesman for the Royal Papua New Guinea Constabulary police force, confirmed details of the attack and said the identity of the likely offender is known, and that now it's a question of finding him.
"It might take some time, but it won't be difficult," Kakas said.
Kakas added that it was difficult to get updated information from the remote area.
Scheurich, originally from Hamilton, New Zealand, had been working as a freelance designer and illustrator in the Australian city of Melbourne before travelling to Papau New Guinea.