Rock Rehabilitation - Uganda


I survived a plane crash ..then someone tried to eat my arm!



When Rosebell Kirungi's plane crashed in an isolated wilderness she thought her life was over. But, after miraculously surviving and walking 100 miles through perilous jungle, Rosebell, 40, found a strength she never knew she had.

When I heard about the plane crash in Thailand that killed 90 people in September, I shuddered.

My heart went out to the victims and their families but it also brought back memories of my own brush with death.

It's nine years since I miraculously survived a plane crash. You might think I'd be traumatised, suffering nightmares and flashbacks. Instead I've found a new lease of life and I've accepted what happened. I believe everything happens for a reason.

At the time I was living with my four-year-old daughter in Richmond, Surrey and had a good job in IT. I was on a business trip to Africa when I boarded the fateful flight on September 25 in 1998.

As I climbed aboard the small charter plane at Entebbe Airport, Uganda, I felt excited. The three-hour flight would take me to the Democratic Republic of Congo to complete my trip. Two days later I would fly home to my daughter.

There were 10 of us on board including the pilot, but 45 minutes into the flight I heard him talking to air traffic control frantically.

Looking out of the window I saw we were flying dangerously low. Seconds later there was a deafening thud as one wing was ripped off by treetops.

Other passengers ran around screaming but I stayed incredibly calm. I have a strong Christian faith, and remained belted into my seat, praying my life would be spared.

Minutes later the plane nose-dived to the ground. Other people were flung through the windscreen, including a man who had also stayed in his seatbelt.

People were covered in cuts and gashes, and blood was pouring from the pilot's face, but miraculously everyone had survived.

Somehow, I was the only one who had come through without a scratch. I felt shock, gratitude and amazement.

Dazed, we split into two groups of five to search for rescuers. The pilot had been in contact with air traffic control so we assumed the crash would have been recorded and search parties would be out looking for us.

I was wearing just a thin silk blouse, light jeans and open-toe sandals as we stumbled away from the wreckage.

I didn't cry. I knew I had to be strong and in control if I was to stand any chance of survival.

We had crashed in the Rwenzori Mountains in the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was freezing cold, the sky was thick and dark with fog and the mountains were covered in a dense jungle of brambles. But the dangerous terrain and cold were the least of our worries.

I had lived in Africa until my family moved to England when I was 17, but I knew enough about this region to know wild animals and hostile rebel soldiers were as big a threat as the icy temperatures.

Some passengers sobbed and wailed and it started raining as night fell so our group clung on to a tree for protection from the elements. I didn't sleep though - it wasn't possible, and the ground was too cold and uneven to lie down on. By day two we'd lost two members of our group. Sapped of strength they strayed aimlessly into the jungle, never to be seen again. We had to assume they had died and carry on.

The three left in our group started walking the next day, desperately hoping to head towards some sort of civilization. There was nothing to eat and only swamp water to drink, but I refused that. Days and nights went by with us walking miles, with no sign of rescue and hope fading.

I focused on survival - seeing my little girl and my family again and turning this disaster into something positive one day. Without those thoughts I would have perished.

Another survivor died trying to swim across a fast-flowing stream, and by the ninth night the only other person in my group was so delirious with hunger he grabbed my arm and tried to bite me. I realised he was trying to eat me and slapped him until he let go. After that I walked on alone.

It was only then, stumbling in the dark, that I realised my legs were swollen and sore. But there was nothing I could do, so I carried on walking through snow, rain and thunderstorms. Giving up wasn't an option, and hunger pains and bitter cold had to be tolerated.

Then, on day 10, I saw men through a clearing. My heart leapt with hope, but I didn't know if they were rescuers or rebels. Luckily for me, they were helpful.

I'd made it.

Too exhausted and shocked to feel relief and sad to learn I was the only survivor, I was stunned to discover I'd walked over 100 miles in 10 days, surviving on nothing.

My family, who had thought I was dead, quickly arranged for me to be airlifted to the Lister Hospital in London.

After that my memories roll into each other, but I remember being told I had gangrene in my legs because of frostbite and that the dead bodies of my fellow passengers were on the plane I was carried away in.

They had all succumbed to starvation or infection.

I don't recall pain or fear, despite my swollen legs and cuts from thorns all over my body. I just focused on being strong and surviving this final hurdle.

By the time I was examined in London some of my toes were falling off. I had a seven-hour operation to amputate both my legs below the knee, and was told later I'd only had hours to live because the gangrene would have travelled to my heart and killed me.

Afterwards I stayed in hospital for 10 days, then went to a specialist unit where I learned to walk again with false limbs. My two sisters helped look after me, but after a month I managed to walk a mile, and after two months I was back home with my daughter.

I didn't feel self-pity. I'd made a deal with myself: If I survived and got back to safety I would use my experience to help others, and that's what I did.

Four months after the crash I went back to college and set up a charity for amputees in West London.

Then I did a degree and set up the disabled charity Richmond User Independent Living Scheme.

But this year my real dream has started to unfold. I launched Rock Rehabilitation to help provide treatment, counselling, and specialist training to improve lives of Ugandan amputees. I've just delivered the first consignment of 300 wheelchairs and I want to raise at least £1million.

In Uganda, if you lose a limb your life is considered over, but I'm living proof it doesn't have to be, and I want people to have the same opportunities as me.

Before the crash I never jogged, swam or played tennis, now I do all three. My life is busier and more fulfilling than ever.

I want others in my situation to be able to enjoy life again, just like me.

For more information visit or call 0208 948 0942.

Originally shown on the Mirror website.

Rosbell Kirungi

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