A new lease

Feature Ricky Megee survived for 71 days after being robbed and abandoned in the Outback. The Left for Dead author now lives in Dubai.

Ricky Megee, who was stranded in Australia's Northern Territory for 71 days is now living in Dubai and working for a construction company.
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Left for dead Ricky Mege Allen & Unwin Dh69 Ricky Megee survived for 71 days after being robbed and abandoned in the Outback. Sophia Money-Coutts meets the Left for Dead author, who now lives in Dubai Greeting Ricky Megee is a strange experience. The tall, well-built man who opens his apartment door in Dubai Marina looks nothing like the emaciated figure in the photographs in his book, which has just been published in the UAE. Left for Dead, chronicles the 71 days Megee spent stranded in Australian's inhospitable Northern Territory.

The experience in 2006, which led to Megee being dubbed the "human skeleton", has a ring of Crocodile Dundee about it, but it was more serious than a jaunt that went wrong. It left him dangerously thin, and he was convinced at various points that he would die. It has made him critical of the policing system in the area, which previously came under fire when Peter Falconio was murdered in 2001. Megee's book discusses his disappearance and the controversial aftermath. It was co-written with Greg McLean, the Australian journalist who helped break Megee's story in the Northern Territory News immediately after his rescue.

Initially, Megee was furious at being dubbed a "mystery man" by the paper, but he came around after agreeing to meet McLean for lunch. The pair subsequently became close friends, and lived together in the city of Darwin for six months. It was during that time that McLean interviewed him for the book. The result is a story that begins similarly to that of Joanne Lees and Peter Falconio. Like them, Megee was driving through the Northern Territory. It was January, 2006, and as he drove along the Buchanan Highway, he was flagged down by three men who said they'd run out of petrol. Megee allowed one in the car and shared his drink with him as they drove towards the nearest Aborigine camp. Having finished his drink, Megee's companion reached into the back and took another for Megee.

"He slipped something in it," Megee says. "I had a few mouthfuls and started to pass out, so he grabbed the steering wheel." They careered off the road, Megee fighting for the wheel but unable to stay conscious. He came round at dusk, sitting in the passenger seat of his car. "I could hear voices nearby. I jumped in the driver's side, sort of half conscious, and tried to pull off. Then someone jumped on the back of the car."

There began a Spider-Man-like drive, with Megee trying to shake off the man clinging to his car but failing to do so before the man smashed in the back window and started throwing punches. The car went down a ravine and became stuck. Megee passed out again, drifting in and out of consciousness throughout the night. He remembers four figures surrounding him and going through his car. "I woke and was thirsty so said to one of them, 'Take my car. I don't care, just give me some water'. I've since done some checking," he says. "There are people who live out in that area who pay people to rob cars, passports, money, everything. People don't realise what a passport is worth nowadays, you can take somebody's whole identity.

"That's what they were doing," he says. "I woke up the next day, no shoes, no socks, nothing. I wasn't supposed to walk out of there, I wasn't supposed to live." But the plan failed. Megee woke the next day in a shallow grave. He was under a tarpaulin, wearing a T-shirt and shorts, with car keys, $14.50 (Dh36) and a mobile phone with no battery power. Megee was lucky to be alive, but - unbeknown to him then - he still faced 10 weeks in the area, an arid wasteland the size of France, Italy and Spain combined.

"When I woke, I stood up and literally fell over again," he says. "I started looking for a road but was very disorientated." He later discovered he had been dumped 30 kilometres from the road and his bogged car. In temperatures of over 40°C, his immediate need was for water but there was none. He held out until the following day, then resorted to drinking his own urine. Hunger was the next problem to overcome. Megee didn't eat until the fifth day, and even then it was only what he could scavenge. "Just grass and small insects," he says.

After several days of walking (with bare feet which were badly cut), drinking rainwater and trying to find a road, Megee found an abandoned dam. This meant a water supply and greater food options: lizards, leeches, grasshoppers and little flowers. "The cockroach was disgusting," Megee says. "I didn't even really eat it. I put it in my mouth, bit down and spat is back out again. The taste stayed in my mouth for two days. The little frogs were pretty tasty, though."

Megee stayed at the dam for about nine days to allow his feet to recover. But, after hearing planes in the distance, he decided to move on. He walked for another two days, passing out frequently from heat exhaustion and dehydration, before reaching another, bigger dam that was full of clean water and surrounded by plenty of insects. He stayed there for six or seven weeks, living in a "humpy", a small shelter constructed from a steel feed trough and mud.

He says it was difficult to keep track of days, even though he tried. "When they found me I was 10 days out, I thought it was April 4 when really it was April 14." It was also difficult to pass the time. "Once the weight started dropping off, it took me 10 minutes to even get out of the humpy. I was that weak. Every day I'd go to fetch food and water but it was a real effort. I watched The Simpsons in my head. I thought about friends and family. I thought about when I was going to be found.

"In the beginning, I thought I'd be rescued every day. In the last three or four weeks I gave up. I definitely thought I'd die out there." Megee says it took his family some time to realise he was missing. "They knew I was travelling through Australia, but it wasn't until about six weeks later that my sister started getting worried and asking around. They told the police then, but they said I could be anywhere in a 2,000 mile radius and didn't even know where to start looking."

On the 71st day, Megee heard a car from his humpy. Two station-hands were out on a routine drive of the land and within minutes Megee was sitting in the back of their Land Rover, rescued. "I was so excited I kept touching them to see if they were real," he says. His weight had fallen from 105 to 45 kilograms, so he spent three weeks in hospital in Darwin and was put on a strict diet. But Megee faced further trouble when he was told by the Darwin police that they didn't believe his version of events.

Megee says that a Darwin police psychiatrist has since written a report asserting that he is telling the truth, though the police refused to comment officially on the case or be interviewed for his book. Instead, Megee has reprinted the reports of two Darwin doctors on his case. In one, Dr Len Notaras states that Megee's body had undergone severe strain. He concludes: "I couldn't swear that Ricky's story is true, but I couldn't deny it either."

The other, Dr David Welch, is more convinced. "After treating Ricky and speaking with him I have no doubts he spent a long time in extreme circumstances. Knowing this, I find it strange that some people are sceptical of his story." The suspicion and media controversy have lingered. Now based in Dubai and working for a construction company, Megee says it is not something that bothers him. "I don't care now if people believe me or not. If one person reads it, then is driving through the Northern Territoryerritory and someone tried to flag them down, do you think they're going to stop?"

The book is on its fourth reprint in Australia and there is talk of a film based on his experience, but Megee's immediate plans are in the UAE. "I'll be in Dubai for a couple of years, then hopefully go to Africa and get involved in aid work, building schools, some hospitals. It's made me look at things differently. I survived for a reason and I think I have a bit more to offer now. "I don't regret having gone through what I went through," he adds. "I cherish every day."

? Left For Dead is available exclusively at Kinokuniya Bookshop in Dubai Mall for Dh69 (www.kinokuniya.com). For more details on Megee, visit www.rickymegee.com smoneycoutts@thenational.ae