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Island adventure takes a turn

First Person

Newport Beach resident recalls his harrowing ordeal of being attacked by wild dogs in American Samoa.

May 18, 2012|By David C. Henley, Special to the Daily Pilot

PAGO PAGO, AMERICAN SAMOA — "You have deep and critical wounds to your leg, Mr. Henley. The dogs mauled through to the muscles and bone in several places. Your leg looks like mincemeat. I must operate at once."

These were the words of Dr. Alexander Baranek, who along with a physician's assistant and two nurses, prepared me for surgery as I lay in intense pain in the emergency room of the Lyndon B. Johnson Tropical Medical Center here in steamy and seedy Pago Pago, the capital of American Samoa.

I had flown in mid-April to this isolated U.S. Pacific territory south of the Equator, and 2,600 miles southwest of Hawaii, for a 10-day adventure to photograph island native life and 20th century shipwrecks scattered throughout the Samoan archipelago.

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I also planned to travel to several outer islands I had not visited on previous trips in this frightfully hot and humid island group that native chiefs ceded to the United States in 1900 to serve as a deep-water port and coaling station for U.S. Navy warships and merchant vessels.

During the first six days of my trip, I traveled throughout the main island of Tutuila, as originally planned, taking photos of colorful native villages and their inhabitants and a half-dozen wrecked ships that lie rusting and half-submerged in coastal waters and on deserted rural beaches far from the population center of Pago Pago.

But four days before my scheduled return to Newport Beach, my adventure turned into a decided misadventure.

I had traveled 25 miles northwest of Pago Pago to the farthest tip of Tutuila Island, where I hired a small boat in the fishing village of Auasi that carried me to the tiny island of Aunu'u, about two miles offshore.

Aunu'u, population 450, is about 2 square miles in size, and the site of yet another shipwreck, beautiful beaches and a scary-looking swamp that contains quicksand that can suck a human to his death in a matter of minutes.

I prudently avoided the quicksand, took photos of the beaches and shipwreck and was hiking back to Aunu'u harbor for the return boat ride to the main island when I suddenly found myself in a situation straight out of hell.

Pausing to photograph a group of children gathered in a clearing near the Aunu'u pier, I was surrounded by a stray pack of four snarling dogs. They circled me, barking loudly and showing their fangs.

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