At 02:45hrs, global medical and security assistance provider, Traveller Assist received a phone call from a distressed male who explained that he was a member of a small scientific team who had been on a remote expedition in the jungles of Costa Rica for the past 12-weeks; with absolutely no contact with the outside world, and seemingly no idea about the global lockdown that is in place due to Covid-19.
The group had been monitoring global warming affects on jungle plants and animals as part of an independent study funded through a religious institution. They had a helicopter scheduled to pick them up on the Sunday, but it failed to show. After waiting for 24-hours, the group decided to hike out, taking five-days, and sustaining one minor injury.
Danny Kaine, Head of Assistance at Traveller Assist explained, “Due to the complex nature of this case, one of our Case Managers called me at 03:00hrs to explain the surreal situation. It’s certainly not the strangest case we have ever received, but I wanted to authenticate that it was real and not a hoax (which does happen). Luckily we have a very good relationship with the helicopter providers in CR and so we called each one and managed to confirm that a pick-up had been scheduled, but due to the lockdown; they could not fly and they had not been able to communicate with the group.”
The group of scientists were made up of eight males and three females from four different countries, and two local guides.
Luckily, one of the scientists is a former student of a university that Traveller Assist is retained by to provide global travel risk management services, and so he still carries the 24/7 emergency assistance details with him. The expedition leader made the decision to call Traveller Assist after being told about the global lockdown upon emerging from the jungle and finding the means to recharge batteries and find a phone signal.
Our first priority was to keep the group as isolated as possible and to assess their health, as well as provide medical assistance for one of the members who had fallen and suffered cuts and bruises.
“We activated two local ground agents, one of who is a medical doctor, and is retained by Traveller Assist, to coordinate a safe-house where the scientists could stay, and also to provide medical assessments, and to deliver food and drinking water.” Explained Kaine.
The entire group were uninsured and so we were given the contact details of the religious institution who had funded the expedition. Upon calling them and explaining the situation, they were extremely helpful and agreed to cover the costs for all assistance and repatriation services.
The advice of Traveller Assist was for the group to shelter-in-place. Other than one of the local guides, the rest of the group had not been in contact with any other person other than our local doctor who had taken precautions when assessing them by wearing PPE. The group had been in a jungle environment, for just over 12-weeks, with no symptoms of Covid-19.
However, the group made the collective decision that they all wanted to return to their home countries.
With a starting point of Costa Rica, especially during a global lockdown, there are no direct flights to any of the four countries this group are from and the last thing we wanted was for any of the group to become stranded or quarantined along the way. We also wanted to avoid sending non-US citizens through the United States.
The Traveller Assist team were able to redirect an air ambulance that was in Panama, and scheduled to return to the US on an empty leg. They picked up two US citizens and returned them home. For the remaining nine members, with full cooperation from the religious institution, we chartered a private jet from San Jose to the Netherlands where four of the scientists were from, and all other members were able to carry-on their onward journeys to the UK and Germany.
In the past three-months, Traveller Assist has successfully evacuated over 800 people back to their home countries during this unprecedented event, including NGO workers from Iraq, Sudan and Somalia. Scientists from Antarctica and Papua New Guinea. Students from Hong Kong, Vietnam and Thailand. Oil & Gas workers from Sierra Leone. And pleasure travellers from over 50-countries.
Danny Kaine added, “Having reliable networks in place, with local knowledge, who we can trust, has always been the foundation on which Traveller Assist was built, and enables us to operate effectively at short notice, providing an unrivalled service in some of the most remote and complex regions in the world.”
Traveller Assist continues to provide medical and security assistance, logistical support and operational advice to both business and pleasure travellers who have remained, or are stranded in-country during the Covid-19 Pandemic.