A teenage British backpacker has been mauled by a crocodile while travelling with friends on a gap year holiday in southern Africa.
Amelie Osborn-Smith, from Andover, Hampshire, had been enjoying a day of white water rafting in the Zambezi River below Victoria Falls in Zambia when she was attacked by the 10ft beast which put her into a ‘death roll’.
Speaking exclusively to MailOnline, the 18-year-old’s father said that his daughter had been resting her leg over the side of the boat when the crocodile clamped its jaws around her calf and dragged her under the water.
Brent Osborn-Smith, 60, an Army Major-turned-osteopath, said: ‘She’s in a pretty bad state at the moment in Zambia and we’re doing our best to try and get her back to have some proper definitive care here.’
Amelie, who is backpacking after finishing her A-levels at the £22,000-a-year St Swithun’s School, an all-girls boarding school in Winchester, was only saved by a quick-thinking male friend who punched the animal on the nose until it let go.
She was airlifted to hospital in the capital Lusaka for life-saving surgery – and to try to save her shredded leg.
Mr Osborn-Smith said: ‘She’s a very sensible girl, but on this occasion she was being guided by the rafting company and it was on their advice.
‘She wasn’t actually swimming but just sitting on the boat and the crocodile saw her leg dangling in the water and the crocodile clamped its jaws onto her leg and dragged her under the water.
‘Obviously with a crocodile bite there’s a huge risk of infection and she’s got a very severely damaged leg. It’s quite a distressing situation.
‘She’s been stabilised as best they can but it’s still pretty touch and go and we’re trying to arrange appropriate consultants here lined up.
‘The other issue is that Zambia is now on the Covid red list, so there are various hoops which need to stepped through quite carefully. ‘
A friend of Amelie’s said: ‘As soon as it happened the male friend dived under the water and started punching the crocodile furiously.
‘Then others jumped in to help. It was chaos. There was blood and people thrashing everywhere. She is lucky to be alive.’
The guides and fellow rafters also leapt into the river in a bid to save her.
‘Eventually the croc gave up and they pulled her back into the boat,’ said the friend.
‘She was in quite a bad way. They patched her up as best they could and arranged an emergency med-evac.’
Amelie, whose mother Veronika Osborn-Smith is a German Baroness, 52, was white water rafting with Bundu Rafting based in Livingstone, Zambia.
A spokesman for the firm confirmed that Amelie was on a trip with them, but declined to give further details.
On its website the company, based in Livingstone, said ‘safety always comes first’ on the ‘adrenaline-filled and safe adventure activities’. The company has been operating in the Victoria Falls region since 1996.
The rapids below Victoria Falls are considered to be the best white water rafting experience in the world with turbulent challenges interspersed with tranquil pools
This stretch of the Zambezi river just below the falls is also considered the safest to enjoy as crocodiles prefer the calmer, flatter sections downstream.
Amelie is recovering in hospital in the Zambian capital, 240 miles from where the attack took place. It is not clear exactly when she was attacked.
Mr Osborn-Smith said she was on a gap year after her studied and explained the family’s close link to Africa: ‘My daughter was on a gap year to Zambia and it’s a country we are fairly familiar with – her grandmother has a farm on the Zambezi river, so we have spent a bit of time there.’
While attacks at the falls are rare, they are not unprecedented.
In 2018, a Zimbabwean woman canoeing above the falls with her British fiancé had her arm bitten off by a 16ft crocodile which attacked their boat.
Zanele Ndlovu, a former national tennis player, had been enjoying a day out with Briton Jamie Fox when the reptile attacked and punctured their raft in April.
Forced into the water, Ms Ndlovu had her left hand bitten and right arm torn off above the elbow in a horrifying attack just days before their wedding.
She was rushed to hospital where medics managed to stitch up the wound and save her life, before getting married in the hospital chapel the following month.
Zanele told The Chronicle newspaper in Zimbabwe at the time: ‘The waters were very calm and we had guides and there were about seven boats in the water when the crocodile just jumped out.
‘It jumped out of the water and bit a chunk of my right arm together with the side of the canoe which started deflating and it all just happened so fast.
‘The crocodile bit me again and pulled me into the water. My husband was thrown out the opposite side so the boat was between the two of us.
‘Jamie swam over to where I was struggling with the crocodile that was trying to pull me to the bottom of the river and grabbed my waist and with the other hand he rained blows down on the crocodile.
‘It all happened so fast we have conflicting accounts of events. The guides saw us battling the crocodile and joined in and the crocodile finally let go.
‘The pain was excruciating but Jamie was by my side and I summoned the strength to fight through it and although he was in shock he calmed me down.’