How Fry Nearly Became Extinct; A Televised Quest for the World's Most Endangered Species Turned into an Agonising Ordeal for Stephen Fry

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Byline: Amanda Cable

In the jungle, accidents happen when you are exhausted. Add darkness, torrential rain and a small film crew - along with two presenters, Stephen Fry and zoologist Mark Carwardine - attempting to climb onto a boat from a floating jetty, and the recipe is there for a truly horrific accident.

At 5am, deep in the Amazon jungle, as the film-makers struggled through horrific conditions, Fry slipped on the makeshift dock and crashed down onto his side. It was immediately obvious that he was badly hurt. But this was the middle of the jungle, there was no help at hand, and the rain was beating down.

Carwardine, Fry's long-term friend, recalls, 'Seeing Stephen in agony, and trying to decide quickly what to do, was tough. We couldn't tell if he had damaged his spine, because the pain was so severe he couldn't move. We called for help on our satellite phone, while someone else ran to a village that had a small medical centre to get pain relief.'

With Fry's permission, the TV cameras kept rolling throughout the drama, and the resulting footage showed how even efforts to gently move him onto the boat brought fresh waves of unbearable pain. Carwardine, 50, says, 'He needed to get to a hospital fast, but we were miles from anywhere. We were able to arrange for a sea plane to airlift Stephen, but it took another couple of hours for it to reach us. I felt utterly helpless. There was nothing we could do, other than try to reassure him that help was on the way.

'The plane took us to the nearest hospital, and poor Stephen had to hold his arm steady throughout the flight. Each time he moved, he could feel the bones shifting, and he knew it was broken.'

In fact, X-rays revealed that Fry's right arm was broken in three places, and he required urgent surgery. Carwardine spent the rest of the night trying to arrange a flight to a better medical centre.

'I arranged for Stephen to be flown to Miami the next morning,' he says. 'Neither of us slept at all that night, and when I arrived at the hospital to pick him up, he looked unrecognisable. His hair was standing on end, his face was grey with pain and exhaustion, his shirt was torn and his arm was in a plaster to protect it during the flight to Miami.'

While Carwardine stayed on in Brazil to finish filming, Fry flew to the US. But when doctors there decided that he needed major surgery, he faced yet another tortuous journey - back to England, where specialist doctors could operate to save the use of his arm. One last agonising challenge lay in store for the 52-year-old.

'Doctors warned that the air pressure in the plane could cause his arm to swell,' says Carwardine, 'so Stephen had to endure the flight without his arm being supported by a plaster cast. …