A British teenager who survived 12 nights in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney yesterday denied staging an elaborate hoax, saying he feared dying in the rugged wilderness.
Jamie Neale returned to the walking track where he became lost to recount his ordeal for a Channel Nine TV current affairs show which paid him a reported A$200,000 (US$160,000).
The 19-year-old told how he prepared for death by writing letters to his family.
“I was thinking I might die on that mountain,” he said.
“I had actually written some goodbye notes and things to my family saying my last walk, saying sorry, explaining how I’d got lost and different things like that,” he said.
Neale’s story has made headlines around the world and a publicity agent whisked the north London teen away from waiting media in a black Range Rover when he was released from hospital on Friday.
Some Australian news Web sites have carried comments accusing Neale of staging his survival feat to secure a lucrative media deal but the teenager said his extraordinary story was not a hoax.
“I know what happened,” he said.
“I know the people who were out searching for me, they know that it happened and that’s good enough for me,” he said.
“People can say what they want because I’m not lying. It’s the truth,” Neal said.
Neale’s father, Richard Cass, and his agent, Sean Anderson of celebrity management firm 22 Management, have both said profits would be donated to the youth’s rescuers.
The teen set off for a solo hike on July 3 but got hopelessly lost, eating only seeds and weeds with just a lightweight jacket for warmth in freezing overnight conditions.
He told police he had torn strips of bark from native paperbark trees to wrap himself in at night, and went into “survival mode” once he stopped hearing search helicopters fly by.
Police have backed Neale’s story, interviewing him at length after his rescue and saying his descriptions of areas he had walked through and slept in checked out.