Oklahoma City couple find adventure, danger on Indonesian peak
Mike Dillard, chief executive officer of Century Martial Arts and a prominent area developer, is a well known adrenaline junkie — but even he admits he was shaken by his latest adventure.
What began as a recent attempt at mountain climbing in Indonesia was far more dangerous than he ever envisioned as he trekked through territory with battles raging among tribes, Indonesian soldiers, rebels, police and mercenaries.
It’s an adventure that involved a four-day detention at the world’s largest gold mine, the threat of being held for ransom by mercenaries and a daring escape.
Patti Beard was talking to a friend on the night of March 21 when an alarming text message popped up on her phone from Dillard, her brother and employer.
“Stuck in mine detention. Might be public stock. Need strings pulled to get out.”
Over the next few hours, Beard and Dillard exchanged a series of text messages that left them both convinced that Dillard and his wife, Libby, were in grave danger at an American-owned gold mine in a remote Indonesian jungle where they had initially sought refuge.
Beard said authorities with SOS International, which Dillard retained for emergency medical care, warned that without a quick escape the Dillards likely would be escorted from the Indonesian gold mine by mercenaries who would demand a high ransom for their release.
“I’ve lived a charmed life,” Dillard confesses recalling his various exploits. “I’ve gotten to do a lot of fun things because of the job I have.”
But what ensued is the sort of drama that Dillard admits was over the top for even a self-admitted adrenaline junkie as himself.
The Oklahoman was not able to reach someone at the gold mining company for reaction to the Dillards’ story.
The trip began with the goal of climbing the Carstensz Pyramid, which at 16,000 feet is one of the world’s “Seven Peaks” (the highest peak on each of the seven continents). The Dillards had already climbed two of the peaks — Aconcagua in Argentina and Kilimanjaro in Africa.
They trained for months before attempting to tackle Carstensz in the Papua province. They knew the real challenge wasn’t the climb itself, but rather the treacherous eight-day jungle trek required to get to the mountain’s base.
They employed Jean Pavillard as their guide — a 24-year veteran who boasted experience mountain climbing on each continent.
Pavillard believed he did a good job explaining the risks of this trip. The Papau province is in a remote part of Indonesia — an area not accustomed to tourism and where the tribes have yet to catch up with the modern world.
“When you go on an expedition, such as Carstensz in Papau, you are really entering an adventure with a lot of unknowns,” Pavillard said in an interview with The Oklahoman last week. “You have to be willing and ready to accept those unknowns … It’s the trek, the difficulty of dealing with the tribes. Nobody knows them very well.”
Dillard insists some information about the area was known — but not explained before the journey. He did not know that the Freeport/Grasberg mine near the base of the mountain has been the source of armed conflict for decades.
With profits topping $4.1 billion in 2010, the Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. retains 91 percent of the proceeds while the remaining 9 percent goes to the Indonesian government. Papuans have fought to increase their share of the profits, resulting in violent strikes they claim are suppressed by mercenaries hired as strikebreakers by the mine’s owners.
Tribes are at war. The government is battling the Free Papua Movement — rebels seeking to overthrow the government of Papua and West Papau. Security forces, rebels and tribes all stand accused of violence in the area, with deadly terrorist attacks reported just a month before the Dillards’ arrival.
Yet with so much strife in the area, the Dillards say they knew nothing of the danger that awaited them.