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Stricken wife fought off vultures after hubby dies on Amazon boat trip

A woman escaped the attentions of vultures and hungry reptiles while spending a week adrift with her husband’s body after he died of a suspected heart attack.

Jose Nilson de Souza Bernardo, 68, died at the beginning of his wife Maria das Gracas Mota Bernardo’s maiden fishing trip down the Amazon river on March 29.

The elderly couple had intended to boat down the Rio Negro, also known as the Guainia, in north-west Brazil before heading back home, taking two craft with them – a motorised fishing boat and a canoe.

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But Jose died, and non-swimmer Maria was forced to spend days living on raw fish while paddling to escape caimans – aquatic reptiles that can measure up to 8ft.

Maria told her loved ones, who found her a week later, that she had abandoned the canoe and set out on the motorboat to find help, but was left stranded when its engine would not work.

A search operation found the couple’s canoe tied to a tree with rotting fish inside.

Her daughter, Cristiane, said: "After dinner, Jose went to lie down in the hammock, but the rope snapped and he was startled.

"He got up and hit his knee. He sat down again and started fanning himself, telling my mother that he was feeling hot.

"She said he then stood up, screamed, and fell over. She caught him, lifted his head, and he took his last breath."

All she had to give her the energy to bang pots and pans to get people’s attention was the raw fish and flour aboard the boat, which contained her hubby's body.

Christiane said: "One day she only drank water. On another day, she only ate flour with water and drank pure lemon juice.

"She couldn’t sleep any more," adding: "All her strength went into bringing his body home, for the family to give him a dignified burial.

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"My mum said vultures started to perch on top of the vessel. She hit them and they screamed."

The daughter added that her mum put a tarpaulin over the body because insects were already taking an interest.

It took nearly a week for the Brazillian Navy to discover Maria drifting in Iranduba, around 100 miles from where she and her husband set off.

A navy helicopter rescued her on April 4, with an autopsy due to be conducted to establish the exact cause of Jose’s death.


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