Friday, May 22, 2009

Heaven Awaits You David Pluth 1946- 2009

This morning Jock received a call from a very distraught Suzanne. It was early, her sobs were audible through the phone line. Our photographer, David Pluth, passed away last night. It was completely avoidable, it was completely useless, it was completely because we live here, in Rwanda, not in the USA, but in Rwanda. He dodged bullets in Uganda from the LRA, he filmed in Congo, he died trying to hike up to the source of the Nile in Rwanda. He could have been saved....

I had only met David last week. Suzanne, a friend of Jock's, had met David and they were looking for a couple of "tourist" looking aka Muzungus to film for the Rwandan Tourism DVD. We were Muzungu tourist enough for the video. I met David last week Monday, by Wednesday Jock and I were headed to Gisenyi to work with David and his partner Lawrence. The first time I met David at the Gorilla Hotel in Musanze I was "wowwed"....his life was a page out of National Geographic. He was a photographer and he was the first person willing to come in to Rwanda after the Genocide. He filmed all over the world. He was American, living in Switzerland, traveling the world. He was everything I always dreamed of being...the consumate world traveler.

We spent three days in Gisenyi, "frolicking" on the beaches of Lake Kivu. The entire time we were being filmed...cheesey, touristy...but those were some of his last pictures. I have honestly not laughed that much in years.  Rebecca, Suzanne, Jock and I like teenagers, laughing and joking, playing MTV Spring Break. It truly was a fun three days.

David, Suzanne and Lawrence headed out last Friday to Nyungwe National Forest to film. ORTPN the tourist group that had contracted for the film had provided the group with less then stellar accomodations. There was no breakfast or lunches available and the group was given limited water. They were supposed to receive a 4 wheel drive vehicle to take them most of the way in. In Rwanda, vehicles and relability are NOT synonomous. The vehicle lacked four wheel drive and they set out on foot carrying all their camera gear without any packers. According to Suzanne the "guide" recommended a short cut and they followed it. David missed the short cut and later collapsed on the trail, alone. When Lawrence, Suzanne and the guide found him he was already in peril. There was no one to call, no vehicle, no aid, no 911, no Life Flight. It was Lawrence and Suzanne carrying him out of that forest. He died last night.

He was only 64.

One of the last stories David left us with last Friday was from an adventure of his in Uganda years ago during the LRA uprising. He told us he wasn't very religious but this story made him believe in the power of prayer. He was filming on assignment when the LRA stormed a village and killed everyone in the village. Their driver was one of the people. He had been carrying a 50# bag of sugar that had saved him from the bullets to the back. He avoided death again when some local tribesman came upon him and wanted to kill him. He looked at his watch as he raised his hand. The tribesmen recognized him as the "Muzungu" driver and spared him. At the exact same time that he looked at his watch and mentally recorded the time, the village with David and Lawrence were offering up prayers for his safe return. From that point, David had considered that there might have been a higher power guiding their lives. I like to believe that David was comfortable with us and especially with the sprituality that Suzanne and Jock evoke that he felt safe sharing this with us.

David Pluth's last post on his Facebook page was.....

David Pluth spent a couple of days filming some amazing people frolic on the beach in Gisenyi, Rwanda. Doesn't get much better than this.

We were those people. I thank God that we made one of his last days one of his best days. His death not only reminded me the power of living my life passionately, but to ALWAYS remember to make others lives better because they crossed your path. You just never know.....

To see David's amazing


  1. We have read this latest terribly sad, but Dave lived his life right up to the end. And you were a part of those last days. How fortunate that you crossed paths if only for a short time.
    Take care..our prayers, our love to you our dear daughter
    Mom & Dad

  2. Thank you, Kim, for remembering Dave's last days. Your post brought tears to my eyes. I was one of those people with you on his last days, and am grateful for having met him, spent time with him and created some unforgettable memories together.

  3. Kim,

    Thank you so much for providing these detail. I got a two sentence email from Dave's wife Pat yesterday saying that he had died. I was just floored. This will take a while to recover from. Dave and I go back more than 30 years. He was once a chef in a restaurant I ran in Alaska back in the 70s. We later did some crazy climbing together and then lost touch. Two years ago we reconnected and I joined him (and Lawrence) on a whirlwind tour through Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda. 7,000 Km in 18 days ending in a 144 ft. bungee dive into the Nile. Never a dull moment around Dave!

    Thank God your friend Suzanne and Lawrence were there. I know they must have done everything they could have. It is truly tragic. He had so much more life to live - but then he had lived so intensely and had experiences beyond most mortals.

    A life fully and vigorously lived. Lots of laughter. I can hear it now.....

    I've often said that all my friends are eccentric - and Dave has always been right up there at the top of the list.

    The world will be diminished without him. There will be a gap. But there will always be fine memories of good times.

    We owe it to Dave to live our lives more fully. He'll be watching - with that wry smile and unconventional comment.

    Best regards,

    Jim Isbell
    Austin, Texas

  4. I am grateful for your post. I too know David. He was going to film my trek up Kilimanjaro - a spiritual journey for me. I didn't get the funding but I gained a friend and an inspiration. The last time we chatted on Facebook, he was enjoying a Tusker at 1 am and feeling great.

    I mourn that I never got the chance to work with him...But mostly, in life and in death, he reminds me to live fully.


    Laura D'Ambrosio

  5. Thank you for this site.

    Dave and I learned to fly airplanes together in the Air Explorer Scouts, so that goes back to 1962. Those were the days of endless teenage adventures. One time we were going to spend a summer hitch hiking across the US, but had to cancel that trip due to Dave braking his leg playing rugby. Another time, we spent the night on Mt. Whitney.

    Dave camped out in my basement for a period during the seventeen years that I flew helicopters in Alaska. One time I came home to find him and several famous mountain climbers poring over maps on my living room floor. Made me feel like Bilbo Bagins with Elves and Wizards in my home.

    Although the miles between us grew longer, we always stayed in touch. I will miss him very much.

    Pete Hadley

  6. 29 May

    At 06:00 Lawrence loaded the Uganda van and headed back to Kampala with the gear. The Ugandan deputy ambassador is traveling with him so he is feeling more secure.

    Tomorrow David's body will fly with me on SN Brussels back to Switzerland where, following his wishes, he will be cremated. Later his ashes will be scattered in British Columbia, Canada.

    David was my love, lucky to have shared so many years of life with him.

    Fotografx will continue in business, David had great plans, together we'll achieve some of them.

  7. Kim, thank you this blog and your words. I am David's cousin, and I, too, saw on Facebook that "it doesn't get better than this." To think that his last days were spent "frolicking" (great word) is comforting. However he is gone too soon. The tears just don't stop, but I hope you will remember this unique individual, as I will, for all your life,
    Karen Furnari

  8. its absurd the way Dave died, its funny that he was on official duty in the country (rwanda) and he was never given the necessary help he needed. God rest his soul in peace.Pat , take heart, and keep the Dave fire burning , we all miss him.

  9. Thank you for these memories of my brother, David. As people ask me about his life, and his death, I share this blog with them. Because he was my older brother, I thought of him always as invincible. I will miss him terribly. Richard Pluth

  10. Hi Kimberly,Thank you for posting all of our remembrances of Dave, and allowiing me do post as well.
    I too learned to fly with Dave in the Air Explorer Scouts back in the early 1960s. "Ole' Carrot Top" was the only other scout at the time to have had to make a forced landing (other than myself) when the engine in our Cessna 150 decided to swallow a valve. Of course, Dave landed in a field of carrots. It couldn't have been more apropos.
    Two summers ago, my wife, Karen and I were fortunate to be able to go back to Europe for a vacation. I telephoned David to tell him of our upcoming trip. He said that we, of course had to stop in Stafa to see him and finally be able to meet Patricia. We were able to spend three fantastic days with him and Patricia (and the dogs). We learned about having Viniets (SP?) whilst traveling in the EU countries on our visit with them in Munich.
    I was able to speak with him via SKYPE a few weeks ago. He truly will be missed.
    Tom Cagan

  11. Dear Friends and Family of David Pluth,

    The entire toursim community of Uganda mourns the passing of this great man. He was our friend. He was our photographer. Most all the iconic photos of Uganda are courtesy of Dave.

    Our hearts go out to his family and he travels to another place with our prayers and well wishes. We thank him for all his good works and know that he will be well remembered here in the Pearl of Africa that he so loved.

    With much love and fond rememberances,

    Kelley MacTavish-Mungar
    Pearl of Africa Tours and Travel Limited
    Kampala, Uganda
    +256 772 403 614

  12. I met David a decade ago and was in touch with him on occasions when he was in Uganda and he will be truly missed by all who came in contact with him.

    Please pass on our deepest condolences to David's family.

    May his soul rest in eternal peace.

    Roni Madhvani


  13. David was a friend of mine, and we shared some good times together. Always one to speak his mind, and never one to suffer fools gladly, sometimes made him unpopular with "the authorities". What a shame that Rwanda, the country he did some much for, did not handle this more professionally.

    ORTPN - you would be advised to learn from your mistakes use this tragic event to review your own procedures and policies to prevent a recurrence.This is precisely the sort of thing that could damage the tourism industry you are trying to build.

  14. Bugger, bugger, bugger!!
    Too young, too good, too sound.
    May all who new Dave take inspiration from their memory of him to live life with more vigour and meaning.

  15. David was doing a TANZANIA NATIONAL PARKS*(TANAPA) photography and international brochure in 2003 when i first met him. I was working with TANAPA as a graphic designer. I have no proper words to describe what our friendship grew to be. To me, David was a friend and a father. All my family members knew David, and we shared most of his time together whenever he was in Tanzania. I travelled Europe with him,and spent two great months with him and Patircia in their home at Stafa
    He made a telling contribution to tourism in East Africa and gave everything for the cause.
    My though and prayers are with Pat and the doggies. His loss will remain keenly felt by the entire tourism community in east africa.
    We are having difficulties in taking this in but what to do?

  16. Dave was my unbelievably capable, talented undergraduate "reader" at the University of California Santa Barbara Geography Program. Happy to learn he learned flying in 1962, because I was flying with him in his [very] old Piper Cub by 1964. Last saw him in person in Vancouver in 1971. It was a shock learning he so prematurely departed this vale of sorrow when I attempted to tell him of the death of my wife...Berl Golomb

  17. David story:

    We awoke to the swishing sound of many AK47's being fired at the same time, with the echos going back and forth in the narrow valley we where trekking thru. Its an oddly unworldly sound. David and Pat were tented nearby, already awake.

    We knew just what was happening. A couple miles away a leper colony and the adjacent village was under attack from LRA rebels. They wanted medicine, slaves, and food.

    Problem was we were in the bush. Our landrover, possibly the only vehicle for 50 miles or more, was in that village.

    So David talks to an elder from a nearby mud hut. The two of them decide we should walk to the village, with spears!

    David, myself and the old mezee walking single file along an ancient African path towards the sounds of now more distant gunfire. With SPEARS!

    David was on point, as always.

    Godspeed wahaja, godspeed muzungu, godspeed rifiki.


  18. I just found out about David's untimely death today. I only met him once in London, but we connected immediately over a love for Africa. Ironically I have now ended up living in BC, another place he loved dearly, and I am pleased to hear his ashes have been spread here.

    Next time I am in the mountains on the North Shore or out on the waters of Howe Sound, I will stop and think of David. He lived life to the full and died doing what he loved - a lesson to us all.

  19. MK, Christmas on Mt Elgon a few days before with the porter rebellion: "When you return home you will be correctly beaten." Brought peace to the camp, wise man.

  20. Driver David survived the LRA attack in 1998 and is thriving with his family in Kampala. A rare adult survivor of an LRA attack.