A tribute to a hero

Film will recreate Noel Wolfe's near-death experience in Africa
by: Cliff Newell, 
Noel Wolfe looks over some clippings and photos of the African adventure that almost ended his life in 2000. He recently returned from making a film of experience for the VERSUS network.

Noel Wolfe of Lake Oswego barely knew the African hunting guide known as Maximilian.

Until the moment Maximilian became the most important person in Wolfe's life.

While on his first hunting trip to Zambia, Africa, in 2000 Wolfe encountered a hunter's worst nightmare - an attack by a cape buffalo, one of the 'Big Five' (including elephant, rhino, lion and leopard) most deadly animals on the continent.

Wolfe lay helpless on the ground, suffering from multiple traumatic injuries, barely hanging onto his life.

And it seemed like the cape buffalo was not done with him.

'He was standing over me,' Wolfe said. 'All he had to do was lower his head and I was finished.'

That did not happen. Because Maximilian bravely was able to distract the beast and then kill it before it could kill Wolfe.

'I still cannot figure out why someone with nothing vested in my life would exhibit that kind of heroism,' Wolfe said. 'I was a dead man without his assistance.'

Wolfe became just the second human being in recorded history to survive an attack by a cape buffalo. His fight for life was like a 'believe-it-or-not' story, and he is definitely worse for the wear these days. But doctors were able to stich him back together, he was able to return to his position as vice president of D.A. Davidson and Co. in Lake Oswego and now lives a very good life, because of Maximilian.

So Wolfe wanted to thank him, and he did. But not in the way he intended.

After searching for Maximilian for two years, Wolfe finally discovered that he had died of AIDS, a disease that is turning parts of Africa into gigantic cemeteries.

Wolfe wasn't able to thank Maximilian in person and provide him and his family with financial assistance. Instead, he is thanking him through a film about his near-death experience that will be presented on the VERSUS network (formerly Outdoor Life Network) in the program Beretta's Dangerous Game Series.

'At first I told them I wouldn't do it,' Wolfe said. 'But I didn't have the opportunity to personally thank Maximilian, and this was my opportunity to publicly thank him for his heroism.

'My other motivation was that I've learned a lot about preventing deadly hunting accidents and I wanted to help other hunters.'

Ironically, Outdoor Life Network heard about Wolfe's adventure from an article that appeared in The Lake Oswego Review in 2003. At that point Wolfe was in the middle of his frustrating but determined search to find the hero.

'It was like looking for a needle in a haystack, only worse,' said Wolfe, who started his search only eight months after his mauling. 'There's no birth certificates, no tracing by the government, there was AIDS striking down anyone who could help me. Trying to find someone in Africa is almost impossible.'

But 'impossible' did not discourage Wolfe, and he kept searching until he discovered from Mike Heath, a professional hunter in Zambai, the very sad news: Maximilian had died just six months after saving Wolfe's life.

'I would have given him anything he wanted,' Wolfe said. 'I'm still trying to find his family.'

All Wolfe could do was offer a tribute in a movie, but it required something quite remarkable from him: Reliving the incident in which he almost lost his life.

Some parts of the episode were recreated, such as the original goring, for which some very gruesome makeup was applied to Wolfe.

'Actually, the real wounds looked a lot worse,' Wolfe said.

But the payoff of the film was the real thing. Wolfe again had to face a charging cape buffalo. No special effects or computerization. This terror was totally genuine.

'I'm a bit of an adrenaline junkie,' Wolfe admits, and his first experience with the cape buffalo was actually his second close brush with death. As an 18-year-old soldier serving with the 18th Army Airborne Division in Vietnam, Wolfe was badly wounded. His subsequent life had plenty of adrenaline rushes, including seven years as a DEA officer and 40 years as a hunter of dangerous game.

The flame for adventure still burns brightly in Wolfe. A self-described 'flag-waving American patriot,' Wolfe recently volunteered to serve in Iraq in order to allow young soldiers to return home. But at age 59, the Army decided that Wolfe was a tad too old.

Still, another encounter with a cape buffalo seemed to be beyond the pale, even for Wolfe.

'I'm not an emotional man,' said Wolfe. 'But when that cape buffalo charged at me ... When the cape buffalo charges at you it's not trying to get away. It's coming to kill you.'

This time the outcome was different. Wolfe brought down the animal with three shots.

'My close family asked me not to go,' Wolfe said. 'My friends believe it was the decent thing to do. To publicly thank the person who saved my life.'

Not that Wolfe didn't have second thoughts during the filming. Especially when the '2,000 pounds of mean muscle' came charging at him.

'It did enter my mind,' Wolfe said. 'I thought maybe it was time to let the ghosts lie.

'But I was convinced that if I ever had the chance to thank a public hero, this was it.'

The showing of Noel Wolfe's African adventure is scheduled to be shown by the VERSUS, local channel Comcast 32, on a date in late October.