Geographic Photographer Critically Injured in Africa

John Roach
for National Geographic News
June 11, 2007
National Geographic photographer Bobby Model remains in critical condition at a South African hospital after a chunk of concrete smashed through the windshield of a pickup truck and hit him in the head Thursday.

Model, 34, is in the intensive care unit at the Vergelegen Medi-Clinic in Cape Town.

The Kenya-based U.S. native was on vacation when the melon-size piece of concrete struck his pickup truck, which his sister Faith was driving. She was not hurt.

An email update today from Model's family and friends at the hospital said that "his condition has deteriorated."

"The contusion appears to have spread and is putting pressure on his brain stem. He is not in any pain, and his vitals are being kept stable. He has not regained consciousness."

Stone Throwing

Police are still investigating whether the chunk of concrete was purposely thrown at Model's car or fell off a truck, according to the Cape Argus news agency.

Model (pronounced moe-DELL) and his sister were struck near the Monwabisi resort, which is close to Khayelitsha, one of Cape Town's sprawling poor townships.

The region has become notorious for stone-throwing attacks in recent years. A man was killed last year when a brick was hurled through his windshield, Britain's Guardian Unlimited news site reported Sunday.

Emerging Explorer

In 2006 the National Geographic Society named Model an "emerging explorer," a program that recognizes and supports "dynamic personalities who are making a significant contribution to world knowledge through exploration."

(National Geographic News is part of the National Geographic Society.)

Model, an accomplished rock climber, was also part of a team that completed the first free ascent of the East Face of the Trango Tower, a 20,600-foot (6,280-meter) spire in Pakistan's Karakoram Range.

An account of the expedition in the April 1996 issue of National Geographic magazine landed a picture of Model on the cover. He was 22 years old at the time.

A photograph he took with a point-and-shoot camera of expedition photographer Bill Hatcher dangling from a rope "became the signature adventure photo for National Geographic," said Rebecca Martin, head of the Society's Expeditions Council, which awards grants to explorers.

The Trango expedition team included Model's mentor and friend Todd Skinner, a renowned climber who died last October pioneering a new route in California's Yosemite National Park.

Model has also covered Sudan's civil war, a trek across Iran (see photos), and the border dispute in the far northern Kashmir region of Balistan—among many other adventures around the world.

"He's been recognized here as a great emerging talent in photography," Martin said.

Model was born and raised near Cody, Wyoming. He moved to Nairobi, Kenya, in 2004 to better cover Africa. In addition to National Geographic magazines, his work has appeared in the New York Times, Outside magazine, and Mother Jones magazine, among others.

Steve Bechtel, a friend and team member on the Trango expedition, said Model's transition from climbing photography to cultural photography illustrates his great strength of character.

"He went from this pretty dang good career," Bechtel said, "to one of just trying the help out the continent of Africa."

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