By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
By Jeff Balke
By Angelica Leicht
By Jeff Balke
By Sean Pendergast
By Sean Pendergast
By Jeff Balke
Plake didn't sleep much that night. The morning came and went. No chopper. "Maybe at noon," a MEND soldier said. Still no helicopter. Plake just figured this was yet another lie and he was screwed. Then, at about 6 p.m., Plake and the other hostages were loaded onto a boat.
They cruised along the water in silence. The canal was getting wider and wider, spanning more than 100 feet across. In the middle of the river, the driver suddenly cut the engine. Plake looked around, thinking: "This is it. They're going to kill us now and dump the bodies."
Plake watched as the driver's hand slowly disappeared into his coat pocket. Plake reached for his knife. Then he saw the man's hand emerge; he was holding a cell phone.
"We've got them," the man said into the speaker.
Before he knew it, Plake was stepping out of the boat and onto a dock near Warri, a major city in the Niger Delta, where a car whisked him off to the governor's house to meet up with Global executives and FBI agents who were waiting. From there, he flew to Lagos and then to London to see a tropical disease expert.
After 22 days, Plake, Faller, Roussel and Gay were finally free.
Collette had just returned home from a rare trip to McDonald's with the kids when the phone rang. It was someone from Global Industries.
"We've got him," said the voice.
The next day she was on a flight to London.
Due to convoluted English insurance laws, Plake and the other men were not allowed into the tropical disease center. Instead, they went to an urgent-care clinic. Other than the nasty spider bite, Plake checked out okay. Two of the other men had intestinal parasites and had to remain there a little longer that day. But not Plake; he was ready to go. For the past 48 hours, he'd been shuttled across two continents, poked and prodded by doctors, forced to do press interviews with the African media and listen to Global Industries officials tell him to keep quiet about everything that had happened. All he wanted to do was to see his wife.
Collette was sleeping when Plake finally made it back to the couple's London hotel room. His electronic key, though, had been accidentally knocked offline when Collette checked in earlier that day. He couldn't unlock the door. He started banging and hollering, but Collette didn't answer. Finally, Collette heard the knocking and ran to the door. When it swung open, she leapt into Plake's arms.
"You couldn't peel me off of him," she says.
That night, the four men and their wives celebrated, getting drunk at a nearby pub. They laughed and kidded each other about which movie stars would play them if their story ever made it to the big screen. Plake claimed fellow East Texan Matthew McConaughey. But the smiles wouldn't last long.
Back in McKinney, Plake was not readjusting well to normal life. For months he didn't want to talk about being kidnapped. He had nightmares. Sometimes he thought he'd heard footsteps and was ready to run over to the clearing in the jungle to hide. Other times he dreamed of being under attack on the barge, but this time he had a gun and fought back. He'd wake up lathered in sweat.
Plake saw a couple psychologists, but they didn't seem to help. He even checked himself into a mental hospital for a week. Time seemed to be the only cure. Plake had surgery on his spine in late 2008 to repair two disks that had been ruptured by repeated blows to the neck with rifles.
He now suffers migraines so bad that his vision is blurred and he throws up. He takes a long list of medications, including pills to fight depression, anxiety and pain.
Plake says he doesn't trust anyone anymore, no longer has a short-term memory and has developed a dangerously short fuse. He's caught himself yelling at his kids over dumb stuff such as eating an ice cream cone that he'd forgotten he himself had given them. He refuses to sit in plastic chairs and doesn't shave. It's taken him two years to start working again. He recently bought a property nearby that he's renovating and hoping to flip for a profit.
"Larry never regretted going back offshore," says Collette, "because he saved our home from being sold out from under us. But it's something he'll never get over. He just has to learn to live with it. It redefines who you are."
Plake still keeps up with Faller, Roussel and Gay. Scattered across Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi, they couldn't get together for a second anniversary at the end of May. When they talk on the phone, they almost never mention what happened. They stick to what's going on now in their lives, their jobs and their kids. Plake says he's never going back offshore. Some of the others are considering it, he says, but no farther away than the Gulf of Mexico. The money is still as good as it's ever been.