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Lost raider of the ark: Pictured is Donald Mackenzie of Stornoway, Scotland, a Noah’s Ark hunter who mysteriously vanished in September 2010 while searching for the biblical vessel on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey. His friend, Florida filmmaker Jeremy Wiles, is trying to find him.
JUPITER, Fla. – “What’s more important – finding Noah’s Ark or finding a friend?”
This is the profound and haunting question echoing across the planet through the mind of Jeremy Wiles.
The Jupiter, Fla., filmmaker can be described as a man of obsession – obsessed with Noah’s Ark since his childhood, and today obsessed with locating his friend and fellow ark hunter who mysteriously vanished on Turkey’s Mount Ararat in September, sparking the worst kind of speculation.
“It’s feared there was an accident or he was murdered,” Wiles told WND. “I helped organize an expedition to find him, but he wasn’t discovered.”
The missing man is 48-year-old Donald Mackenzie, a missionary from the small town of Stornoway, Scotland, nestled on the isle of Lewis in the country’s Outer Hebrides. He was said to be passing out Bibles in a small, Turkish village in the final days before his disappearance.
“He was a devoted Christian who began searching for Noah’s Ark in 2004, the same year I started my search,” Wiles said. “I met him while I was in Dogubayazit, Turkey, near the base of Mount Ararat. We hit it off right away since we both shared a common passion to find Noah’s Ark.”
In 2005, both Wiles and Mackenzie decided to climb Ararat together, but their expedition was cut short when they got stuck in a blizzard for two days.
“We’ve come to 13,000 feet and again, the weather has turned against us,” Mackenzie said on video recorded on the mountain. “A case of returning. No choice. Too dangerous to proceed, and apparently there’s much more bad weather forecast, so we’re gonna head down today. I’m afraid this is the Sabbath day, but when your life’s at stake, there’s no sense in mucking about.”
The lure of the most famous vessel in history was far stronger than any deterrent of fierce weather, and Mackenezie returned to the mountain last year, only to disappear without a trace, as no evidence of Donald, his tent or belongings were discovered. His last communication was from 14,700 feet on Sept. 28, as Wiles indicates “cell phones work on Ararat.”
“It wasn’t an easy phone call to his mother telling her that her son was not found,” Jeremy said.
Donald’s 76-year-old mother, Maggie Jean Mackenzie, is doing her best to keep her fear in check when it comes to her son’s whereabouts.
“If anybody would survive, it’s Donald,” she said. “He’s very resourceful and very strong and far from stupid.”
What makes this more than just a typical “man lost on a mountain” story is the fact that Mackenzie was looking to verify April 2009 claims by Hong Kong evangelists that they had found the remains of Noah’s Ark on the mountain.
The 15-member team with Noah’s Ark Ministries International, or NAMI, said it recovered wooden specimens from a structure
at an altitude of 13,000 feet and that carbon dating suggested it was
4,800 years old. Several compartments, some with wooden beams, were
said to be inside and could have been used to house animals.
“He heard the Chinese had found the ark,” his mother said. “And you couldn’t keep him back. He was determined to go.”
But as WND has reported, there have been serious doubts thrown on claim the ark was located on Ararat, with allegations of wood being hauled up the slope to fool people into thinking the biblical boat was actually there.
In this photo from Noah’s Ark Ministries International, an explorer is purported to be investigating a wooden structure on Mount Ararat in eastern Turkey that it says may be the remnant of Noah’s Ark mentioned in the Bible.
“Now it is a fraud, the whole thing is a fraud,” said Maggie Jean. “The Chinese people are making money out of this, making it a tourist [attraction], paying people to carry wood up, maybe to build an ark, I don’t know. Don could have come across them, and there could have been a confrontation. But on the other hand, I’m just hoping that he’s been captured by the [Kurdish rebel group] PKK, or he’s still alive. I don’t like to think of the confrontation part of it, because there’d be a few of them and one of Donald. … Everybody over there knows it’s a fraud, that it’s not true that they found anything. But it’s amazing what they can do, you know, attack tourists.”
This photo of what is alleged to be wood inside a possible site of Noah’s Ark on Mount Ararat reveals apparent cobwebs, which archaeologists and geologists are questioning.
Wiles agrees with Donald’s mother about the bogus nature of the Hong Kong group’s discovery, telling WND: “There has never been any solid evidence provided by an independent group of scientists to substantiate their claims. On the contrary, my Turkish contacts in Dogubayazit have told me it is a fraud. One of my contacts, who is also a good friend, was hired to carry wood up the mountain. When he found out it was being used as part of a project to reconstruct the remains of Noah’s Ark inside a cave and deceive the world for profit and fame, then he backed out all together.”
Wiles says Mackenzie’s disappearance has until now received no publicity in the United States, but it has been covered by media throughout the United Kingdom, including a recent report by Scotland’s STV News.
While an accident on the mountain is a possibility, Donald’s brother, Derick Mackenzie, worries about something more sinister.
“It would not surprise me if some undesirable types, such as Muslim fanatics, deliberately targeted him,” Derick told Britain’s Daily Mail. “We do know that some locals suspect foul play. The motive may have been religion or robbery. None of Donald’s equipment has been found. We know he may have been murdered or kidnapped, although it has been a while now and no one has come forward with a ransom demand.”
Derick has been documenting the case on his AraratHunt blog, where he elaborated on the possibility of foul play:
“We have been told there is a man in the region of whom locals are suspicious: they think he knows something about what happened to Donald. That is all we have heard. We know the man’s name. It seems that without being actually over there, there is nothing that can really be done – eastern Turkey is like the Wild West.”
Derick noted that although this situation is very unpleasant, and does bring him down emotionally, there is one thing which always stops him from sinking into depression, and that’s his Christian faith.
“Some people in this kind of situation become obsessed about finding the person, and it seems to consume their whole world, going into a state of denial. But I can say, that although I desire that Donald turn up, I can also say, that if it be God’s will that he is found dead, or even never found, I can accept that, and say, Amen. Only by God’s grace.”
Tragically, Derick Mackenzie suffered another huge loss besides his missing brother, as his wife of 12 years died this month while giving birth to the couple’s fifth child.
Meanwhile, Wiles, 31, has been producing his own movie, “Ark Hunter,” for more than six years. His interest in ark hunting began at age 24, when visiting a site
a few miles from Mt. Ararat that some believe is the actual fossilized
remains of the ark. The Bible never actually says the ark landed upon Mt. Ararat, but rather indicates it rested “upon the mountains of Ararat,” perhaps indicating the general region.
The crew of Florida-based filmmaker Jeremy Wiles stands atop the famous “boat-shaped object” that many believe is the remains of Noah’s Ark, located in Dogubayazit, Turkey, just a few miles from Mount Ararat. (ArkHunterthemovie.com)
“My plans were to film a short documentary of this expedition and air it on U.S. television,” Wiles said. “Once I returned and viewed the footage, I realized there wasn’t much of a story and the footage looked like a home video! It wasn’t exactly a flying start. So, I soon ditched the original footage. However, I felt compelled not to give up. As vague as everything seemed, I knew God had led me to something important. I knew it definitely had something to do with Noah’s Ark, me trying to find it and everything in between.”
“I had absolutely no filming experience,” he continued, “all I knew was I wanted to find the ark and I needed a camera to film it. I’ve always been bullheaded, but this vice turned out to my advantage.”
So Wiles studied and learned, doing commercial projects as if they were cinema material. With no financial backing or investment, Wiles had to work to fund his dream, and when not laboring, he researched and planned his next expedition. This was the pattern for several years: working, planning and traveling. But as time went on, he had a change in his film’s direction.
“For years I thought the story was about my search for Noah’s Ark, which is why I had limited myself to thinking that the documentary genre would be the best way – or the only ‘right’ way to show it. I was wrong,” he admitted.
Wiles, therefore, reshaped the movie to a work of fiction, similar to the way that 1981’s “Raiders of the Lost Ark” was a make-believe story that helped publicize the existence of the Ark of the Covenant, the golden box containing the Ten Commandments.
“It’s a paradox that fiction had to be the tool we chose to use to shed light on truth,” said Wiles. “After all, this is what this story is about – it is the story of one man’s search for truth in a time of deception. The documentary-style footage will be combined with re-enactments from my childhood. We are also constructing a large set for the city that Noah lived near before the flood. With advancements in technology, we can now accomplish the building of an ark in 3D animation. There will be actors playing the parts of Noah, myself as a 7-year-old, the Watchmaker – a character inspired from an actual dream, and many others. There is a cast of over 50 actors and 900 extras. This is an epic film that has never been done before.”
A promotion for the film “Ark Hunter”is already online, with a theatrical release hoped for within two years. (ArkHunterthemovie.com)
When asked by WND if he thought Noah’s Ark had indeed been found, he explained:
“I do not support either Mt. Ararat or the ‘boat-shaped-finding’ (Durupinar) as the ark, simply because neither location has been substantiated. As much as I would like to say Noah’s Ark has been discovered, it simply hasn’t and I don’t lean toward either location being the ark. I think the Durupinar site needs much more attention, which is what I’m trying to do. There is much testimony of the ark being on Mt. Ararat, but there is also much testimony from people in a small town in Colorado who’ve claimed to have spotted Bigfoot. Testimony alone does not substantiate the discovery of the ark. Not until there is an excavation, from a credible source of scientists can we ever say the ark has been discovered. I’m not making a movie to say I found the ark. I’m making a movie about my search for the truth. However, the movie has a very powerful conclusion, a twist in the story, that I cannot reveal at this point.”
Wiles is hoping “Ark Hunter” can be released in theaters sometime in the next two years. Both he and the Mackenzie family in Scotland are hoping publicity about the film will prompt Turkish officials to engage in a thorough search for Donald Mackenzie.
Despite his lifelong fascination with the biblical vessel, Wiles admits Mackenzie’s mysterious vanishing has had a chilling effect on his own desire to finally locate it.
“I have no interest in searching for Noah’s Ark on Mt. Ararat when
my friend is missing on that mountain,” Wiles said. “It just
doesn’t seem right. Donald’s disappearance was a fork in the road in my
own journey, as an ark hunter. I had to suddenly face a life-changing
question: What’s more important – finding Noah’s Ark or finding a
friend? This is one of those situations when you have to make a
decision, look deep into your heart and find out what really matters to
“Later this year, I plan to search for Donald and hope to
bring closure to his family. This is the only right thing to do and I
know I will have no regrets. We are not in control of the unexpected
events in our lives, but what we are in command of is how we respond to
these changes along our journey.”
In both the Old and New Testaments, the Bible speaks of Noah’s Ark, and
Jesus Christ and the apostles Paul and Peter all make reference to Noah’s flood
as an actual historical event.
According to Genesis, Noah was a righteous man who was instructed by God to
construct a large vessel to hold his family and many kinds of animals, as a
massive deluge was coming to purify the world, which had become corrupt.
Genesis 6:5 states: “And God saw that the wickedness of man
was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart
was only evil continually.”
Noah was told by God to take aboard seven pairs of each of the “clean”
animals – that is to say, those permissible to eat – and two each of the
“unclean” variety (Genesis 7:2).
Though the Bible says it rained for 40 days and 40 nights, it also mentions
“the waters prevailed upon the earth a hundred and fifty days.” It was still months
before Noah and his family – his wife, his three sons and the sons’ wives – were
able to leave the ark and begin replenishing the world.