The 1997 Isla Sorna incident is a name commonly given to a series of events which took place on the Costa Rican island of Isla Sorna between May 23 and May 24, 1997. During the incident, the then-current CEO of International Genetic Technologies, Peter Ludlow, orchestrated an operation to retrieve biological assets from the island and open the incomplete Jurassic Park: San Diego theme park. InGen’s former CEO John Hammond organized a counter-expedition of his own to create a photo record of the island’s de-extinct animals, hoping to garner public support in favor of their preservation rather than exhibition. As a result of these two opposing groups operating simultaneously on the island, communication with the mainland was lost and numerous fatalities occurred. The fallout of these events directly led to the San Diego incident in the early morning of May 25.
On June 11, 1993, the under-construction Jurassic Park theme park on Isla Nublar was sabotaged by a disgruntled employee, leading to a series of incidents on the island which resulted in multiple InGen personnel and one legal consultant suffering fatal attacks by de-extinct animals. Some time later that year, the Site B facility on Isla Sorna would be abandoned due to the impending Hurricane Clarissa; animals were left to fend for themselves in the wild under the assumption that the lysine contingency would kill them off in short order.
Lawsuits from the families of the deceased employees, as well as the $17.3 million cost of deconstruction on Isla Nublar, brought InGen to the verge of Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The company continued to struggle over the next four years, with the Board of Directors losing faith in Hammond’s leadership and looking for a case to depose him as CEO and President.
In 1994, InGen surveyed Isla Nublar to assess the island’s status. Evidence was discovered that some of the dinosaur species, particularly Velociraptor, had been capable of breeding; chief geneticist Dr. Henry Wu logged on May 12 his suspicions that common reed frog DNA used to fill in the decayed segments of the animals’ genomes was the cause. Isla Sorna was not surveyed in extensive detail, but the de-extinct animals of both islands were found to have survived in spite of the lysine contingency. The survival of the animals presented an opportunity to InGen, as they could theoretically be recaptured and put on exhibition in the then-abandoned San Diego facility. This opportunity was opposed by CEO John Hammond, who had taken up a naturalist philosophy and opposed the capitalist ambitions of the Jurassic Park project. As a result, InGen was unable to make use of its assets and slipped further toward bankruptcy.
Survivors of the 1993 incident mostly remained silent, but Dr. Ian Malcolm chose to violate his nondisclosure agreement and speak to the press about what happened on Isla Nublar. Peter Ludlow operated a smear campaign against Dr. Malcolm throughout 1995, including going to reputable newspapers such as the Washington Post and Skeptical Inquirer to persuade them into writing articles discrediting Malcolm. The Costa Rican government denied any evidence of de-extinction as well. As a result, Malcolm was dismissed as a fraud and Jurassic Park a conspiracy theory at best; Malcolm lost tenure at his University and became disgraced in academia. The only known person to take his claims seriously was zoologist Dr. Sarah Harding, who visited Dr. Malcolm in the San José hospital while he was recovering from injuries sustained during the 1993 incident, as well as his daughter Kelly. The two scientists would form a romantic relationship as a result of their shared knowledge.
In late December of 1996, the Bowman family landed on Isla Sorna as a part of a yacht cruise throughout the Gulf of Fernandez. While on the island, their daughter Cathy was severely injured by a group of Compsognathus on the northern beach and was hospitalized. The Bowmans threatened a lawsuit after learning that the island had been used by InGen for genetic research, and InGen’s Board of Directors used the incident to depose John Hammond as President and CEO by a unanimous vote. Peter Ludlow assumed the position of CEO following the vote, immediately enacting his long-standing plan to acquire biological assets from Isla Sorna’s surviving population. He assembled a team consisting of numerous InGen Security employees, led by big-game hunter Roland Tembo and Tembo’s associates Ajay Sidhu and Dieter Stark. Tembo himself could not be contacted at the time, and was reached through Sidhu. Ludlow also recruited paleontologist Dr. Robert Burke to assist with the operation. Ludlow’s acquisition team is commonly dubbed “Hunters,” though officially they were termed Harvesters.
As a direct response to Ludlow’s operation, Hammond began an initiative to prevent Isla Sorna’s dinosaurs from being captured and placed on exhibition. His team consisted first and foremost of Dr. Sarah Harding, who had previously expressed interest in de-extinct animals and had experience with large carnivores. It also included video documentarian Nick Van Owen and equipment specialist Eddie Carr of Mobile Field Systems. On or immediately before May 23, Hammond contacted Dr. Ian Malcolm to recruit him into the mission; Malcolm was opposed to it, but was persuaded to take part when he learned that Dr. Harding was already on the island. Malcolm traveled to Carr’s garage on the same day, instructing Carr to complete his work on the team’s vehicles in order to depart that day (this was noticeably ahead of schedule). At the garage, Malcolm was joined by his daughter Kelly, who joined the mission without his knowledge. The team sent by Hammond is referred to as the “Gatherers.”
On May 23, the Gatherers arrived on Isla Sorna, beginning the incident.
Friday, May 23, 1997
- Gatherer team (Ian Malcolm, Eddie Carr, Nick Van Owen, and Kelly Curtis Malcolm) arrives at a lagoon in northeastern Isla Sorna via the Mar del Plata. Camp is established at the northeastern cliffs, with the Fleetwood RV mobile laboratory acting as a base of operations.
- Malcolm, Carr, and Van Owen enter the surrounding redwood forest area to search for Dr. Harding. While in the forest, they encounter a family group of Stegosaurus, which Dr. Harding is observing. Harding explains to the group that the dinosaurs have survived by feeding on lysine-rich food sources, which is how virtually all animals obtain lysine in nature. During observation, Harding causes distress in a young stegosaur; the adults defend their offspring and the Gatherers retreat back from the forest toward the trailers at camp.
- The Gatherers discover that Kelly has joined the team without their knowledge. While Malcolm initially attempted to return Kelly to the American mainland for her safety, his efforts were interrupted by the arrival of the Hunters. InGen vehicles are delivered to the island’s northeastern region from the S. S. Venture 5888 by helicopter. Malcolm was the only Gatherer team member who was aware of Hammond losing his position at InGen; the others were confused at the arrival of a second team.
- Roland Tembo directs the Hunters to a game trail while Ludlow makes plans for a base camp. On the game trail under Stark and Tembo’s direction, the Hunters begin capturing dinosaurs; their first acquisitions include a Pachycephalosaurus and a Parasaurolophus. The Gatherers observe the captures from a distance. Tembo informs Ludlow to keep his fee in exchange for the right to hunt and kill a buck tyrannosaur.
- Tembo discovers tyrannosaur tracks, positively identified by Dr. Burke. He begins seeking out the animal’s nesting site.
- Within the denser parts of the forest, Tembo and Sidhu discover the tyrannosaur nesting site, which is occupied by a single infant male. Tembo estimates that it is only a few months old (its size is closer to that of a two-year-old; the accuracy of Tembo’s estimate is not known). In order to attract the infant’s father, Tembo and Sidu capture the animal and set up a hunting blind with the infant as bait.
- Carr sets up a secure observation platform, the High Hide, near the Gatherer camp.
- The Hunters have captured a large number of dinosaurs, including the aforementioned Pachycephalosaurus and Parasaurolophus as well as Triceratops, Stegosaurus, Gallimimus, and Compsognathus. While celebrating the day’s successes, a drunken Ludlow stumbles onto the infant tyrannosaur and breaks its leg.
- After sobering up, Ludlow contacts the InGen Boardroom to demonstrate their efforts. As he is speaking with them, Harding and Van Owen infiltrate the Hunter camp and open the unguarded dinosaur cages. After being freed, the adult Triceratops violently destroys the Hunter camp before returning to its infant. Its attack forces Tembo and Sidhu to abandon their hunting blind. The other dinosaurs flee into the forest. Tembo chastises Stark for failing to keep the dinosaurs under control, but soon discovers that the camp has been sabotaged.
- Van Owen retrieves the infant tyrannosaur, rejoining Harding and returning to the Gatherer camp to treat its injury. As he is unable to contact the Mar del Plata, Malcolm takes Kelly to the High Hide for safety, joining Carr there.
- Harding and Van Owen succeed in setting the dinosaur’s injured leg; however, its parents have by now discovered that it is missing and track its scent and distress calls to the Gatherer camp. Malcolm leaves the High Hide to attempt to warn his teammates of the danger; he arrives seconds before the tyrannosaur parents. Harding lets the infant out, and it rejoins its parents. Carr reports that he has visual contact on the animals reentering the forest; however, once their infant is safely sheltered and out of the open, the adults ram the trailer to send its rear half over the cliffs. It remains suspended, held in place by the bulk of its front half.
- Carr descends from the High Hide to assist Harding, Malcolm, and Van Owen. While he is attempting to pull them up using a rope, the trailer’s front half begins to slip; the cliff’s edge is now muddy due to rain, imperiling everyone inside. Carr attempts to use one of the team’s vehicles to hold the trailer in place while his teammates climb. The commotion attracts the tyrannosaur parents back from the forest. They kill Carr before he is able to free his gun, causing both his vehicle and the trailers to plummet off the cliff. Carr’s teammates manage to maintain a hold on the rope while the vehicles fall, and are rescued by the Hunters, who have also retrieved Kelly.
- Damages are assessed. Following the dinosaur escape and destruction of the trailers, neither the Hunters nor the Gatherers possess communication equipment to radio for help. The decision is made to trek into the island interior to find any functional communication equipment in the Workers’ Village, which runs on geothermal power and thus should still be able to be used. Ludlow notes that this is within Velociraptor breeding grounds; despite the danger, the Workers’ Village is the nearest InGen facility and thus their best hope for rescue. The collective group begins the trek.
Saturday, May 24, 1997
- The Hunter/Gatherer combined team passes through the northeastern and north-central regions of the island. Distant vocalizations reveal that the adult tyrannosaurs may still be tracking them.
- Some distance north of the Workers’ Village, the group makes a rest stop. Stark leaves the group to relieve himself; he encounters a Compsognathus and attempts to torment it for his own enjoyment using a shock prod. While pursuing the dinosaur, he becomes lost and stumbles over an embankment. He loses his gun, and despite his attempts to call his teammates to help, he is overwhelmed by a pack of Compsognathus and is killed. Tembo sends a search party to find Stark, but continues moving the group southward toward the Workers’ Village.
- Tembo has the group set up camp just north of the Workers’ Village, intending to give them enough time to rest before making the final dangerous leg of the trek. Harding and Kelly are given the only tent. The search party returns, having found what remained of Stark’s body and confirming his death.
- The tyrannosaur parents, tracking the group by the blood on Sarah’s jacket from their infant, enter the camp. The father investigates the tent where Harding and Kelly are sleeping, while Malcolm watches in fear; before he can come up with a plan to protect them, one of InGen’s Hunters wakes and screams in fear at the animal. This wakes the rest of the team, and the tyrannosaur mother advances on the group while the father abandons the tent in surprise. The mother pursues some of the fleeing Hunters, cornering several (including Van Owen, Kelly, and Drs. Burke and Harding) in a small cave. Burke is killed when he stumbles into the mother’s jaws. While the dinosaur is consuming Burke, Malcolm slips into the cave to ensure the safety of his teammates.
- The remaining Hunters flee toward the Workers’ Village and the hope of safety. Sidhu attempts to warn them not to pass through a field of elephant grass, as the tall grass provides ample hiding space for smaller predators; his teammates do not heed his warnings, and multiple Hunters including Sidhu are killed by a Velociraptor hunting party. Tembo, meanwhile, discovers that his bullets have been stolen by Van Owen; as the tyrannosaur father is still in the temporary camp, he uses tranquilizers to sedate it instead.
- The remaining Gatherers pass through the elephant grass, avoiding the raptors which are currently hunting down whatever InGen Hunters they can manage to overpower. Malcolm is injured after tumbling down an embankment; Van Owen goes on ahead to the Workers’ Village while Harding and Kelly stay to keep Malcolm safe.
- Van Owen enters the village’s Operations Center. He manages to turn on power to the village, contacting InGen’s Harvest Base to alert them to the mission’s failure and the danger the survivors are in. A helicopter is dispatched to pick him up, presumably from the S.S. Venture. The remaining Gatherers enter the village to join Van Owen, but are accosted by three Velociraptors; Malcolm manages to distract one of the males while the other male and the female pursue his teammates into the village’s kiln house. Malcolm joins Kelly and Harding in the kiln house after evading his pursuer, but the three are confronted by one of the male raptors; Kelly manages to strike it, causing it to slip and fall out a window. Its injuries prevent it from continuing the attack. Harding flees to the boarding house via the roof, leading the remaining male into falling from the roof and landing on the female. While the raptors squabble, she rejoins the rest of her teammates, who have found Van Owen. A helicopter arrives to retrieve them all and they leave the island.
- Transport helicopters have arrived from the S.S. Venture to bring additional personnel from the Harvest Base, as well as to contain the sedated male tyrannosaur. Ludlow offers Tembo a position working for InGen, but Tembo declines the offer, having learned about Sidhu’s death. The tyrannosaur is transported to the ship, while Ludlow sends a team to retrieve the infant before its mother returns.
- The tyrannosaur infant is removed from the island via jet. The removal of all personnel from the island, as well as the two tyrannosaurs, is generally seen as the end of the 1997 Isla Sorna incident; it led directly into the San Diego incident on the early morning of Sunday, May 25.
The immediate result of the incident on Isla Sorna was a subsequent incident in San Diego, California in the early morning of May 25. Despite attempts by the San Diego Police Department to kill the adult tyrannosaur and Ludlow’s attempt to secure the infant, both animals were returned to the damaged but operable S.S. Venture and transported to Isla Sorna under the guidance of the United States Armed Forces. Peter Ludlow died during the May 25 incident, leaving InGen without a CEO for the second time in the past several days. Jurassic Park: San Diego was permanently abandoned, and de-extinction was made a public fact.
The fate of Isla Sorna would be up in the air following both of these incidents. John Hammond openly spoke about Isla Sorna on public television on the morning news, describing his cooperation with the Costa Rican Department of Biological Preserves to protect Isla Sorna from human intervention.
Following the death of John Hammond later in May, a bidding war for InGen between Tatsuo Technology and Masrani Global Corporation persisted for roughly a year. The bidding ended with Masrani Global Corporation officially acquiring InGen with the intent to attempt Jurassic Park for a third time. Isla Sorna was declared a restricted area by the United Nations, with access limited to select operations at the discretion of Costa Rica. In addition, the U.S. House Committee of Science reviewed and passed the Ethical Negligence within Paleo-Genetic Resurrection Bill, better known as the Gene Guard Act, to protect the de-extinct organisms and prevent further research into de-extinction or genetic engineering by InGen. Despite these restrictions, InGen would return to Isla Sorna in 1998 or 1999, less than one hundred days after the end of the bidding war, to continue research. This covert and illegal operation was hastily abandoned in 1999 due to concerns about discovery, but still had far-reaching and detrimental effects on Isla Sorna’s ecosystem.
Public interest in dinosaurs surged, remaining high for years afterward. Because of de-extinction becoming public knowledge, Dr. Ian Malcolm became a respected public figure again and was considered by many an expert on the subject of InGen’s works. He would go on to publish a book, God Creates Dinosaurs, about de-extinction and his experience with it. However, the revelation that genetically-modified facsimiles of dinosaurs were alive and well was devastating to the field of paleontology; with the general public’s ignorance on how InGen’s specimens differed from real animals in the fossil record, focus shifted from paleontological research toward studies of the de-extinct and heavily modified animals created through genetic engineering. Paleontologists such as Dr. Alan Grant saw their careers suffer as a result.
Isla Sorna would continue to be subject to the prying eyes of curious people over the next four or five years, including a widely-publicized incident in 2001 involving Dr. Grant and a group of American civilians becoming marooned on the island. Poaching in the Muertes Archipelago is also confirmed, leading to numerous injuries to humans as well as mistreatment of animals.