Daring rescue in Berg

2011-05-21 00:00

A THRILLING rescue mission, in which a helicopter had to negotiate a ravine to reach a Spanish hiker who had broken his leg, played itself out in the Drakensberg on Thursday evening.

The hiker had set out on a trail near Mount-aux-Sources in the northern Drakens­berg earlier in the afternoon and took a wrong turn, despite being near a chain ladder on the hiking trail.

According to Dean van der Merwe, spokesperson for the Mountain Club of SA in Gauteng, the man — who asked that his identity remain unknown — descended into a ravine instead of ascending towards the escarpment. This led to his getting lost even further.

“He broke his leg jumping across a ditch at some point. As far as we can tell, he had no cellphone with him — only a light jacket and nothing else.

“Because of the language barrier, he also struggled to explain to a guided tour group, who were mercifully hiking not too far away, that he was in trouble,” said Van der Merwe.

The tour guide realised that something was wrong and raised the alarm. The Mountain Club of SA in KwaZulu-Natal was contacted, but a helicopter was not available at the air force base in Durban.

The club in Gauteng were then drawn into the rescue, together with an Oryx helicopter from 17 Squadron in Centurion.

“Fortunately our colleagues in KZN sent through the man’s position on a map. The guide sent his hikers back while he stayed with the man.

“When we arrived in the area at about 8 pm, the temperature was already below freezing and the man was already showing signs of suffering from the cold.

“Because of cliffs on three sides of the ravine, and the high altitude, the helicopter had to descend into the ravine very cautiously.

“The rescue team had to use night vision equipment to study the terrain to ensure that the helicopter’s blades did not touch the cliff faces, before a safe place was reached so that a paramedic could reach the man,” Van der Merwe said.

The man’s leg was splinted before the helicopter took him to the Netcare-Milpark hospital in Johannesburg.

“He is an experienced hiker … [but] experience is not always enough when taking on an unknown route without warm clothes in the winter. He was very embarrassed by his carelessness,” Van der Merwe said.

Dean van der Merwe, MCSA

The rescue team had to use night vision equipment to study the terrain to ensure that the helicopter’s blades did not touch the cliff faces.

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