Hiker spends icy night in pain

2014-05-05 00:00

A GERMAN tourist hiking in the Drakensberg Mountains escaped with minor injuries after rolling about 30 metres before coming to rest on the edge of a cliff. He then had to spend a night in pain in subzero temperatures on the mountain.

Julian Schenk (19) was hiking with a group when he slipped and fell about three metres, and then tumbled about 30 metres down a steep slope.

Amazingly, rescuers said, he came to rest only about two metres from a cliff edge with a sheer drop in the Cathedral Peak area.

The other members of the group rushed to his assistance and found that he was stable, but unable to walk.

Some of the group returned to their resort and raised the alarm.

Speaking to The Witness following his release from Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital yesterday, Schenk said the near-death experience had not deterred him from hiking. “I will go back to hiking — why not?”

Mike Pfluger, an American currently living in Durban who was with Schenk when he fell, said they were shocked when the accident happened. “It’s not every day that you see someone tumble down a mountain … ”

He said they were worried that Schenk may have injured his spinal cord because he had landed on his back. Fortunately, Schenk escaped with minor injuries to his knee and hand. Pfluger said he will keep away from the mountains for the time being. “From now on, it’s butterfly watching.”

Steve Cooke, of the Mountain Club of South Africa, said they received a call late on Friday afternoon to launch an immediate rescue.

“The hikers did not know exactly where they were … But from speaking to them, we were able to tell that the hiker was not critically injured. We sent out a team of three people with a medical volunteer,” he said.

Cook said although they did not know exactly where the hikers were, they knew that they were along the standard route used towards the Cathedral Peak Hotel. “The team brought medical attention and warm clothes and food.”

He said they also co-ordinated with the KZN medical rescue services to bring a rescue helicopter at first light on Saturday. With the co-ordination of the air force operations centre and the health operations centre, the rescue staff from the mountain club and a paramedic from KZN Emergency Medical Services were flown on board an SANDF Oryx helicopter to the Berg.

Cooke said the rescue was not technically difficult.

“The other party had brought the injured hiker to lower ground and the helicopter was able to land and the hiker was loaded into a stretcher.”

Cooke said Schenk was very lucky as he could have been seriously injured.

“Had he fallen off the cliff, he would have been seriously injured … He was in pain, especially from his left side. He hurt his knee, wrist and his back”.

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