Pinned for two days

2014-09-15 00:00

A KZN man trapped in a remote cliff crevasse was forced to watch “two sunsets” before being discovered this weekend.

Having become wedged in a crack after surviving a 50-metre plunge near Ndwedwe, ­Ngcengce Msomi ● believed to be in his early 30s — was prized free and rescued after a horrifying two days in his rock coffin.

Rescuers were stunned at the crushed man’s calm sense of humour: “When he heard the helicopter [he] asked if we were using an army tank to take him to hospital”.

The complex, five-hour rescue was carried out west of Hazel­mere Dam in a joint operation between SAPS Search and Rescue, Ballito Specialised Rescue and Netcare technicians.

Quentin Power, head of the Ballito-based volunteer unit, said Msomi was trapped so tightly that his left hand was squashed up against his face throughout the ordeal. He had no access to water or food, and his moans were eventually heard by a goat herder.

Power said the man had been returning home from his uncle’s house when he apparently slipped, tumbled 150 metres, and then dropped another 50 metres.

“He fell through a lot of bushes and trees, which probably slowed his fall,” he said.

Another rescuer suggested that the V-shaped crack itself had also helped save his life, “acting almost like a bicycle brake”.

Power said the site — concealed partway up a large, sheer hillside — was so remote that rescuers immediately recalled the Hollywood movie 1 27 Hours, which told the true story of a U.S. climber pinned between cliff faces in a remote canyon for five days. He cut off his own hand to free himself.

Msomi’s injuries included a fractured pelvis, broken ribs and a suspected punctured lung.

“I’m a skinny-ish guy, but that hole was so tight that I couldn’t get my shoulders inside — it must have been terrifying. He said he had seen two sunrises and two sunsets before being found.”

Msomi is recovering at Albert Luthuli Hospital in Durban, having been airlifted from the site by an EMRS helicopter.

Power described the rescue:

“Using our vehicles at the hilltop as anchors, we played out 200 metres of rope and even that didn’t reach him — we needed 30 metres more. Once at the crevasse we had to pendulum across to gain access to the patient. His back and his chest were both compressed against the rock, and he was suspended almost horizontally. At first, we talked about using hydraulic [rescue equipment], but we decided to ask him to breathe in while we pulled him out.”

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