Surreal ordeal for granny

2014-04-22 00:00

A GRANDMOTHER vanished from civili­sation for 17 hours yesterday while in the heart of upmarket La Lucia — and just six metres from passersby.

And she chased away the first people who found her — because they were breaking into the car she was trapped in.

Phyllis Hollis (68) spent a bizarre Easter Monday trapped in her upturned car, which had crashed — unnoticed — into dense brambles on a sharp hairpin on-ramp to the M4 highway, after she’d visited friends in Umhlanga.

Her rescuers told The Witness that — although physically uninjured — Hollis was too “disoriented” to draw attention with her hooter or headlights, and could not reach her cellphone beneath the passenger seat.

What followed was a surreal all-night search, in which a volunteer search party was unable to see her car from less than 10 metres away, and which saw Hollis, in her confusion, pointing rescuers to a crash site in faraway Hillcrest when she finally reached her phone.

The drama began on Sunday afternoon when Hollis’s domestic worker told a neighbour in Hillcrest that her employer was hours overdue. The neighbour contacted the community network SA CAN, which has the technology and licence rights to track down cellphones. However, due to legal restrictions, SA CAN had to track down Hollis’s son, Justin, in Cape Town, to obtain written consent — as her phone was registered in his name.

Andreas Mathios, video manager for SA CAN, said he and the organisation’s duty manager were then able to triangulate Hollis’s approximate position in La Lucia within a minute, and travelled to the spot — “but we could find nothing there after hours of searching”.

“With hindsight, we were standing just 10 metres from where she was, and she was in a white car — you cannot believe how dense those brambles are,” said Mathios. “We called it off and decided to return at first light.”

However, a few hours later, at least two men did find the car and smashed the rear window, in an apparent effort to steal from it. Hollis would tell paramedics that — while lying on the driver’s side door — she had pretended to have a gun and warned the thieves she would shoot them. They reportedly fled — without alerting anyone to Hollis’s plight.

Justin Hollis told The Witness, “At approximately 4.45 am, I received a call from my mom — understandably, she was sounding very anxious.

“She described that she was in a thick bush, her car was on its side and that she was unable to get out. Unfortunately she wasn’t certain how or where the accident occurred.”

Mathios said Hollis — “still highly disoriented” — suggested to them that she was stuck in bushes near her home in Hillcrest. “We asked if she could hear traffic — she said yes. We asked how long she had been driving — she said for hours and hours, which we felt was not right.”

Mathios returned to the M4 on-ramp, pressed his hooter and asked Hollis if she could hear it — “and she said she could hear it over the phone, but actually we were so close she was actually hearing the hooter”. He said Metro police and a dog handler joined the search of the tiny, inaccessible area, and Hollis was finally extricated at 8 am.

“What makes this case remarkable is that track-and-trace technology really saved someone’s life — she could have been there for days, with people walking past metres away, and she might never have been found,” he said.

Justin said he had tried to get the cellphone service provider to grant tracing access directly without success — “Thankfully SA CAN was able to get through the red tape promptly”.

He said he was “amazed” at the community rescue effort, since “we are not members of SA CAN”.

Suffering hypothermia and dehydration, Hollis was taken to Entabeni Hospital, and Justin noted, “Fortunately a good end to the Easter weekend.”

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