Volunteer’s shining deed

2013-11-21 00:00

MARK Basson had to burrow through mangled steel and gingerly dig down in the sand to retrieve the woman who died in the Tongaat mall disaster.

An unpaid volunteer rescue expert, Basson was yesterday hailed as a hero by colleagues after an all-night effort in which he “probably worked the [power tools] more than anyone”, while also hunting for buried survivors and recovering the only body found.

Basson is the same man who last year dramatically saved the life of a truck driver in Pinetown during a violent truckers’ strike.

The 33-year-old former firefighter says he fears there may yet be more bodies buried beneath the collapsed concrete slabs — having seen “a boot, a hat and a quantity of blood at a spot far from where we recovered the lady’s body”.

“When we arrived at the scene we thought, ‘this is insane’ — the scale of the collapse; the tangle of rebar and scaffolding squashed down by pancaked concrete, with what we hoped were many survivors underneath,” he said.

Last year, Basson leapt onto the moving truck after he spotted that the driver had been knocked unconscious by rocks thrown by strikers.

The trucker’s foot fell off the brake as it headed toward a busy intersection. Basson dived into the cab and deliberately steered the truck into a tree to prevent the vehicle from crashing into traffic.The brave deed saw him nominated as a finalist in this year’s Centrum Guardians Award.

Working full-time as a safety compliance officer at a Westville engineering firm, the Durban father of one said he learned about the disaster after noticing police emergency vehicles on the highway — “and then checking the Twitter feed of the SAPS search-and-rescue commander”.

Born in Johannesburg, Basson worked as paramedic for Netcare 911 in KwaZulu-Natal, before switching to a role as a firefighter for RBM Minerals in Richards Bay.

Now, despite a full time corporate job in Westville, he volunteers both as a rescue technician and as an ambulance volunteer on weekends.

Basson volunteered to join five other members of his not-for-profit group Rescuetech as they rushed to the site, where Metro Fire and Rescue were commanding a massive search effort.

Nick Holmes, a spokesperson for Rescuetech, said: “Its always a team effort with us, and everyone did a fantastic job in tough circumstances, but if there’s a guy that stands out it’s Mark. He really stepped up with the hydraulic work and he recovered the body — having to go right down beneath a beam and cut away scaffolding.”

Basson told The Witness the victim was trapped beneath a twisted cage of scaffolding pipes, while her legs were buried deep in the sand. He had to cut through the tangle and dig carefully around the stricken woman to free her body.

“You always hope, and you want to rescue people, so its sad to have to go into the recovery part, but we make an effort to be respectful,” he said.

“No one took any crazy risks — we were with an SAPS guy with a dog, and we followed his lead. We didn’t try go into any crevasses without his go-ahead.”

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