Elderly couple in hiking nightmare

2011-11-20 22:01
East London - An East London couple, Johan and Mercia van Tonder, have told how their plans for a gentle walk on the Umtiza hiking trail went horribly wrong on Sunday.

Armed with a litre of water, 500ml of cooldrink and three bananas Mercia, 65, and 67-year-old Johan tackled the Dassie Trail about 15km inland of East London.

Mercia told the NSRI after being rescued late on Sunday afternoon that almost immediately into their walk, the trail they were on seemed to disappear. They tried desperately, but in vain, to find any semblance of a hiking trail or footpath.

Eventually they found themselves surrounded by dense bush and completely lost.

Fortunately for the Van Tonders they could use their cellphone to call relatives in Brakpan who, in turn, raised the alarm.

A Metro EMS rescue squad and rescue helicopter, a police search and rescue K-9 unit, SA National Parks rangers and the NSRI East London volunteer duty crew were activated.

"Knowing how thick that bush is, we needed a lot of manpower to cover the terrain before dark" said Geoff McGregor, NSRI East London station commander.

It was ascertained that the couple had embarked on their hike at what is normally the ending point of the trail and the rescue teams arrived on-scene and fanned out to begin a search at around 15:30.

The couple, anxious because Johan suffers from a heart condition, had, according to McGregor, made the right decision, once they had realized they needed help, to stay put and did not move any further.

The search became more intense after rescuers realised that in the thick bush, guarded and shaded by a thick canopy of trees overhead, light was fading fast as the afternoon drew on.

At approximately 16:45 the couple were spotted by the helicopter rescue team who guided rescuers, who were on foot, to their location not too far from where they had begun their walk but quite a distance from any of the foot trails.

"Their relief at being found was obvious," said McGregor.

It then took rescuers about another hour-and-a- half to gently walk the couple out of their predicament, cutting their way through barely accessible thick dense bush, and eventually back to civilization.

- SAPA
Read more on:    nsri  |  east london  |  search and rescue
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