Rescue team denied Nepal trip

2015-05-08 10:36
Lieutenant Jack Haskins of the K9 search-and-rescue unit and his search-and-rescue specialist dog Bear.

Lieutenant Jack Haskins of the K9 search-and-rescue unit and his search-and-rescue specialist dog Bear. (Supplied by SAPS)

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A BIG disappointment and a missed opportunity for South Africa.

That’s how Gift of the Givers head Dr Imtiaz Sooliman has described the ­failure of South African authorities to allow SAPS search-and-rescue dogs and their handlers to help with rescue efforts in Nepal.

The Department of International ­Relations and Co-operation (Dirco) said yesterday the police team had not gone to Nepal due to “an administrative ­error” or a “co-ordination error”.

The team, four officers and their dogs from around the country, were at O.R. Tambo Airport in Johannesburg, waiting to board a flight when they learnt that they had been denied permission to board because the final ­signature approving their trip had not been obtained.

Sooliman said Gift of the Givers had no idea what had happened. He said they had asked for permission for the police to accompany them on their mission to Nepal.

It seems that an agreement had been reached, because the KZN SAPS media centre released a statement on Tuesday last week. It was accompanied by pictures of Lieutenant Jack Haskins and his search-and-rescue dog Bear, with provincial commissioner Lieutenant-General Mmamonnye Ngobeni and her management sending their “best wishes” to the pair “after they were selected to assist with the Nepal disaster”.

The press release said: “Haskins, who has 21 years of experience in search-and-rescue operations, was delighted that he will be able to use his skills and expertise to assist the victims of the Nepal earthquake disaster. He flew to the O.R. Tambo International Airport last night to join other search-and-rescue members from across the country. They are expected to leave this afternoon to Nepal.”

Sooliman said they had waited for one final signature for the police team to accompany them, but “the signature never came”.

“I was disappointed for South Africa. It was a golden opportunity for South Africa to help with the training of the police dogs and their handlers, but it was declined.”

Sooliman said the dog handlers were “so motivated” in terms of going on the mission and “ready to serve South Africa”.

“It’s very disappointing. It was a chance to upgrade our team and get more training experience. How often does something like this happen? When the next one comes, they would have been that much more prepared.”

He said the fact that the police team had not been able to go had a huge ­impact.

“The dogs detect bodies. They guide the rescue teams and speed up the rescue and recovery work on buildings which have collapsed.”

Dirco spokesperson Nelson Kgwete said the police team’s journey “was never brought to the minister’s attention”. He said he did not know where to lay the blame.

Kgwete said permission should have been granted before the team was set up.

When asked to comment, Haskins declined to speak to The Witness.

Police spokesperson Colonel Vish ­Naidoo said that Dirco would respond as it was an international mission. He said he would investigate why a press release had been issued about Haskins going to Nepal before permission for his trip had been granted.

AN expert in the field said the advantage of having South African dogs on a search-and-rescue mission is that the dogs are dual purpose, being trained to locate both living and dead people.

“Most other search-and-rescue dogs from around the world are trained to locate live people.”

The use of dogs in an earthquake situation, where rescuers were searching for people buried under rubble, was invaluable. “Their sense of smell really comes into play.”

The dogs would have been useful additions to the equipment Gift of the Givers has for searching under rubble, including an x-ray machine, infrared equipment that picks up body heat, and a sound device that can detect people’s breathing.

The dogs can narrow down the search area to one metre or less, helping to reunite people with their loved ones and bringing closure for the families of the dead.

South African search-and-rescue teams have assisted in other quake-torn countries like India and Algeria after past earthquakes

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