Tragic end to dramatic rescue

2011-09-14 08:17
Community members watch as rescue workers try in vain to free a man who had been trapped in a crevice on a rocky hill outside Brits for six days. (Liza van Deventer, Beeld)

Community members watch as rescue workers try in vain to free a man who had been trapped in a crevice on a rocky hill outside Brits for six days. (Liza van Deventer, Beeld)

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Johannesburg - A tense, drawn-out and complicated rescue operation on a rocky hill outside Brits in the North West ended tragically on Tuesday night when a man who had apparently been trapped in a very narrow crevice for six days, gave up the fight.

"There is no pulse, no breathing,” said Jonathan Theron, a paramedic chaplain from the South African Emergency Services Institute (Saesi) to rescue workers and community members at about 18:20 on Tuesday, after a rescue operation of about nine hours.

In order to free the man, who was known only as Abel, from the rocks on the hill in the Oukasie township outside Brits, rescue workers from the Hartbeespoort emergency rescue unit, the Madibeng fire department and scores of community members basically had to break up parts of the hill, rock by rock.

In pain

Theron had been on the scene since 09:30 on Tuesday morning and kept talking to Abel to encourage him and give him water.

Abel was confused but awake for most of the day. He often said he was in pain.

Many rocks, some of which were estimated to weigh more than a ton, had to be pushed and hauled away one by one with sticks, jacks and ropes while Abel’s health and safety continued to be a concern.

All day long, the calls of rescue workers could be heard as they shouted: “Hang on…just wait…OK…One, two, three…pull!” from the narrow crevice.

Every now and then someone would try to comfort Abel with some encouraging words like “Hang in there, Abel!” and “Stay awake, Abel!”.

At about 15:30, rescue workers could no longer stay in the crevice with Abel due to the danger of a rock fall after moving so many rocks.

After a lengthy struggle and just when it looked like there might be enough room to free Abel, Theron went down again into the crevice to get an update on his condition. He returned with the news of Abel’s death.

“It is one of those things, we did the best we could,” Theron told reporters.

Of the hundreds of community members who had gathered at the scene, no one had known Abel.

He had told rescue workers that he had climbed to the top of the hill on Wednesday afternoon to pray and had climbed into the cave-like crevice for privacy. For some reason he couldn’t get out again and was trapped for six days without food and water.


Philip Mashura called for help on Tuesday morning when he realised that someone was trapped.

He had gone to pray on the same hill on Friday. “The Spirit called me on Sunday and Monday to return to the hill.”

“[On Monday] I heard a voice from somewhere inside the rocks,” said Mashura.

“I told the people about it, but they said it must have been some creature. I returned nevertheless [on Tuesday morning] and realised someone was trapped there, so I called the police.”

By late on Tuesday evening attempts to remove Abel’s body were abandoned due to bad weather.

Read more on:    mahikeng  |  search and rescue

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