Woman tells of dramatic Fish River rescue

2011-05-12 10:32
Igna Rautenbach swims with hikers' backpacks after rescuing them from a sandbank in the middle of the flooded Fish River. (Fanie Kroukamp, Beeld)

Igna Rautenbach swims with hikers' backpacks after rescuing them from a sandbank in the middle of the flooded Fish River. (Fanie Kroukamp, Beeld)

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Johannesburg - A Pretoria woman has told how she and two friends would have been swept away had they not been rescued from the flooded Fish River by a former recce and three others.

Angelique Herremans of Pretoria on Wednesday recounted how they were trapped for almost three days on a sandbank in the Fish River Canyon before their dramatic rescue on Monday morning.

Two former recces, Dr Fritz Ras, a vet from Standerton and Igna Rautenbach of Secunda, played leading roles in rescuing Herremans and her two fellow hikers.

She, Danie Pienaar and Michael Ellis were trapped on the sandbank near Bushy Corner, about 50km from the ravine’s starting point at Hobas.

Stranded

"It was the happiest moment of my life when the four wonderful men (Ras, Rautenbach and two of their friends) came walking along with a red canoe on Sunday afternoon,” said Herremans on Wednesday.

"When we tried to cross the river up to the first sandbank at about 12:00 on Saturday afternoon, it was ankle depth, but the water quickly rose. The water then simply became too strong to cross.”

They were stranded in the river.

"My backpack was swept away. We hoped the water level would fall so that we could walk through, but it just kept rising.” By sunset, they had put stones on top of each other to sit on.

Their five friends, who were on the other side, went looking for help the next morning.

They found Ras, Rautenbach and Gerhard Badenhorst, Gert Fourie and Fanie Kroukamp, who were already looking for trapped people in the valley on their own initiative.

Ras, who was a major in the special forces, said they had offered their help to park authorities when they heard several people were still trapped in the valley.

"We couldn’t just turn around and walk away. We simply had to help,” said Ras.

The five South African volunteers first brought two Americans to safety before they found the five hikers whose friends were trapped on the island.

Kroukamp helped the five to reach the Hobas camp, while Ras and the others carried a canoe about 12km before reaching the trapped three late on Sunday afternoon.

Dangerous

The water was already knee height and was submerging the sand bank.

The four rescuers struggled for some time to get rope thrown over to the stranded people before it became too dark and dangerous.

The rescue operation was postponed and Herremans and her two friends were finally rescued the next morning with the canoe from the island.

The canoe was later swept away in a rapid before disappearing under the water.

"After we were saved, the vet (Ras) probably asked us about 100 questions about our condition. He wanted to know if we had any injuries and whether we were dehydrated. He gave us energy drinks.

"Those four guys were wonderful. They remained calm and positive throughout. If they hadn’t come we would definitely have been swept away,” said Herremans.
Read more on:    floods  |  search and rescue
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