Gorge rescue drama

2012-08-13 00:00

ALERTED to his location by his cries for help, paramedics and police rescued a man who fell 60 metres from a viewing platform at Kloof Gorge yesterday.

The hazardous operation required officers to be lowered down the face of the gorge in high winds.

However, the rescue marked just the first phase in the man’s recovery from the accident, as he sustained several injuries and faces major surgery in the days ahead.

The 46-year-old, identified by police as Bruce Cunningham, was reported missing by his family at 11 am. They had earlier traced his cellphone signal to the Kloof Gorge view site in the Krantzkloof Nature Reserve and informed the authorities.

ER24 paramedics and officers of the police search and rescue unit, who were alerted to the incident, were met at the site by Cunningham’s wife. Some of Cunningham’s belongings were found at the view site, but there was no sign of the man himself.

A search of the area followed, during which people called out for Cunningham.

It was one of these calls which eventually elicited a faint response — from below the edge of the viewing site — said ER24 spokesperson Derrick Banks.

Lieutenant Jack Haskins, of the Pietermaritzburg K9 search and rescue unit, and his dog were called to help locate Cunningham.

However, he had been located by the time he arrived at the gorge. By this stage, the fire department and other police officers had also arrived at the scene.

It was thought that Cunningham had ventured too close to the edge of the viewing area and been blown over by the strong winds in the area yesterday.

With Cunningham located, three paramedics and two search and rescue officers were lowered 60 metres down to where he had fallen. He was found to have multiple fractures to the lower half of his body and pelvis, and several other injuries, including suspected chest, neck and back injuries, said Banks.

Netcare911 spokesperson Chris Botha told The Witness that the rescue operation took place over four hours.

“There were about 20 rescue officials, two helicopters and a fire engine at the scene. Outside of the rescue area, a crowd of about 50 people had gathered,” he said.

Due to the technical nature of the rescue, Botha said, they had to close off the area to members of the public.

Cunningham was stabilised where he lay on the cliff face, but was needed advanced life support treatment to help stabilise him further.

In strong winds, Cunningham was placed in a rescue stretcher and hoisted up to the view site by a police helicopter, accompanied by the chief rescuer, Captain Troy Allison.

At the top he was reassessed by paramedics and a trauma doctor from Durban’s Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital before being airlifted by the Health Department’s air medical helicopter to the hospital for further medical attention.

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