High-tech search ensues after woman thrown off horse

2014-05-01 00:00

A RANDOM phone call helped save a woman’s life, after she was thrown from her horse in a vast KwaZulu-Natal forest.

And the search it triggered included both high-tech satellite tracking and a frantic husband, who was forced to jump on a horse for the first time in years.

When a friend found Janette Nicholson injured and convulsing in the middle of Birnamwood, near Merrivale, last month, she dialled a random number on the victim’s cellphone.

Nicholson, a Midlands ceramicist, had a serious head wound after being dragged by her excitable new horse, and the friend was on foot, after both their horses ran off.

The number the friend dialled — on Nicholson’s “received calls” list — could have been an insurance salesperson or a wrong number, and the friend was so disoriented and shocked by the injuries that, in any case, she had no location to give to whomever answered.

But the woman who took the call, Mandy Rawlins, happened to be a member of the community action network SA Can and punched the emergency speed-dial to its Hillcrest operations centre.

It triggered a mass emergency response, including Pietermaritzburg Search and Rescue, ER24 paramedics and her husband, Chris Nicholson, riding to the rescue on her horse.

Yesterday, after an initial two days treatment in hospital, Nicholson (47) abandoned her final hospital recovery visit, because “I’m totally recovered”.

Nicholson wrote a thank you note to SA Can, saying: “I have absolutely no memory of the incident from when we first entered the forest until I was transported from Mediclinic to St Annes much later that night.”

SA Can co-founder Brian Jones said that after getting permission from Chris to trace his wife’s phone, he had been able to track her approximate position, while also placing a local casualty ward “on emergency standby”.

“We feared the worst — convulsing from a head injury tends to be a very bad sign,” said Jones.

Nicholson told The Witness, “The last time Chris rode a horse was on our wedding day. I can never get him to ride — and here he was riding to the rescue, because he had no choice.”

She said she had been riding her new Arab grey, “Cricket”, “who is more excitable that my old warrior (horse), who I probably should have been riding.”

She said the horses ran home, where her husband found them, and mounted her friend’s horse, Maverick, to conduct his own search.

Rawlins said, “[Nicholson’s friend] managed to get hold of Janette’s husband but couldn’t give an accurate location as she could not see any landmarks.

“She also happened to dial my number, but in her panic was unable to give much information other than that Janette had a serious injury.”

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