Hiker irks her rescuers

2014-05-28 00:00

THREE sets of rescuers hiked for at least four hours in the dark to reach a supposedly stricken Drakensberg hiker on the weekend after calls were made for helicopters, a search team, and ambulances.

But the question Roxanne Coetzee asked one irritated rescuer was, “So is it okay if I start drinking [whisky] now?” — before opting to sleep over in a tourist cave as the paramedics trudged back to civilisation in the dark.

One ambulance was even dispatched from distant Ladysmith due to an incorrect report that the accident had happened in the Northern Drakensberg.

Having climbed Rhino Peak near Underberg, the 25-year-old Durban chiropractic student fell two metres, and suffered cuts to her head and arm when rocks she had dislodged fell on top of her.

A hiking companion, Dylan Snyman, contacted the community emergency network SA CAN, which quickly mobilised a major response, including two Mountain Rescue climbers, Maritzburg Search & Rescue, Berg Protection Services and an ambulance, while also seeking a possible helicopter medevac. Meanwhile, two staffers from Cox Yeats attorneys — who were also camping over in the cave on a team-building weekend – started hiking up the mountain to help.

Coetzee was “dazed” and her head injury initially bled profusely — triggering alarm for Snyman that her skull could be fractured — but she was able to walk to the cave that night and back to the carpark on her own the next day. She would later receive a total of 11 stitches, and be found to have suffered no fractures or concussion.

One paramedic from Berg Protection who scrambled to the scene, Brett Deavin, said, ‘Look, we all left that cave a bit irritated. Nobody likes to hike eight kilometres in the pitch dark for something so minor, and then to be asked by the patient if they can party on. I didn’t even need to open my medical bag. We’re thankful she’s okay, but we are also thankful that a helicopter wasn’t actually sent.”

Snyman said Coetzee’s apparent swift recovery was “absolutely no reason” to call off the multi-pronged response, and that he was unable to send later updates because his cellphone battery had died.

Brian Jones, founder of SA CAN, said, “It would have been nice to have been updated on the situation if that was possible, but better that we send too much help than too little. With a head injury of unknown nature like that, Dylan clearly did the right thing.”

Another fellow hiker, Hans Snyman, agreed, “It was absolutely better to be safe than sorry”, and said the situation would have become life-threatening due to “freezing conditions” if she had been unable to climb down to the sleep-over cave.

In a thank-you note to SA CAN, the Snyman family stated: “She was in shock, was freezing cold (without warm clothes or sleeping bags) and very scared. Neither Dylan nor [a fellow climber] knew the extent of her injuries, and they certainly were not equipped to deal medically or emotionally with the situation.”

Yesterday, Coetzee admitted asking to be allowed to drink alcohol, but said she had feared “the worst” earlier, due to the bleeding and the cold.

“I would have felt bad if a helicopter had come just for me, but I have never been in a situation like that, so I’m thankful,” she said.

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