Dramatic rescue for snakebite victim

Pietermaritzburg - Precision flying by an army helicopter pilot helped save a man’s life after he was bitten by a puff adder while camping in the Drakensberg on Wednesday night.

Harro Tonsing, 57, is in a stable condition at St Anne’s Hospital in Pietermaritzburg. The correct reactions by his friends laid the foundation for his rescue after he was bitten on the foot while hiking in the uKhahlamba/Drakensberg Park.

“He is stable and doing well at the moment. He is under specialised care and receiving treatment,” said hospital spokesperson Shubnum Ismail.

Rescue team

After Tonsing was bitten, members in the group he was hiking with alerted the rangers of Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife. The rangers called the Mountain Club’s search and rescue team to assist about 16:30, just as the afternoon’s storm clouds started to form.

Rescue convener Gavin Raubenheimer said the mountain club then put together a combined rescue team with an Emergency Medical Rescue Services (EMRS) paramedic and three mountain club members. The team flew from Pietermaritzburg Airport by helicopter and arrived at 20:00, necessitating a difficult and dangerous night hoisting operation in a deep, closed-out valley at 2 300m altitude.

The mountaineers and paramedic were lowered near the cave in which Tonsing sheltered, and got him ready for a fast flight to Pietermaritzburg.

Raubenheimer praised the pilot, who had to dodge thunderstorms in both directions of the flight. “It was a successful operation which involved skilled flying by the SA Airforce.”

- The website sareptiles.co.za warns people who are bitten by puff adders to first move the snake away with a stick; then to call for help; and then to keep the bite victim as still as possible. Helpers must not cut or incise the bite, nor try suck the venom out.

Puff adder venom causes severe pain, swellings, haemorrhages and nausea. Death is caused by secondary effects, like kidney failure. When the patient does not die, body tissue usually dies around the bite mark.

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