100+ people, 48 hours to rescue man

2014-09-22 17:25
(File, Nielen de Klerk, News24)

(File, Nielen de Klerk, News24)

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Johannesburg - It took over two days for more than 100 people from different organisations to save a North West man who had fallen from a mountain and become wedged on a cliff between two large rocks.

The man was stuck near the Rustenburg Kloof Resort for three days. After various failed attempts to extricate his foot, which was trapped, surgeons were hoisted down the mountain and amputated his right leg below the knee.

Rescuers rotated shifts, set up a command post on the mountain, slept on the ground in their clothes, and worked upside down to try and free the man.

"I was out there from 20:00 Friday evening - 48 hours. We slept on the mountain, it was chilly. Some didn't have sleeping bags and slept on the ground in the clothes they were in. It was uncomfortable, but not life-threatening cold," Mountain Club of SA (MCSA) Search and Rescue team leader Rob Thomas said.

Mountaintop reached at 03:00

The injured man, identified by Beeld as Tsenolo Shadrack Rasello, 26, was alone on the mountain on Friday. Apparently a snake frightened him and he fell several metres. His foot became wedged between rocks.

He phoned his family, who alerted police. The police contacted the fire department, the police air wing, and the MCSA. Thomas put a team together and went to the resort.

By the time they reached the top of the mountain, it was 03:00.

"There was no way we were going to find him in the dark. The team decided to stop," Thomas said.

"When daylight came we realised that the chances of finding him were slim. The police helicopter team came and pointed out his location to us. We set up an abseil, but the rocks there were very loose. A recent rockfall had happened there.

"To get to the patient was a 40m abseil, I went down and tried to get his foot out, but all the techniques we tried were not working.

"We tried getting one of the mine rescue teams involved, but they had just finished fighting an underground fire for over 28 hours. We had no luck."

14 mountain rescue people involved

Other organisations became involved, including the Rustenburg Fire Service, North West Disaster Management, Offroad Rescue Unit, SA Air Force, Rescue SA, Lonmin mine rescue, Impala mine rescue, Netcare, ER24, and Medi-Assist.

"Over 100 people were involved at one point or another - 14 were from mountain rescue."

The SA Air Force used one of their helicopters from an air show. Until that point the police helicopter could only ferry one person at a time. The air force helicopter could take four to five people at a time.

"Fatigue was a major problem. I made sure there was a paramedic at the patient's side non-stop. We were rotating paramedics every six to eight hours."

18cm wide crack

All work on the patient was done on ropes and upside down. Rescuers had tried using baby oil to lubricate the trapped man's leg, as well as chipping away at the rock around it, in an effort to extricate him.

"The crack was only 18cm wide, he was trapped at the ankle. We were literally working upside down. It was very difficult to work," said Thomas.

Rescuers had also tried to take off the safety boot the man was wearing, but no one could reach it.

On Saturday night, the team decided to amputate. Arrangements were made to get surgeons and medical equipment to the location. Mine rescuers had to clear away rocks to make space for the doctors to work.

"We connected them [the surgeons] to ropes and lowered them down, while we controlled the ropes from the top. A stretcher was [lowered] to get him on to do the amputation.

"There were lots of complications, rock falls could have happened. They worked in very difficult circumstances."

After the amputation, the man was taken to Chris Hani-Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto.

Read more on:    mahikeng  |  search and rescue

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