Elderly couple in hiking nightmare

2011-11-20 22:01

East London - An East London couple, Johan and Mercia van Tonder, have told how their plans for a gentle walk on the Umtiza hiking trail went horribly wrong on Sunday.

Armed with a litre of water, 500ml of cooldrink and three bananas Mercia, 65, and 67-year-old Johan tackled the Dassie Trail about 15km inland of East London.

Mercia told the NSRI after being rescued late on Sunday afternoon that almost immediately into their walk, the trail they were on seemed to disappear. They tried desperately, but in vain, to find any semblance of a hiking trail or footpath.

Eventually they found themselves surrounded by dense bush and completely lost.

Fortunately for the Van Tonders they could use their cellphone to call relatives in Brakpan who, in turn, raised the alarm.

A Metro EMS rescue squad and rescue helicopter, a police search and rescue K-9 unit, SA National Parks rangers and the NSRI East London volunteer duty crew were activated.

"Knowing how thick that bush is, we needed a lot of manpower to cover the terrain before dark" said Geoff McGregor, NSRI East London station commander.

It was ascertained that the couple had embarked on their hike at what is normally the ending point of the trail and the rescue teams arrived on-scene and fanned out to begin a search at around 15:30.

The couple, anxious because Johan suffers from a heart condition, had, according to McGregor, made the right decision, once they had realized they needed help, to stay put and did not move any further.

The search became more intense after rescuers realised that in the thick bush, guarded and shaded by a thick canopy of trees overhead, light was fading fast as the afternoon drew on.

At approximately 16:45 the couple were spotted by the helicopter rescue team who guided rescuers, who were on foot, to their location not too far from where they had begun their walk but quite a distance from any of the foot trails.

"Their relief at being found was obvious," said McGregor.

It then took rescuers about another hour-and-a- half to gently walk the couple out of their predicament, cutting their way through barely accessible thick dense bush, and eventually back to civilization.

  • Martin - 2011-11-20 22:31

    Well done by the rescuers, it's good to know that we still have some good, efficient services available, albeit, mostly voluntary.

  • Heinrich - 2011-11-20 22:33

    Reminds me of the Fakawi tribe. Short guys. Long grass. Every now and then they jump up and say: "Where the Fakawi"

      Nevil - 2011-11-21 05:54


      Joan - 2011-11-21 11:31

      LOL thank you Heinrich. A great laugh for a wet chilly Monday Morning.Glad everything turned out well for the couple.

  • annie.kalahari - 2011-11-20 22:34

    Very nice story. Well written. Thanks!

  • Cornelius - 2011-11-20 23:16

    63 and 65 is ELDERLY? Se gat my broer. Ek is so oud en stap nog die Visrivier Canyon en 'n paar ander.

      Braam - 2011-11-21 07:08

      Stem waar is ons oud na 60 ek kamp gereeld en geniet die buitelug maar is ook versigtig om nie te ver van die Windhoekies af te dwaal nie

  • Cornelius - 2011-11-20 23:26

    En Heinrich ... Good one! You must hike along. I dont know where you are ... so buy yourself a Windhoek Draft and pretend its from me. Gesundheit. We Fakanowheweis must stick together.

      Heinrich - 2011-11-21 00:10

      Thanks, Cornelius. I might get lost too, so I'll maar just sit at one place and drink my Windhoek Draft. Pretend it's from you.

  • Lucky - 2011-11-21 02:52

    How can adults find 'themselves surrounded by dense bush and completely lost'? Sounds like it can happen to children only!

      Malcolm - 2011-11-21 09:16

      Lucky, its because the BCM are too incompetent and far too lazy maintain the Umtiza hiking trail. All the BCM income is spent on bonuses and salaries. The bonuses are for keeping unauthorised, irregular, fruitless and wasted expenditure to more or less R2bn and the salaries are for making it to their empty desks at least every second day.

  • Dries Grobler Jr. - 2011-11-21 07:01

    Note to self: take a flare with on your next hiking trip.

      Braam - 2011-11-21 07:09

      start a bush fire ne?......slim plan 10/10 vir jou

  • Keith - 2011-11-21 07:10

    Umtiza hiking trail should be regularly maintain .it is for exercise after all not to judge if you have Rambo skills what if tourists got lost would the comments be the same sincerely hope not tourism keeps SA in the "Black " financially hahaha

      Gcwabe-KaMavovo - 2011-11-21 08:05

      Dude, that was one long sentence. I didn't even get the gist of it in the end.

      Maverick82 - 2011-11-21 11:38 just add a few commas and a few full stops and it will all fall into place. Took me a while but I finally got it hahaha. @Keith stop making as work so hard *wink*

  • Fredster69 - 2011-11-21 07:25

    It is sad to think that it is actually not a bad story. I was expecting to read that the couple was attacked or something. Well done to the resque team. 1 question though. When they saw the path ended, why not turn back? Glad they are safe though

  • Elizabeth - 2011-11-21 07:44

    What a marvellous thing Cell phones are! I see that it is necessary to carry one with you where ever you go. Thumbs up to every one involved Good work guys. I was once lost in dense bush in Canada, and know how disorientating it is. It is very easy to panic. So very glad to learn the happy outcome of story.

  • Elizabeth - 2011-11-21 07:50

    What a marvellous thing a cell phone is! Wish I had had one when a friend and I got lost while climbing a mountain in Canada. I was completly disorientated when we found ourselves surrounded by thich bush and the so called "Devils Club" weed. I can fully understand any panic that this couple may have experienced. Want just to say "Good Work Guys" to every one involved. Glad to read of a happy ending

  • See - 2011-11-21 07:59

    Brakpan to the rescue.

  • Siso - 2011-11-21 08:19

    I think its a great story and a lesson to all people especially the elderly ones, nowadays technology has advanced in a sense that you can embark on your trip even if you don't know where you going am talking about maps, GPS units and so forth. Because honestly getting lost in a bush can be a a threatening and frightening experience.

  • linda.baisley - 2011-11-21 08:25

    Good to know we have people out there that still care!!!Next time the old dears shoul Well done rescue team.

  • Sean - 2011-11-21 11:25

    At least some 90% ?? of the SA land area is covered by cell network, and SA is big enough, which shows our infrastructure is up there, but in Canada cell network coverage is somewhat lacking in a lot of places, I have been there, considering it is the second biggest country in the world, by land area. Either way, it never hurts to be prepared, having been a boy scout for many years. I have learned a few lessons the hard way, and this was before technology as we know it today.

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