Safe after bolt in the Berg

2018-12-10 16:29

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Not many people are struck by lightning and walk away to tell the tale.

Howick man, Jonathan Esteves (25) and his uncle Roger Byrne (57), of Durban, are two of the lucky ones who did after cheating death at Sani Pass, in the Southern Drakensberg.

Recuperating at Mediclinic Hospital, Esteves told The Witness on Sunday he considers himself lucky to be alive, repeating what his uncle said to him, “God’s grace. Without God we wouldn’t be here”.

The soft-spoken Howick High School teacher has a mixture of bluish purplish burn marks and bruises, which he attributes to the impact from his fall- on the left side of his face and chin. His one eye socket has also been fractured.

He said that he, his uncle, who declined to be interviewed, his aunt, Elaine Byrne, and his two siblings had started out on a three-day hike on Friday. Brimming with excitement, they parked their vehicle at Sani backpackers at about 3 pm and started the trek.

“We were going to hike to the Gxalingenwa Cave and sleep there overnight,” said Esteves.

Four kilometres into the hike, it began to drizzle “big drops, but not a lot”.

There was a bit of lightning but nothing that worried them, he said.

Out of the blue while walking along a well-known trail, Esteves found himself “knocked unconscious”.

“I think my uncle was hit first and the lightning transferred to me. I remember waking up not being able to move or see.

“It was a bit like a dream. I could taste sand in my mouth. The other members of the team caught up with us. My uncle was still unconscious,” he said.

Elaine Byrne said in a telephonic interview that she was walking behind the men when the lightning struck.

“I saw the lightning strike and [saw] them being thrown to the ground. I ran to assist them … it was extremely traumatic,” said Byrne.

Seeing them bleeding profusely, she did not know whether her loved ones were dead or alive. “My husband was not breathing for a while and Jonathan was unconscious,” she added.

Byrne said the lightning strike caused burns all over her husband’s body. He has a broken nose and his lip was cut on the inside and outside and had to be stitched.

“He is in a lot of pain,” she said.

Esteves said after he gained consciousness, his sister asked him who she should contact.

Luckily they had cellphone reception. Calls were first made to two people who notified the Mountain Club’s rescue team about what had happened.

Esteves said he then went onto WhatsApp messenger.

“I was in no pain. It was like a dream. I was doing what I needed to do.

He estimates his uncle regained consciousness five to ten minutes after him. “He was in a lot of pain. He could not move and thought his leg and arm were broken,” he said.

Help arrived two hours later.

Esteves was able to walk to a high point to shine his flashlight, alerting the rescuers of their whereabouts.

He expressed admiration and praise for the rescue team. So did his aunt who said that everyone involved, from the rescuers to the paramedics, were “fantastic”.

Esteves said the family are no strangers to hiking and this was not their first trip.

“I enjoy being in nature. I go hiking once every three to four months,” he said.

And will the experience deter him from hiking again?

“No, definitely not,” he exclaimed.

Gavin Raubenheimer, of the KZN section of the Mountain Club of South Africa Rescue Team said the hikers were found on the Giant’s Cup Trail, above the Sani Pass Road.

He said the club decided not to use a helicopter to airlift the survivors because it was getting dark and there were thunderstorms.

“A team of rescuers, a medic from Berg Protection Services and other volunteers hiked to the scene, which was approximately five kilometres from the nearest road.

“The patients were attended to and the badly injured person brought back to an ambulance using a wheeled stretcher. During the descent two more thunderstorms hampered the rescue operation,” he said.

Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife spokesperson Musa Mntambi said when they are made aware of bad weather conditions or extreme heat this information is shared on Ezemvelo’s social media accounts. “If people go hiking through us, our staff share the do’s and don’ts. They also make the hikers aware if there are severe thunderstorms expected, for instance.”

He added that they do not send messages to hikers as there is often no reception in the Berg areas.

20 people killed by lightning in KZN

• In January two people died after being struck by lightning during a storm that battered the South Coast.

• In May this year Maritzburg United striker Luyanda Ntshangase (21) died after being in an induced coma after being struck by lightning on March 1. The incident took place during a training session near Harry Gwala Stadium.

• Also in March, a 17-year-old girl died and two other people were injured when they were struck by lightning in Winterton’s Khethani Township.

• A mother and her three children died after being struck by lightning while sleeping in the eNgonyameni area, within the Jozini Local Municipality, in March.

• This year alone 12 people lost their lives in lightning strikes in the Ngoyameni area in Ingwavuma.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg

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