A 32-year-old hiker is recovering after a dramatic ordeal in the northern Drakensberg after falling 25 metres off the chain ladders in the Mont-aux-Sources area and having to spend the night there on Saturday night before he was airlifted to hospital on Sunday.
The hiker, a resident at the Sunfield Home for the intellectually impaired, is currently stable in the intensive care unit at MediClinic.
Gavin Raubenheimer, convenor of the Mountain Club KZN Search and Rescue unit, said they received a call for help at 5 pm on Saturday from the hiker’s father. A joint Mountain Club, SA Air Force, Ezemvelo Wildlife and Westline Aviation team carried out a rescue operation.
“The father and son were on a day hike to the popular Tugela Falls area. The accident happened at about 2 pm while they were descending the well-known chain ladders. They had climbed down the first set of ladders to a rough ledge area. While clambering to the next and final set of ladders the son fell 25 metres to the bottom. His father had to run far down the mountain before cell communication was possible. It is probably the first ever serious accident on these ladders since their construction in the late 1960s,” said Raubenheimer.
He said the Mountain Club immediately activated a local paramedic, who is also an Ezemvelo ranger, and an assistant rescue organiser who were airlifted by private helicopter from the Dragon Peaks resort to a flat area above the patient. They then climbed down the ladders to give assistance.
“The patient had multiple limb fractures and head injuries ... [He] could not be moved as the private chopper was not able to load him. The paramedics then spent the night with the hiker rendering medical assistance through the night. Early on Sunday morning an Oryx helicopter from the South African Air Force’s 15 Squadron in Durban flew to the scene with four technical rescuers on board.
“A quick stop was made en route to pick up a vacuum mattress and heart monitor and then on to the accident scene. The MCSA members were then winched down to the patient, who was lying in a very narrow gully. After packaging the patient, he was hoisted into the aircraft and flown to a hospital in Pietermaritzburg,” said Raubenheimer.
The traumatised father said while his son was stable and on the path to recovery, they were still concerned.
Recalling the events, the father said it was early on Saturday afternoon when his son fell and he had to struggle to get a cellphone signal to call for help.
“I had to walk for more than two hours, away from the spot where he fell, to get a connection before I could summon help. It was the worst two hours of my life. Then when help arrived, I was too far down to return to the site without hampering their rescue. They asked me to leave as I was more of a liability to be there. It was one of the most difficult decisions I had to make — leaving my injured son alone out in the Berg. All I could do was hope for the best,” said the devastated father.
Describing his son as a “fanatical Berg hiker” who had done more than 10 hikes this year and hoped to complete 40 hikes in his lifetime, the father said his son was extremely excited about hiking that part of the Berg before the accident occurred.
“He has every book ever written about the Drakensberg and is an encyclopaedia himself about the area. He was excited to have identified the Devil’s Tooth. It’s very traumatic what he has gone through and his recovery will be slow,” said the father.
He heaped praise on the rescue workers for their dedicated effort and care taken of his son.