Well now folks, as promised the update on the 2nd Mountain Rescue we had two days ago. This one however, I was not even close to being prepared for.
The initial call came through as follow:
A 72 yo (yes, it's not a typing error) went hiking on the Brandberg mountain and fell two days previously. The caller indicates that her father who was hiking with the patient when he fell approximately 6 meters and sustained a fracture of the hip and open fracture of the ankle. He apparently stayed with the patient until the both of them realized that they are running out of supplies. This is when the friend / fellow hiker decided it's time to get his ass off the mountain and summon help. He left the injured party there with all their food and water (approx a cup full) and started the hike down the mountain. During this 5 hour hike, night fell and he took the safe option and slept on the side of the mountain. Once he arrived at their vehicle, he was himself severely dehydrated and claims to have lost conciousness. When he came to, he was laying beside their vehicle in the sun. Not knowing how long he lay there, he got into the vehicle and drove 2 hours to the nearest town where he then phoned us and gained some (first aider) attention.
Being that it was nightfall by the time he phoned us, there was nothing we could do but await first light. According to the GPS co-ordinates we were given, there was no way we would be able to walk up at night. One of the local guides informed us that the GPS co-ordinates would put us in a valley approximately 500m wide and 1km long. He also assured us that we would be able to land a helicopter in this valley with ease. Thus we started trying to arrange a helicopter for the rescue. Sadly we have no medical helicopters in Namibia and have to co-opt civilian helicopter should the need arise. We were told by the flight co-ordinator that the Air Force refuses the use of their helicopters which, according to my knowledge are the only ones with winch attachments. We were however told that we would be able to use the Presidents helicopter at a cost of USD 11 0000-00 per hour (multiply by 7.40 to reach local currency). In the end, we managed to get a Squirrel and set take off for 8am seeing as it's in the shop for routine maintenance.
Come 8am, we are ready and rearing to go. The owner of the chopper tells us he is going to try and find the stretcher insert that came with the chopper. Apparently they purchased the Squirrel with the view of making it a medical chopper but never managed to get it off the ground so they turned it into a sight seeing helicopter. Eventually they return with the stretcher attachment at about 09:40 only to find that they fitted an A/C system that now causes the stretcher attachment not to fit. I then decide a scoop with some cargo straps will do the trick, not to mention I am so pissed you can boil an egg in my ass. Long story of fuel, check etc short, we take off just after 10:00. Its a 1:35 flight to the GPS co-ordinates atop the west side of the mountain.
Upon arrival, we circle to find a safe landing spot. During our circling we see a search party waving hands at us. We find a safe landing spot approximately 400m from the actual GPS co-ordinates. I grab my jump bag (weighing about 14kg's) and we start walking to wards the GPS co-ordinates. My colleague walks towards the search party. After about 30min we meet up again, whereupon my colleague informs me that the search party apparently came up last night and searched the whole of the valley without success. They did however find a spot lower down the mountain where two sets of tracks become one. They are apparently on their way there again. I walk towards that area, find a nice size rock and look down. There's no way the chopper will land anywhere except the bottom of the mountain. We make a decision to keep walking down, while the pilot goes back to the chopper and flies it to the bottom and waits for us. We judge it to be about 4km's to the bottom.
This decision I regretted before I even suggested it. Bearing in mind that both my colleague and myself are clad in the following attire:
1) Normal safety (steel toed) shoes,
2) Royal blue flight suits,
3) Sun glasses
We have a total of 500ml water for each of us and no hats / caps. Down we start, me carrying my jump bag and my colleague carrying the scoop and spider harness. Luckily we decided to send the pin-index (small) 02 cylinder with the pilot to the chopper. The walk down goes pretty easy at first, then the sun starts stinging and the temperature starts rising. It reaches 35+ Deg C, we keep walking. Knowing that this 72 year old has been on the mountain 3 days with a cup of water, a broken "hip" and ankle. We decide the chances of him still being concious are slim at best. Knowing also that this leopard (yes, wild leopard) country we have even less hope of finding the guy alive. on our way down, we stop a few times and swap loads. I take the scoop and my colleague takes my jump bag. We keep walking, then we come across the first leopard track. It's bigger than my hand, and fresh. We keep walking and resting in the little shade we can find. The chopper pilot decided to fly over head a few times to see if he can spot anything, then on his fourth flight he motions to us that the search party is lower down. He turns around and circles the area over the search party, then heads down and lands at the bottom of the mountain.
With the end in sight, we keep pushing. Our water by now is long gone, I don't have a single smoke on me, we are sweating profusely and the boots are hurting like a bastard. Again we come across fresh leopard tracks, this time however there's about 3 sets of leopard cub tracks to. So now we have a mother leopard in a ravine of a mountain that will be seriously protective over her cubs. We pass more than one lair where they sleep, our climb becomes harder. At time we have to jump down rocks in excess of 2 meters high. My colleague start walking away from me, my smokers lungs burning, my mouth is dry and the top back part of my palate is on fire. I am not longer producing saliva, I am at the beginning stages of severe dehydration but, still I push on. I decide to have a seat again on a huge rock, my colleague took a route somewhere to my right. Then I hear someone speaking, thinking it might be my colleague I call his name, no answer. Again I hear a voice and again I call his name. Thinking he might be complaining aloud as I am doing in my head. Then the voice answers directly below me, it's the search party. Then I see my colleague, he's gone past their position, I call him back and direct him to the voices.
Then I start the way down, it takes me about 10min longer, the original GPS co-ordinates are about 4km's out. Eventually I arrive and low and behold, there's a 72 year old man laying on the ground talking up a storm. He explains that he has not eaten anything in three days because he did not have water to wash the dry food down with. We get the IV set up and push the first litre of fluids rapidly. He gets some colour back, we change to the next litre of fluids, this one we take slightly slower. He is also given 10mg Morphine IVI for pain, we sit and talk a bit more then we move him onto the scoop and strap him down. Just then the pilot arrives, he walked up to make sure we found a live patient. This is where we then decide to talk extraction. We are all in agreement that there's no way we are carrying the patient down, we decide to have my colleague hike down with the pilot and remove the doors off the squirrel. They will then fly back up, hover with one skid on a rocky outcrop and we will load the patient. Should there be enough head wind and power, I will oard and we will fly to the awaiting plane in town.
Off they go, the search party leader has water, and I drown myself in it. Even the water burns my palate, by this time I have stopped sweating to. After a few more minutes we decide it's time to move the patient closer to the rock for loading. After another hour the chopper is heading our way. By now I sure everyone is seriously worried about us. We never had time to inform the office that we have to hike. It's been about 5hours since they had any comms with us. The chopper heads up, way up. They make contact with the office "Ops normal, had to hike to pt. co-ords completely off". And they head back to our "landing rock". At this time I explain to the search party that they should load the patient slowly to give the pilot chance to compensate for the extra weight. With the left skid on the rock, the patient is loaded diagonally into the chopper. I hang back and await the pilot's thumbs up.
He lifts off, then sets it back down on the rock. I get the thumbs up, approaching with caution I put my jump bag in, then I get in. sitting with my legs dangling out the side, patient to my left. We are heading down the mountain to fetch the doors. The wind rushing past us is so nice and cool, my mouth is still dry and not producing saliva yet, all I can think of is "I need a smoke!". As we land, there's another guy standing at the pickup truck of the search party. He's smoking and has more water! I walk up to him and ask for water and a smoke, to which he smiles and takes out the packet of smokes and offers me one with some water. It's yet again one of the best and strongest light smokes I had in my life! We finish fitting the doors and fly to the little town called Uis to where the King Air is awaiting our arrival. We load the patient over, and head to Windhoek.
As a side note, yet again, I lost 3kg's and this time moved from page three of the national news paper to front page! I am now famous LMAO. The only remaining side effects I still have is the slightly infected abrasion on my left elbow and the tell tale dark colour urine indicating that I am still dehydrated.