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Search and rescue
Search and rescue
Mountain Club of South Africa
For over a century the Mountain Club of South Africa (MCSA) has been active in rescue and search in mountains and other areas with difficult terrain. Because of our skills gained in mountaineering, we are able to move safely in dangerous areas and are able to extract patients from these areas. The main discipline of our team is cliff and steep slope rescues, where people, who do not do any climbing, may be a danger to themselves and to the patient. Over a few decades, we have practiced the skills needed specifically for advanced helicopter search and rescue. The South African Air Force is now often reluctant to fly for mountain rescues without an MCSA team in the helicopter. We have members who are trained and experienced in swift water rescue and others who are cavers. In the Gauteng team we have two doctors, a paramedic, two intermediate life support practitioners and a high fraction of the team have basic ambulance certificates. We work with and are able to, call upon other doctors and paramedics. Key rope rigging and mountaineering positions are held by professionals in those jobs.
Several of our members have qualified as search masters and have had experience as such. We have mapping and other computer software that make planning for searches faster and easier. Places can be found on maps when only minimal descriptions can be given, or when unfamiliar names are used. The MCSA has the digital data for most of the 1:50000 scale topographical maps of South Africa and software to use them. In Gauteng, we also use search dogs from the police and search dog clubs who train regularly with us.
The MCSA also has active teams in Natal, the South Cape and the Western Cape. We have had contact with the STAR helicopter ambulance team and are able to call them to transport the patient to hospital after rescue, if this will save time. We have done a little work with the Police Air Wing and look forward to closer co-operation with them. MCSA Rescue is represented on the International Commission for Mountain Emergency Medicine.
No work done by the Mountain Club of South Africa Rescue Team is charged for – it is done willingly and voluntarily. However, any donations are welcomed and go towards the cost of team equipment, which are extensive. All personal costs are paid for by the individual concerned.
Our numbers, resources and skills are boosted by co-operation with other outdoor clubs, especially the Four Wheel Drive Club of South Africa and the Johannesburg Hiking Club. Even closer ties with these and any other club with skills that can be used in search and rescue, will be welcome.
The MCSA does not replace any of the normal emergency response systems/teams. We offer limited specialist teams that work with, and under the authority of, Statuary Emergency Services or commercial services. We are a volunteer tem so are unable to offer a full time emergency response capability. However, we are usually able to mobilise a rescue team within an hour of the call, or a hasty team within half an hour during working time. Doing the correct paper work to get the use of an Air Force helicopter is time consuming and so a helicopter is seldom off the ground in less than two hours after the call is received. Due to the costs involved (about R25 000 per flying hour) the MCSA does not ask for a helicopter directly – this is only done by a Provincial Emergency Medical Service, NetCare, or some such large organization.
Usually the best way to get a rescue organised is to telephone the local EMS, NetCare 0829111, or when using a cell phone 112. If you have difficulty, try Gauteng EMS (011) 315 0203. Tell the operator that you need help because of a mountain emergency. If the MCSA is required, they will contact us. SMS does not need a signal that is as strong as is needed for voice and conserves battery and air time. Any rescuer will need a contact person who knows the situation to stay at a specified telephone. He will also need to know where the emergency is, exactly how to get there, weather conditions, geography (including suitable helicopter landing sites), what the emergency is and names and other details of patients. Call as soon as there is an emergency – rescues take a long time, and lost time can never be made up, whereas a team can turn home and have a cup of tea, if the rescue is not needed. A rescue team will take at least as long as you did to get to your position if it drives and walks in. If used correctly helicopter transport may save a lot of time if you are a long way from base, but it is not an instantaneous answer. While you are waiting for the team, the patient will need care and protection. You must be able to access the patient (mountain skills) and look after him – a Basic Ambulance Certificate course is recommended but it is expensive (R2 000 to R5 000) and takes a lot of time (one month full time, several months part time), but this is well spent since it is a good basic first step on the professional ladder to paramedic, and paid work is available. Even a first aid certificate course is better than nothing.
Also tell somebody where you will park, the route that you will take and when you will be back. Tell them the time and action to take if you do not return. Tell them when you have returned. Fill in mountain rescue registers at reserve offices and notify the correct people when you return. Keep to your planned routes. Wear bright clothes – red is the best seen when in brown grasslands. Always carry survival gear and torches with you, even for a short day walk.
Acknowledgement: Dr. Arthur Morgan
Mountain rescue emergencies, call 011 315 0203 Mountain Search and Rescue provided by the Mountain Club of South Africa: Jhb Section, 011 807 1310 (08h00-10h00): Magaliesberg Section, 012 345 4586 (08h00-10h00)