Mountain rescues in the Drakensberg

(Image: Gavin Raubenheimer)

Technical and high-altitude rescues are carried out under a joint protocol between the Mountain Club, KZN Wildlife, and the provincial Health Department. The Mountain Club forms the backbone of all technical rescues.

Most rescues are supported by helicopters of the South African Air Force and on some occasions by private helicopters or the SAPS Airwing. Some easy, non-technical rescues are carried out by the ranger-in-charge and these usually involve stretcher parties or horses. In the case of a missing hiker or a known death, the operation is carried out under the authority of the police.

(Image: Gavin Raubenheimer)

What to do in an emergency

In the Drakensberg mountains the reporting party should try, at first, to contact the nearest ranger’s office, either by cell phone or by going there in person. As a second choice, phone 0800 00 5133 and report that there is a “mountain rescue” required. The operator will then contact a Mountain Club Rescue Organiser and a rescue will get underway.

Remember that in rescues in remote areas of the mountains, it will take some time until help can get to you. In the case of a low-key operation near to civilization, this may be less than an hour. In the case when a large powerful helicopter is needed, at least two or more hours, or longer, will go past before it arrives. This can be even longer if the weather is bad and a rescue team has to drive to the mountains and then hike to the scene.

When reporting an emergency

  • Stay in cell phone range or near to the landline phone that was used to make the call.
  • Give your name and phone number.
  • The exact location including a good verbal description and co-ordinates.
  • The patient’s name age and gender.
  • Give the symptoms or problem.
  • The present weather conditions.
  • The terrain conditions.

Don’t do the following!

  • Do not report the problem to multiple agencies (this just confuses the whole operation).
  • Do not let other members of a party start reporting the incident which again just causes delays and confusion.
  • Do not ask for assistance from private medical companies.
  • Do not move from your present location.
About Gavin Raubenheimer 1 Article
Gavin is the convener of mountain rescue in the KZN region and owner of Peak High Mountaineering.


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