Education on mountain safety

The experience of a German teenager who fled into the mountains after being robbed above Hangberg last week has highlighted the importance of mountain safety and the procedures to be followed in the event of a person going missing.

Last Thursday, August 24, an urgent call was put out by Hout Bay resident Gizelle Loots on local social networks to help find the missing teen. Within minutes, scores of Hout Bay Organised users had volunteered their services, offering to establish and join search parties to track down the 16-year-old, who is studying at the LAL language school in Sea Point.

According to Ms Loots, whose cousin is general manager at LAL Cape Town, the boy and another 16-year-old student had decided to take a taxi to Hout Bay to take photographs of Dungeons on Sentinel Reef, known for its big waves.

“For some reason, they ended up in Hangberg. After getting out of the taxi, they continued all the way into Hangberg, but when they got to the top of the road, they were approached by four young boys who robbed them. The one boy, who was robbed of his wallet and cellphone, told his friend to run, which he did.”

Fortunately, a well-known Hangberg resident, Joseph “Wise” Williams, heard the commotion outside his home, and came to the assistance of the first boy. He contacted the police immediately as well as the language school. Ms Loots came to learn of the missing teen through her cousin.

“My phone was about to die, but I managed to post my appeal on Facebook. When I had charged it, I couldn’t believe how many people had offered to help. People were organising 4×4 search parties and offering to help. There was great concern that the boy would not survive the night on the mountain because it was so cold.”

As word spread of the young German’s plight, so formal rescue procedures – including the deployment of a Skymed helicopter – began in earnest.

Within an hour of Ms Loots’s appeal on social media, the teen had been located.

“He had scratches all over from walking through the bush. He was also very dehydrated and was even drinking seawater. He had almost walked the whole way round to Sandy Bay and was actually preparing to sleep in a cave when he heard the helicopter.”

Mr Williams said he had been very worried about the teenager because he did not know the mountain.

“The boy who I assisted told me that the taxi driver had warned them not to go over the mountain, but his friend was determined to see the waves. I was very worried about him, and told myself that this boy needed to be found because over the years a lot of people have disappeared on the mountain,” he said.

“I told myself that if this boy wasn’t found quickly, he wouldn’t be alive in the morning. A number of Hangberg residents joined the search as well. Some of the guys told me that the area they assumed he had gone into was one of the most dangerous parts because of the terrain.”

He had advised Ms Loots, who he knew, to get the message out on Hout Bay Organised as soon as possible.

“When she called me to tell me that he was found, I burst into tears. They were tears of joy. All the time he was missing, I was imagining his parents back in Germany and how they would react if something had happened to their son.”

He said hikers should never go up the mountain alone or without a local guide.

“We can actually create job opportunities for people, paying local unemployed people R100 or R200 to take people over the mountain. The young kids who robbed the boys, they would have recognised that they were foreign and seen them as an easy target. If they had seen them with a local person, they would never have tried to rob them.”

Anwaaz Bent, president of the Hikers Network, a volunteer organisation in Cape Town that specialises in search and rescue, mountain and outdoor safety and hiking and is affiliated to Wilderness Search &
Rescue, had been tagged in a Facebook post and assisted the rescue
by getting concerned parties to contact the Metro control room. Once this had been done, he could
assist in getting the official rescue started,

Mr Bent said the teen’s ordeal and his subsequent rescue showed how important it was for a calculated approach to be taken in the event of someone being lost on a moun-

Thanks to the Hiking Network’s digital tracking system, @safety
mountain, almost 10000 outdoor users were tracked last year. After filling in a free online registration form, users are registered on one of the network’s WhatsApp groups.

On the day users set out, they are asked to provide information such as current time, number of people, start and finish points, intended route, an alternate number of another person in the group and expected time of arrival. Users are then required to check in every hour, and on completion of their excursion, post “SOM” (Safely Off Mountain) to the group.

“We do tell people not to go to known hot spots where crime is rife. Unfortunately, there have been a number of muggings on the mountains around Hangberg, so we do advise people to steer clear. However, they don’t always heed our advice, so in those instances it is important to know what to do if people go missing,” Mr Bent said.

“While we do understand people do want to help, it can also be counter-productive for the whole community to jump in. It is always quicker to access a patient if the procedures are managed properly.”

For an official rescue, Western Cape Emergency Medical Services (EMS) is the first point of contact. They then liaise with organisations such as WRSR, NSRI and Table Mountain National Parks.

Vehicular searches are dispatched to the area, and if the terrain requires it, a decision will be made to deploy helicopters.

Mr Bent said rescue workers would monitor social media for posts that could be useful to the search. In the case of last week’s search, Ms Loots had posted a photograph of the missing teen, which proved useful.

“The important thing is not to lose your head, and keep your focus on procedure.”

Next year, the Hikers Network will be launching an enviro hiking club for families and youth in Hout Bay, which already has proved successful in five other communities in Cape Town.

The free programme will not only educate people on the key aspects of mountain safety, but will focus on features such as water-saving and fostering relationships within the community.

Important numbers

* Mountain rescue 021 937 0300 (WSAR)

* TMNP 021 957 4700

* Ambulance: Provincial 021 937 0500; Netcare 082911