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NSRI crews are sometimes called to assist with mountain rescues. We look at what’s required to execute these sometimes risky missions.

When three hikers set out on the Karbonkelberg trail one recent Sunday morning, little did they know they would run into trouble later that day between Sandy Bay and Hout Bay, Cape Town.

By 4pm they were running out of daylight and water, and were reluctant to turn around and hike back, which would have taken them well into the night. At this point, they raised the alarm, and NSRI Hout Bay was alerted.

According to Lyall Pringle, NSRI Hout Bay duty coxswain, two sea rescue craft were launched, carrying an inflatable stretcher, and on arrival NSRI rescue swimmers were deployed to swim ashore. They reached the three hikers on the shore and, in two relays, they were transferred onto the NSRI’s sea rescue craft and brought to safety.

Since mountains, cliffs and ocean are often found together, especially along the Western Cape and Garden Route shorelines, stretching all the way from Cape Town to Plettenberg Bay, NSRI crew are sometimes called on to execute or assist with mountain rescues.

While there are no official figures available, mountain rescues “are fairly frequent in areas such as Plettenberg Bay and Wilderness,” says NSRI training manager Graeme Harding. However, he clarifies, “the NSRI seldom conducts mountain rescue operations on its own and will always activate nearby mountain rescue services and stand by to assist.”

“WSAR (Wilderness Search and Rescue) does do training with NSRI crew, though, and we have a helicopter simulator; it is part of the crew’s standard training to know how to set up a helicopter landing zone,” he says. “We also run maritime extrication training courses, which involve high angle rescue training that equips crews with skills to perform rescues at steep angles, such as the side of the boat, which could also translate to a steep mountain face.”

At NSRI Station 14, Plettenberg Bay, about 30 percent of our rescues are related to hikers in the mountainous Robberg Nature Reserve.

“So that’s about 24 rescues a year,” says station commander Jaco Kruger. “In general, the skills we have are sea rescue and helicopter related. But we have been exposed to some mountain rescue techniques over the years. From a liability standpoint, we don't use non-sea rescue approved techniques like abseiling. For that we would alert local mountain rescue services.”

Their most recent mountain rescue incident involved a woman out hiking with a group on the Robberg trail who became short of breath and could not continue. “A land crew was dispatched,” says Kruger, “but it became apparent that we could not carry her to safety as the route was not safe. So AMS (Air Mercy Services) was notified and dispatched a helicopter that airlifted her to safety. An ambulance was waiting for her. This is a pretty standard mountain rescue scenario for us. And we’re happy to help.”

Also read:

NSRI training: Creating strong foundations
Hout Bay: 3 hikers rescued
The NSRI’s eyes in the sky

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