Tricky rescue of injured hiker

Man with broken ankle airlifted from peaks after spending night in Tsitsikamma mountains

A mountain hike turned into a difficult air rescue effort in treacherous terrain after a hiker fell and injured himself in the Tsitsikamma mountains, having to seek shelter with his party overnight.

Gerhard de Jager, 40, who had a bad fall and broke his ankle on Saturday, had to spend the night on top of the mountain as conditions were too dangerous for a rescue attempt.

He was eventually airlifted from a difficult area between Formosa Peak and Spitskop in the mountains near the Langkloof yesterday and underwent surgery on his ankle later in the day.

A member of the Mountain Club of South Africa’s search-and-rescue team, Francois Searle, said they received a call at about 3pm on Saturday, but due to rainy and windy conditions they were unable to help.

“They were a group of eight hikers, some of them members of the Mountain Club, who went on a three-day hike that took them up to Formosa Peak and back down again,” he said.

Searle, who assisted in the rescue operation, said they were lucky that another member of the Mountain Club’s search-and-rescue team, Tim Jones, was hiking with the party.

“Luckily Tim was there. He immediately assessed the situation and knew exactly who to contact for help,” he said.

“He assessed the injuries and believed De Jager had broken his ankle, so hiking down the mountain was out of the question – he needed to be airlifted.”

Searle said it would have been risky for any aircraft to attempt a rescue mission when they received the emergency call as there were strong winds and rain on the mountains and the light was fading fast.

A decision was made to attempt a rescue effort at first light yesterday.

The group on the mountain were able to find some shelter for the night, while Jones stabilised De Jager’s ankle. Yesterday morning, the Mountain Club teamed up with the Nelson Mandela Bay Emergency Medical Services and the South African National Defence Force to coordinate a rescue mission.

A BK 117 helicopter from the SANDF’s Charlie Flight R600 squadron was sent to Formosa Peak, where De Jager had to be hoisted to safety.

“Due to the mountainous terrain, there was nowhere for the chopper to land, so with Jones’s help on the ground they were able to drop a harness from the chopper and hoist De Jager into the airborne chopper,” Searle said.

From there, De Jager was taken to Life St George’s Hospital for treatment, and later underwent surgery on his ankle.

The rest of his hiking party made their way down the mountain safely.

“It was not the easiest rescue mission, but with all the role-players involved we were able to get De Jager to safety and prevent him from suffering any further injuries,” Searle said.

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