15 Squadron in Drakensberg rescue


A 60-year-old hiker with head injuries was rescued from a precarious site in the Drakensberg thanks to the efforts of the provincial nature conservation agency, the Mountain Club of SA, Westline Aviation and the SA Air Force (SAAF).

Part one of the rescue started on Friday 9 April when the Mountain Club’s mountain rescue team was on the receiving end of a distress call. According to Gavin Raubenheimer, the club’s KZN search and rescue convener, the hiker fell and sustained head injuries after taking a wrong route when descending Gray’s Pass in the Monk’s Cowl area. A joint operation started with two experienced rangers, one a paramedic, airlifted to the top of Gray’s Pass.

Descending by torchlight they could not reach the injured hiker and stopped, starting the descent again at first light. On reaching the patient immediate medical assistance was given while waiting for a 15 Squadron Oryx.

High winds delayed the arrival of the twin-engined workhorse with four technical rescuers aboard. Nifty flying skills saw rescuers winched down, the patient secured and brought aboard for a mercy flight to a nearby hospital.

SAAF Oryx are regularly used for search and rescue activities, including lifting injured or sick seafarers from vessels off the coast, searching for missing fishermen and rescuing hikers. An Oryx was last in action in the Drakensberg in June 2020 when one of 15 Squadron’s helicopters evacuated an injured soldier from Leslie’s Pass in the Injasuthi area with assistance from the Mountain Club of South Africa.

Last week Environmental Affairs MEC Anton Bredell’s office said the Western Cape Disaster Management has an agreement in place with the SANDF to use its helicopters for rescue operations – they are expected to respond to flooding and fires over the coming months should the need arise.