Drone rescues lost hikers in Table Mountain

By now, we figure there are a lot of people who are really grateful that the Western Cape Government Emergency Medical Services department in South Africa endured the rigorous Remote Operator’s Certificate (ROC) process to integrate drone technology in its emergency services repertoire.

Not least two young hikers who became the first people to literally follow a drone to safety in South Africa, after they got lost and raised alarm in the Table Mountains last week.

According to a statement from Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) – a network of government agencies, and civilian volunteer organisations who come together for search and rescue missions in the Western Cape province – the young hikers, both new to the activity, took off from Constantia Neck early last Thursday morning and followed the trail past the dams on the back of Table Mountain.

“They continued their hike into the Valley of the Red Gods and following a vague trail, started their descent down Porcupine Ravine, down towards Camp’s Bay,” WSAR said.

“Porcupine Ravine is a shallow ravine on the Twelve Apostles in Cape Town alongside the Porcupine Buttress and in generally considered to be a challenging hiking route. After struggling to follow the unfamiliar trail, the two friends decided to call for help and teams from WSAR were dispatched to the start of the trail shortly after 14h00.”

The team took a DJI Matrice 300 to tag along for the ride, which they used to pinpoint the location of the two hikers.

“While the drone was hovering above the patients, we were able to monitor the pair in real-time,” said Hugo Vaughan, a rescue coordinator who attended the scene.

“We called the hikers on their cell phone and were able to safely guide them away from the cliff and onto the path, before the rescue team met up with them.

“This is the first time that we’ve used a drone to guide hikers back to a trail and out of harm’s way, and it demonstrates how diverse and valuable this technology is.”

David Nel, a spokesperson for WSAR; “It’s exciting to see younger hikers exploring our amazing wilderness spaces, and we applaud the two for calling for help when they felt unsafe.

“We really want to encourage more people to get out and take advantage of these beautiful spaces; but with the knowledge that a group of dedicated individuals are always willing to rush to their aid if they need help.

“To anyone venturing out for the first time, please consider joining a hiking group. There are numerous groups and online communities to consider, and new member will absolutely benefit from the valuable information sharing.”

The drone was also busy this Monday when it went in the air to keep an eye on rescuers out on Hout Bay saving a woman whose car had driven off 180m down a steep slope.

The 43-year-old was alone in the car.

The Drone Unit was on monitoring and communication duty as it monitored and provided feedback on the rescue efforts below.

“This was a demanding scenario made less difficult by having access to so many competent rescue specialists at one scene,” Nel said.

In a carefully coordinated effort, the patient was safely carried back up to the road, with the team above slowly hauling the stretcher up to the road using the rope system, while the team below carefully moved the stretcher through the dense vegetation and up the steep slope.


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