Devil’s Peak Table Mountain 

On Friday the 26th of April 2019 Wilderness Search And Rescue (WSAR) held a training exercise on the eastern side of Table Mountain at Devil’s Peak above the City of Cape Town.

The objectives of the exercise were to train and maintain the currency of the WSAR rescue climbers, mountaineers, landing zone operators, medical, aviation and logistical crew, in and around the rescue helicopter. Good radio communication is an important aspect of any rescue or exercise, and these skills were put to the test as well while various search and rescue techniques were honed.

An award winning city such as Cape Town and the Western Cape Province draws an increasingly higher amount of visitors to it’s shores. Many of these tourists go on to explore the natural beauty that is on offer, joining the expanding outdoor fraternity of Cape Town who venture into the mountains of the Cape Peninsula and beyond. WSAR in association with the Western Cape Department of Health is poised to react 24/7/365 to any wilderness emergency in the province, and exercises such as these go a long way in maintaining the quality of our responses.

The Air Mercy Service (AMS) is contracted to the Western Cape Department of Health to provide Helicopter Emergency Medical Services (HEMS) support to WSAR. The HEMS is not only one of the crucial tools that WSAR uses, it is also the most expensive and most dangerous tool as well.

The HEMS is used by WSAR to execute searches, deliver rescuers to the location of patients as well as transporting critically injured casualties to hospital. From time to time the HEMS is also used for body recoveries of people who have unfortunately succumbed to their injuries or medical conditions out in the mountains.

The “Bauman bag” is a self contained stretcher consisting of an internal aluminium patient support platform with attachment points for rope and hoisting. It also provides protection to the patient against stones, dust and small branches etc. that may be blown around as a result of the rotorwash that is created by the HEMS.

Here a “patient” is being packaged in the Bauman bag for a helivac.

The HEMS is able to lift one patient secured in the Bauman bag as well as up to four rescuers during one short haul extraction using a line that is attached to the helicopter via the cargo hook on the belly of the aircraft.

The other method of extraction using the winch system was tested as well. It is a useful way of getting rescuers and patients in or out of a situation where a person may be stuck or injured on a ledge, for instance. This system does not require any prior set up on the ground as with the short haul method.

The crew person operating the winch sits behind the pilot on the starboard side of the HEMS and is known at the External Load Operator (ELO) who operates the winch and cable using a remote control pendant. Communication between the ELO and the pilot is crucial as the ELO becomes the eyes of the pilot who is unable to observe an extraction be it via the short haul or winch method. “Radio silence” is observed by all ground and other crew so as not to cause any interference or distraction to the air crew during this critical phase of an operation.

As always, after any rescue call or training exercise a thorough debrief is undertaken where any concerns or suggestions are taken into account. Safety is of utmost importance to the crew and this is why attention gets paid to the high standards and equipment maintenance that is observed by WSAR and it’s responders.


WSAR urges the public to please:-

  • Obey the instructions of the ground crew in the field or at the landing zone (LZ).
  • Move at least 50 meters away from any active rescue aircraft
  • Remove all head gear such as caps, hats or scarves that may be blown up by the rotorwash
  • Not gesture or wave at the helicopter crew. They may be searching for someone in distress and by you waving at them could delay the response to the actual patient.
  • Assist the crew by stopping other hikers above or below the active rescue scene.
  • Secure your dog on a leash when a helicopter is operating at a landing zone. Dogs become extremely excited and are attracted to the sound or pitch of the tail rotor which they will run towards. In some cases dogs have been seen jumping up at this section of the aircraft while barking and causing safety concerns at the LZ.
  • Be aware that a helicopter pilot will want to land and take off into the wind, please do not find yourself in the flight path.
  • Assist the crew by looking out for and securing any debris such as branches, litter or loose items on parked vehicles that may cause a hazard.

WSAR is a volunteer based organisation.

Call 021 937 0300 or 112 for any wilderness or mountain rescue response.

In association with the Western Cape Emergency Medical Services.


WSAR is a member of the International Commission of Alpine Rescue.



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