Breekkrants Rescue

From Facebook, 10/10/2020: A local climber fell some 8 meters, suffering significant head and upper limb injuries on the Mountain Club of South Africa’s Cederberg Breekkrants property over the weekend. It’s a remote area with limited cell coverage. A fellow climber had to hike out to a nearby mountain peak to be able to get the distress call to Mountain Rescue.
Due to his serious injuries and the seven hour hike from the nearest road, a helicopter rescue was the only feasible rescue plan. Due to high winds, a South African Air Force Oryx helicopter was requested.
4 MCSA members formed part of the WSAR team of 6 rescuers who responded. The team included 3 mountaineers and 3 medics (an ALS Paramedic and 2 doctors).
The patient was medically stabilised and airlifted to Ysterplaat and then transported for further medical care to Vincent Pallotti Hospital where he is still admitted. We wish him a speedy recovery and hope to see him climbing again soon.

This was none other than our own Justin Lawson of Montagu and fame.

Some details, for those of you that are interested:

Justin and about 20 other hikers, were part of an MCSA Cederberg hiking meet, led by Martin Kleynhans. The group was hiking in a very remote area of the Cederberg, the Breekkrants area, a property owned by the MCSA. (The various MCSA sections own five different huts, including the TM hut, and 20 properties in the Western Cape, the Breekkrants being one of them).

MSCA properties and huts in the Western Cape.

Justin, Karen, Andrew and Megan decided to leave the main hiking group and scramble up to a subsidiary peak of Moorreespiek, which is located is next to the Breekkrants twin summits.

From left to right: Breekkrants Twin South, Breekkrants North,  Moorreespiek

The scramble is relatively easy for climbers, not so easy for hikers, so Justin decided to help the hikers. He in fact did the scramble a few times, when on the third run a key foot hold broke. Justin came crashing down, luckily stopping on an intermediate ledge, coming very close to falling much further.

Andrew, Karen and Megan saw the whole thing. Andrew says, “the sound of a human body impacting rock is about the most horrible thing I have ever heard. I can still see and hear the whole thing”.  Justin fell about 10m, doing some cartwheels on the way down.

Justin’s fall trajectory.

The three others got to him immediately. Justin appeared very confused with signs of concussion and had a deep head wound and an extremely painful shoulder. It appeared that Justin had not broken anything, a small miracle, but was definitely in no condition to hike the three hours back to Zuurvlakte, followed by a three-plus hour drive back to Cape Town.

Andrew managed to get a very faint and intermittent MTN data signal, and sent a WhatsApp message out to every MCSA rescue member he knows, with Brent Jennings responding.

Due to high winds in the Cederberg, the regular AMS Skymed was not an option, so the Air Force had to be roped in, which takes a lot more time.  Four hours later, the SAAF Oryx helicopter arrived, hovered, and dropped off MCSA volunteers Ant Hall, doctor Mathew Young, Mo Thilo and Richard Mattheyse, as well as two paramedics from the Metro rescue base in Cape Town.  After allowing 30 mins for the medics to assess and treat Justin, the helicopter returned to uplift Justin in the stretcher. Even in his concussed and trussed-up state, Justin had the presence of mind to brief his group on proper landing-zone etiquette! He was then flown non-stop to Vincent Palotti.

Justin being prepared for the airlift.


Justin is now at home, recovering, working on a suitable reply to the Ebert Nel MCSA Forum post and Illona’s questions about why one should join the MCSA:

And watching Free Solo, Africa Fusion and other Alex Honnold classics, thanks to a hard drive from Robert Breyer.

The SAAF Oryx helicopter getting ready to land.

Thank you to all the MCSA rescue volunteers, their colleagues in WSAR/Metro and the South African Air Force. And do save the WSAR Rescue phone number: 021-937-0300.

Photos by Matthew Young and Megan Beaumont, words by Robert Breyer.


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7 Responses to Breekkrants Rescue

  1. Justin Lawson Oct 15, 2020 at 11:28 am #

    Hi All,
    Thanks everyone for the well wishes!!

    First off, a huge thanks to everyone who was there to help me. The people on the walk with me, the rescue team consisting of WSAR & MCSA volunteers, EMS, the Air Force crew and those making things happen behind the scenes.

    I feel very lucky to have:
    1. avoided breaking anything
    2. received help in the way I did
    3. survived

    I’m doing well, my CT scans all came back clear, I’m still a bit bruised and battered. I’ve learnt a lot more about concussion, its not nice. My concussion continues to lurk a bit and I continue to take it super easy.

    A little more about the incident: After the fall, I remember standing up and then either someone or myself telling me to sit down! I did this and then a while later whilst talking to the group, I exclaimed something along the lines of “Wow, this is the first time I’ve had concussion, its quite a thing… I actually cant recall how we came to be in the area“.
    The group then informed me that yes, I had concussion and that I had told them about my head bleeding 5 or so times.

    I recall getting argumentative at one point, but then remembered I was the patient and did my best to shut up and keep quite with regards to the rescue 🙂
    The afternoon went by quick and all of a sudden there was a large green flying bus nearby (picking up a lot of dust!). Next thing Matt is pricking me with needles, I’m in a stretcher looking at the celiing of an Oryx helicopter – I don’t even bother to try looking sideways (my head is firmly strapped in place). A quick transfer to an ambulance and into the emergency ward/X-ray for CT scans and then into a hospital room. Once in the hospital (and luckily only when I got to hospital), the nausea and vomiting hit me! No fun at all.

    I still look forward to my anti-inflamatories each morning and evening, but things are definitely healing. Illona this morning accurately termed my feeling for my current state of concussion “You don’t feel completely out of it but just enough that you shouldn’t operate heavy machinery“.

    Being laid up gives you a lot of time to think about recent events. I’ve given the accident a lot of thought, and other than the foot hold breaking, I blame a measure of complacency on my part. I’d been up and down the section a couple of times but didn’t have a reserve to save or perhaps backup myself in the event of an unforeseen event (like a grip breaking) and I was probably moving to quickly.

    Given my state, I am of the opinion it would have taken me a lot more than 3 hours to walk out, with multiple ‘being sick’ moments along the way from the concussion.
    Other than my pride being gently bruised over, I feel really fortunate and look forward to getting back out (after a good/long rest).

    Fortunately I dislike tight packing and being cold; this meant I had a huge backpack with all sorts of clothing (down jacket), lots of food/water, a first aid kit, tendon tape, et al with us when the accident happened.

    IMO: If you don’t take a first aid along, take Tendon Tape and ibuprofen – these two things will take you a long way.

    Cellphone: Vodacom vs. MTN signal – MTN appears to always win in rural/mountainous areas !

    If anyone has questions, please fire away.
    Once again a big thank you to everyone involved with my rescue!

    p.s. The correct spelling on the title deed is Breekrants – though it is referred to as Breekkrants by the MCSA and as Breekkrantz on the Slingsby map.

  2. Phlip Oct 15, 2020 at 12:16 pm #

    Sjoe Justin, that looks like quite a tumble! Glad you are ok.
    Good luck with the recovery.

    “IMO: If you don’t take a first aid along, take Tendon Tape and ibuprofen – these two things will take you a long way.”
    I like it.

  3. Greg Hart Oct 15, 2020 at 8:57 pm #

    Jussy bru – that will teach you not to use your head as a bouldering pad!
    LOL. Get better soon oke.

  4. Micky Oct 15, 2020 at 9:57 pm #

    bloody hell Justin! really glad you’re ok dude! rest up, enjoy the meds and heal quick!

  5. Derek Marshall Oct 16, 2020 at 3:08 pm #

    Hey Justin, wishing you a speedy recovery.

  6. Nic Le Maitre Oct 20, 2020 at 1:49 pm #

    “p.s. The correct spelling on the title deed is Breekrants – though it is referred to as Breekkrants by the MCSA and as Breekkrantz on the Slingsby map.”

    You sure about that? I think the concussion was worse than you may realise 😀

    It’s named BreeKkrans after a feature called “Die Breek” where a big chunk of the mountain came off. The name on the 1:50 000 maps is also Breekkrans, the next door section is called Breekkrans Annex, the river is the Breekkrans etc…

  7. Siegfried Oct 24, 2020 at 7:10 pm #

    Justin we wish you a quick recovery. We are looking forward to our next climbing tour. After corona…
    Best wishes from Germany.
    Margret and Siegfried

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