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Search & Rescue

One of the key events that lead to the formation of the MCSA is an incident in September 1889 in which a party of ladies and gentlemen was caught by the infamous ‘table cloth’ on Table Mountain and the party was forced to spend a cold night on the mountain. This incident set the ball rolling and in 1891 the MCSA was formed which from the onset, has had as one of its objectives the organising of search and rescue parties to provide assistance to fellow mountaineers and general members of the public. MCSA Search and Rescue has been involved in some 3000 rescues since its inception and today responds on a weekly basis to various incidents (the Western Cape being the most active region). To this day Table Mountain and surrounds remains the area that is responsible for the most mountain rescue operations in South Africa.

Currently MCSA search and rescue comprises of 6 permanent Search and Rescue teams in various parts of the country (refer to diagram). The MCSA Search and Rescue teams are run on a volunteer basis. The teams work with organisations such as the South African Air Force (the first joint SAAF-MCSA helicopter operation was conducted in 1957), WSAR (Wilderness Search and Rescue: Western Cape – ), Off Road Rescue Unit ( ), SA Police, SASAR (South African Search and Rescue Organisation) ( and the ARCC (Aeronautical Rescue Co-ordination Centre) and others. Team members include mountaineers, medical professional (e.g. paramedics and doctors), guides, rope access and high-angle professionals in addition to volunteers occupying a wide range of (day-job) professions. The MCSA Search and Rescue equipment includes several kilometres of rope, response trailers, mountaineering equipment, radios, laptop computers as well as specialised rescue equipment suitable for helicopter and land based operations in wilderness environments.

Competencies and Services
MCSA Search and Rescue’s primary competency lies in dealing with emergencies in non-urban environments (i.e. typically remote, wilderness and or mountainous areas). MCSA Search and Rescue is able to offer assistance, on a volunteer basis, to persons involved in bona-fide emergencies based on resource availability. A wide range of competencies are maintained through a programme of regular training. Competencies include amongst others: survival and movement in difficult wilderness/mountainous areas, rope rescue, helicopter based rescue, wilderness medicine and -patient care, radio communication and search management.

MCSA Search and Rescue’s own involvement in search and rescue is offered free of charge. MCSA Search and Rescue services relates to searches (e.g. overdue or missing parties, lost aircraft), rescues (e.g. injured or stranded climbers or hikers, aviation accidents) and the recovery of mortal remains in inaccessible areas.

The Mountain Club is justified in being proud of the contributions made over many years by our Volunteer Search and Rescue Teams. In recent years, these volunteer teams have had to develop and practice particular skills, not needed in the past, in order to assist with helicopter rescue and recovery. This has been in close collaboration with the S.A. Air Force and their equally highly trained pilots and winch operators.
The key role our Mountain Rescue Teams play in assisting with helicopter based S&R operations, particularly in mountainous terrain, has official recognition in the Department of Transport. It grants the MCSA an annual subsidy ot R 50 000 to help towards the cost of equipping and operating our volunteer teams. This agreement with the Department of Transport has just been renewed for a further period of 5 years and our side of the agreement requires us to maintain operational teams in those parts of the country where their services are most likely to be needed.

The MCSA Mountain Rescue Teams are very clearly up to this task, as was demonstrated recently in a tragic air disaster involving two Albatross aircraft on 14 August when the Gauteng team was mobilised and extra manpower provided by the Cape Town team. Two letters have subsequently been issued by the authorities in which the role of our Mountain Rescue Teams was highlighted and praised: 
  • A press release letter of condolences by President Zuma, in which specific mention is made of the role played by the MCSA Mountain Rescue Teams involved.
  • A letter of appreciation  by the Head of Aeronautical Search & Rescue. In this letter specific mention is made of the "professional and prompt response" of the MCSA team members.

Emergency numbers for mountain search and rescue

Werner Illenberger,
Sep 30, 2015, 7:39 PM
Werner Illenberger,
Sep 30, 2015, 7:38 PM