Saturday January 9, 2010
Stories by REVATHI MURUGAPPAN
Floods and drowning incidents have been occurring far too frequently of late. What do you do in such a situation? Watch helplessly from the sidelines or be a hero and jump in?
HELP, help!” cried the victim, head bobbing in the river. Trapped between rocks, she waved frantically to be rescued as she gasped for air.
Our group of seven quickly assessed the situation, sent two persons as downstream backup and ordered three members to go across the river armed with throw bags (rescue bags filled with rope).
Conducting a formation rescue while crossing Sg Kampar.
The current was strong, so the three formed a circle and clung on to each other’s life jackets as they waded in cautiously before jumping into the swift current to swim to the opposite bank. Holding on to one end of the rope, both groups flung throw bags across. We hoped to form a “V” line (using two lines) in the downstream current to release the victim from her entangled state.
To keep her from panicking, I kept shouting that help was on the way.
Despite the river being narrow, it took a while before we managed successfully to throw the bags across. We tugged hard at the line and freed her from the rocks. The downstream backup team then threw a rope and yanked her to safety. Time taken: 20-odd minutes, but it was exhausting.
“That was a good rescue,” said the “victim” Chan Yuen-Li, emerging from the water.
“Only thing is you have to make sure both groups are tensioning the line with equal force because at one point, the rope was at my neck and it almost choked me!”
What we performed was a snag line rescue. It was one of the many drills and fake scenarios we had to tackle during the three-day Swiftwater Rescue Technician course held in Sungai Kampar, Gopeng, Perak, last month.
Ritchie Angeles (far left) practising his knot-tying.
Organised by Nomad Adventure, the course was conducted by Chan, the outfit’s director and two American instructors Julie Munger and Abigail Polsby. In and , Nomad Adventure is the representative of the American-based Rescue 3 International, the largest and most established flood, water and rope rescue training organisation in the world.
Founded in 1979, Rescue 3 has trained over 150,000 rescuers around the world, and Chan is the first Malaysian to qualify as a Rescue 3 instructor.
Munger and Polsby have equally impressive credentials. In addition to being Rescue 3 Instructor of the Year in 2006, Munger is an internationally acclaimed white water professional and river guide, while Polsby is a certified American Canoe Association (ACA) Swiftwater Rescue Instructor and an Instructor Trainer for Rescue 3 International.
Chan decided to offer the course after the recent spate of drownings in Perak’s rivers. Last October, three primary schoolchildren drowned in Kuala Dipang after a suspension bridge collapsed during a 1Malaysia camping trip. Hardly a week later, three Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman undergraduates drowned after they were swept away by strong currents at the Batu Berangkai waterfalls near Kampar.
“They were really awful accidents that could have been easily prevented with some prudent, preventive behaviour,” said Chan.
“We want to provide flood, water and rope rescue training to individuals and organisations with an emphasis on ways to keep rescuers from becoming victims and to deliver practical, real-world experience.”
It’s hard to believe, but the majority of river-related injuries occur within 3m of the riverbank. When you slip on rocks along the bank or hit rocks during shallow swimming, there is a high possibility that you’ll suffer painful spinal injuries. And when the victim is swept away by the current, face down, chances of him emerging alive are slim.
Participants had to practise jumping into raging waters.
The rescuer has only 10 to 15 seconds to reach the victim.
“Swimming in swiftwater poses a calculated risk,” Munger said. “If a river is shallow and quick-moving but flushes into a pool, it’s better to stay in a defensive position — or just don’t go in at all. The reality is that if somebody cannot save himself, there’s a slim chance of survival. That’s how it is, and that’s one of the frustrating aspects of the rescue medium.”
Our group of 36 participants comprised locals and foreigners from search-and-rescue teams, firefighters, outdoor education instructors, adventure buffs and a journalist. The course was designed to build confidence and necessary skills to deal with swiftwater situations.
At the end of the course, participants were awarded a certificate, which is valid for three years.
Among other things, we learnt numerous hand signals, whistle blasts, rope techniques, aggressive swimming, shallow water crossing, body angles in current, capsizing rafts and getting back on without losing the paddles, water hazards like strainers (an obstacle that only allows water through) and river dynamics. During the three days, we role-played, got thrashed by the current, battered by the rocks, grazed by stones, bitten by insects — everyone lost some blood and no one came out of the course bruise-free!
School (Lumut) instructor Mohammad Nazim aka Ujang, 23, said the course was an eye-opener as he could apply the skills at work.
“I sometimes have to rescue students but usually, it’s in non-moving water so it’s easier. The course was harder than I expected, and I sustained a lot of cuts and bruises. But at least I now know the professional way to approach victims. Before I would never think about myself and just jump in, but I know better now,” said Ujang.
He admitted it wasn’t easy to stay calm in a dangerous situation and the tendency for victims was to struggle and fight the raging current.
Singaporean fireman Ng Chee Koon, 32, said he received an average of 10 genuine calls for rescue in a year, but he wanted to keep abreast with the latest knowledge and attended the course to re-certify himself.
He quipped, “Most calls are false alarms but we have to do canal rescues and occasional flood rescue. Since we’re putting our life on the line, it’s important to have technical expertise. I took the same course in three years ago but the water level there was low and the experience was different. Here it was more challenging.”
A white water kayaking enthusiast, Ng has also become more confident of swimming in rapids and hopes to share his skills with others.
Filipino Ritchie Angeles, the chief of
City ’s Search and Rescue Department, was unable to sit properly on the second day after his derriere hit many bumps in the river. But he is thankful for the newly acquired skills.
Angeles witnessed the hundreds killed by Typhoon Parma in the last year, one of the country’s worst flooding in 40 years. He watched helplessly as victims screamed for help before 85% of them were submerged in water. Bodies drifted in from different cities and were fished out in
“We couldn’t get to everyone. At that time, we lacked the skills and were caught unprepared by the typhoon. Although we used ropes and rubber boats, it took us a long time to despatch because we didn’t have knowledge on the technicalities. We realised we needed more training and this course suits what we encountered. Next time, we’ll be capable of doing things faster and saving more lives,” said the 39-year-old who flew in with four colleagues, all sponsored by their employer.
Munger’s final advice, “If there’s a flood warning, forget about your belongings. Just get out!”
Article form: The Star Onlin