Words and photos by Shane Quinnell and Videos by Tarryn Quinnell unless otherwise credited.
I never used to think about lifelines, about safety. I used to wander off into the mountains to trail run, paraglide and ride, on my own, sometimes without people knowing where I was going. I cruised South America with a friend on a motorbike for nearly 15,000km over two months with poor Spanish and no satellite phone, many times nearly running out of fuel deep in remote deserts. I used to listen with detachment to people going on and on about safety and backup plans. I went on adventures to get away from the world, not to stay in contact with it. Call me arrogant but I was just ignorant, and it felt free.
Today things are different. The school of hard rocks made sure of that two years back when without warning a dust devil dropped me and my paraglider out the sky, breaking my back and obliterating both my ankles. I was lucky to be alive.
I had two golden personal rules which I tried as often as possible to follow when paragliding: One, “never paraglide alone and if you do, tell someone where you are going,” and two “always make sure you have private medical aid that will cover your activity.”
It wasn’t being stuck in hospital for many weeks or in a wheelchair for three months which changed my mind. It was the hour I spent lying alone on the side of a remote mountain with a missing phone, a malfunctioning radio and the most discomforting feeling in the world radiating from my broken back.
Following these rules that fateful day possibly saved me from death due to exposure as the mates I was flying with saw me crash, managed to find me and get me emergency care. They also definitely saved me an extended, lonely, painful stay on a mountain and from either being in debt the rest of my life or having to brave South Africa’s infamous public hospital system for serious surgery as I had decent medical aid. I didn’t know it at the time but these rules I flew by were my lifelines; the things that kept me safe when the brown stuff started scattering.
With the gift of hindsight, Tarryn and I realised while planning Suzuki Africa Sky High, building and implementing lifelines was one of the most important things we had to do. With this mind-set, we have done our best to follow the saying “plan for the worst, expect the best.”
I had two personal golden rules which I tried as often as possible to follow when paragliding: One, “never paraglide alone and if you do, tell someone where you are going,” and two “always make sure you have private medical aid that will cover your activity.”…I didn’t know it at the time but these rules I flew by were my lifelines; the things that kept me safe when the brown stuff started scattering.Shane Quinnell
Our plan relies on a number of key components. Each are integral to the success of us being able to get assistance if the worst happens during Suzuki Africa Sky High. These components are:
- Knowledge and Training: The old adage about it being better to avoid problems than fix them, is very true for remote emergencies. Before we left we did training in First Aid, chatted to paramedic friends and did lots of research. We found the information provided by International SOS particularly useful for both medical and security purposes. In addition to the information they provided before we left, we check their website and usually contact them before entering new areas and always get useful advice.
- Communication: The first part of resolving any emergency is being able to communicate to the outside world that you need help. Our infrastructure is:
- Tracks4Africa Spot Satellite Tracker – The spot unit sends GPS pins for people to track us about every 5 minutes. Both Tracks4Africa and our parents monitor this data and alert our emergency responders if too much time elapses without contact. The tracker also has functions which can be programmed. The functions we have are; “We OK,” “Mechanical Emergency,” “Medical Emergency,” and “SOS,” each of which when activated, send messages to preprogramed contacts for assistance.
- SmartGrid Satellite Modem – Very important to communicate the details of problems to get proper assistance. We are using a satellite modem which can be used for emergency calls from SmartGrid with data from Globecomm.
- Emergency Response: Having put out the call you need someone who can come and get you, however remote you are. Our first line of defence is having International SOS who can, talk us through the problem or organise evacuations, at our back to. We have their number on speed dial in our SmartGrid modem and linked to the SOS and medical functions of our Tracks4Africa tracker. Once our signals get to them they help organise assistance or evacuation. We have evacuation insurance with them under a travel plan to cover any costs.
- Treatment: This includes any assistance you require post stabilisation. This is generally not covered by evacuation companies like International SOS and will likely require private health insurance. Make sure your insurer covers the region you are travelling to and the activities you are doing.
It can be boring and tedious but thinking about lifelines is something, with the benefit of hindsight, we STRONGLY suggest. I personally have been involved with enough rescues to inherently know their importance. Trust me, you don’t want to be on the side of a mountain, broken, wondering if someone will find you. Learn my lesson; enjoy the wilderness responsibly.
You can find out more about International SOS and check out the options for renting a SPOT tracker from Tracks4Africa or chat to SmartGrid using the contacts in the following links:
International SOS: https://www.internationalsos.com/, ISOS South Africa: https://www.internationalsos.com/locations/africa/south-africa
Tracks4Africa: https://tracks4africa.co.za/, you can buy the SD cards and maps at most outdoor stores;
SmartGrid Technologies: http://www.igrid.co.za/