Anyone suffering an accident in the Kruger National Park (KNP) may soon find help close at hand, both from Kruger's new emergency call centre and from a specially equipped air ambulance. The Nelspruit chapter of the SA Red Cross Air Mercy Service (AMS) have entered into talks with the Kruger Park, which may result in a memorandum of understanding being signed by the two parties.
According to the Nelspruit project manager, Mark McJannet, an open-ended discussion took place on February 2, 2005, where several members of the AMS staff, including general manager John Stone and new projects manager Farhaad Haffejee, met with a variety of Kruger and SANParks officials, including the park's medical professionals, airwing operators and security staff.
According to McJannet, AMS hopes to provide a plan of action for Kruger that includes a holistic system incorporating both air and ground emergency services. McJannet says that the AMS helicopter can reach even the far northern regions of the KNP in about one hour. The Nelspruit base of the AMS was launched in late December, and operates in daylight hours. It services a 300km radius from Nelspruit Airport and is intended to help both tourists and locals in urban and rural communities.
The AMS team has also met with the Lowveld Chamber of Business and Tourism to discuss their capabilities. The specially equipped AS 350 B2 'squirrel' helicopter has a complete mobile intensive care unit that patients can be loaded directly into. It can carry a stretcher, three crewmembers and the pilot.
Patients meeting specific medical criteria are airlifted by AMS to the closest appropriate medical facility. The SA Red Cross Air Mercy Service was established in 1966 and is a non-profit organisation that relies on public donations. It has operational centres in Cape Town, Durban, Kimberley and now Nelspruit. The emergency number for AMS is 0861 267 267.
By Melissa Wray