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Hugh Stevens, a Cape Town rock climber who was rescued from Table Mountain on Friday in one of the most difficult rescue operations in years, is in a coma in a critical condition with severe head injuries.

 

Rescuers Deon Tromp, Rik de Beer and Stefan Moser of Wilderness Search and Rescue rappel to help climber Hugh Stevens on Table Mountain.

 

The impact of his 20-metre fall on Arrow Final, the cliff face below the cablecar, split open his protective helmet.

 

Stevens, 47, of Steenberg, has had surgery in Groote Schuur Hospital to repair multiple compound fractures to his leg and surgeons are waiting to see if the blood supply will be adequate to save the limb. He also has broken ribs.

 

The rescue, managed by Wilderness Search and Rescue in winds gusting up to 64km/h, took more than six hours.

 

Stevens, who was leading two German tourists on a climb, is a registered mountain guide and a volunteer for the Wilderness Search and Rescue.

 

Stephen Fortuin, spokesman for Wilderness Search and Rescue, said yesterday: "Hugh is a very competent climber and Arrow Final is not a technically difficult climb, so it is difficult for us to say what went wrong. He was unconscious when he was rescued and still is."

The rescue call was made just after 4pm after a cablecar operator had seen Stevens hanging by the rope on the cliff.

 

Kevin Tromp, co-ordinator of the rescue, called in the Metro Red Cross Rescue Helicopter, which flew a team of climbers to the top of Table Mountain and sent another up by cablecar.

 

A rescuer, Deon Tromp, abseiled down to Stevens and reached him by 5.27pm. Two other climbers, Rik de Beer and Stefan Moser, joined him.

 

"Rik is a doctor, so stabilised Hugh there on the cliff face," Kevin Tromp said. "They did what they could, stopped the bleeding and so on. That took about an hour or so, in winds that were absolutely incredible. I was in the rescue Land Rover below and it was being knocked about.

 

"They lowered the stretcher and got Hugh on to it. My first choice was to winch him up to the cablecar, so we could bring him down that way, but they had closed it because of the wind."

He had called the SA Air Force when he realised the Skymed helicopter could not operate in the wind, Tromp said.

 

"The pilot, Captain Brian Bell, landed at 9.45pm in an Oryx on top in incredible wind. I think he realised that if he didn't do it, there would not be much hope for Hugh. It took them over 30 minutes to walk with the stretcher to the helicopter, which took off at 10.26pm."

 

By Melanie Gosling

www.capetimes.co.za

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Taken on January 6, 2006