SAPS K9 search and rescue team is proactive and reactive

SAPS K9 search and rescue team is proactive and reactive

The role and functions of police officers is multi-faceted and each department/unit within the SAPS has its own unique operational demands. Regrettably, some police units including our K9 colleagues are the unsung heroes in many facets. The duties of the SAPS K9 Search and Rescue unit are both proactive and reactive.

Hats off to our SAPS K9 Search and Rescue units who very rarely share the limelight of their success stories as compared to their frontline colleagues. Today, we acknowledge the many unsung heroes and heroines in blue who never hesitate to put their lives on the line on a daily basis. The Eastern Cape K9 Search and Rescue Unit comprises of a total of 7 trained members and 5 fully trained and skilled canines. The Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) policing area has one very experienced and skillful member with his dog, Misty.  This duo display true altruism every day as their tasks mainly entail the search for missing persons (dead or alive), retrieval of bodies from shallow graves, drownings and suicide victims. Misty is also used in evidence searches by detective officers.

In Gqeberha, W/O Ettienne Gerber and his dog, Misty have come close to meeting their maker many times while ensuring the safety of a drowning victim or the dangers of drowned persons from treacherous waters or bringing to the surface a suicide victim from the depths of the Van Staden’s or Stormsriver bridges. In the midst of these precarious situations, there is a story that brings hope and closure to many families.  Daily, members of this unit including the SAPS Diving Unit who work hand in hand with the search and rescue teams, walk the extra mile in carrying out their duties.

Members in this unit including Misty are highly trained in the use of ropes and abseiling, swift and flood water rescuing as well as body recoveries from fast flowing rapids. The expertise, skill and precision of the work of the K9 Search and Rescue including the SAPS Diving Unit (Capt Ashley Adams) was tested when the team had to abseil down a 120m abyss to retrieve a body under the Stormsriver bridge on Monday morning, 10 May 2021.

The dangerous recovery mission started on Saturday, 8 May 2021 when their services were needed at the bridge after a 69-year-old Jeffreys Bay man committed suicide by jumping off the second highest bridge in the Eastern Cape. Inclement weather on Saturday halted any efforts of a successful recovery and on Sunday 10 May 2021, the team congregated at the bridge to resume the recovery of the body from below.  Due to the raging waters below, the only way down was to abseil from the bridge. SAPS divers and K9 Search and Rescue belayed from the 120m bridge and transitioned into swift, icy water. The body was recovered about 2km downstream, however due to the torrential rain and poor communication, the body could only be retrieved on Monday, 11 May 2021.

On Monday, the team once again descended into the waning waters from a steep precipice. The recovery mission lasted 5 ½ hours. The combined team effort of the K9 Search and Rescue unit, SAPS divers, Humansdorp Emergency Services and SAN Parks ensured a well organised and safe recovery for the search teams below the gorge.

This was not the only successful recovery carried out by W/O Etienne Gerber and his dog Misty. In September 2020, Misty rescued a one-year-old missing child in the Orange Groves in Hankey. In April 2021, Misty recovered a body of a man buried in a shallow grave in Kwanobuhle. However, in the recent incident, only W/O Gerber was involved.

Our K9 Search and Rescue units most certainly epitomises the daily hard work and dedication of the members across the country. These members are also our frontline heroes and we salute them for their selflessness and bravery.