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Sunday, February 9, 2014

Serious accident on Project Canaan

It’s Sunday morning and it is time to reflect on a day yesterday that could have ended in great tragedy and heartbreak, but it didn’t.  So I start this blog by giving thanks to God for His mighty hand of protection.

Now the story.

Jimmy Wilferth (Heart for Africa US, President) and John McCarthy (Heart for Africa US, Financial Controller) have been here for the past week and on Saturday morning decided to go for an ATV (4-wheeler) ride up to the top of Hope Mountain.  There is no road up, but there are paths that can be followed on an ATV.  It’s a five mile journey “as the crow flies”, but closer to eight miles by path. The grass is tall at this time of year and danger is hidden.

They got to the top, enjoyed the magnificent view and then headed back down via a different route.  As the story goes, Jimmy headed down a grassy hill first and then realized that it was too steep.  He hand motioned John to turn around, but John interpreted the motion as “follow me” so he followed.  Jimmy’s machine suddenly disappeared in front of him as it tipped over a hidden ledge.  There was nothing he could do to stop it and was catapulted over the front of the machine and then it came crashing down on him.  The machine delivered a crushing blow to Jimmy and then broke into pieces as it rolled down the hill.  John’s machine followed behind with the same fate.

There was no cellular service where they landed so while in pain and shock they slowly walked down the hill until cellular service was found.  Two random Swazi’s were up at the top and witnessed this accident so they came and helped them walk to a shaded area. 

Jimmy send Ian a text at 12:24 PM that read, “Ian, we’ve had a problem.  We are both OK, but neither of the 4-wheelers have survived.  We are on the hillside just off the tower facing the farm.  We will need help to get down. Banged and bruised, but mobile.”

The black dot in the middle of the hill is half of the green machine.
 We have an amazing team of people here at Project Canaan and yesterday they shone as bright as the sun.  Within minutes Ian was on his way to pick up Kenny VanWinkle (our resident EMT).  Ian drives an old Land Cruiser and that would be the best vehicle to drive up to see if they could even reach the guys and then transport them back down (let’s just say there is no helicopter Air Evacuation here).  Next, Arlyn Koopmans and Mike Skiles jumped in and followed Ian up the mountain with splints, a transport board and duct tape.  It took a bit more than an hour for them to arrive with Ian driving like a madman up the mountain.  Kenny was hanging on for dear life, while texting me (at the hairdressers) to contact the hospital of the incoming trauma patients.

As I mentioned, there is no road going to the top so Ian and Arlyn’s cars took quite a beating.  When they arrived at the scene they found Jimmy and John sitting under a tree.  There were pieces of ATV scattered over a 70-yard radius.  There was a 30-50 yard difference in elevation from where they started to roll to where the lowest machine landed.  Both machines were completely destroyed.  Kenny quickly assessed their injuries and knew they needed to get to a hospital quickly.  At first glance John had a broken wrist or arm and Jimmy likely had broken ribs and maybe a broken hip?  Kenny says that his body just didn’t line up properly so something was wrong.  Jimmy was having a hard time breathing  so time was of the essence, but they were at the top of a mountain (!).

John's machine
Thankfully Arlyn and Mike brought up a board to strap Jimmy to.  For those of you who don’t know Jimmy is he 6’ 4” and weighs 220lbs.  He is a big boy.  They guys rolled him on to the board and then duct taped his head and legs to the board.  They were fairly certain he had broken ribs and he was having a hard time breathing so they couldn’t strap his chest.  They managed to get him up in to the back of the Land Cruiser, but the board didn’t fit so they had to leave the back door open (split hatch with a swinging spare tire).  John sat in the front holding his arm to his chest in the front seat.

Jimmy's machine

It was just before 2PM when they were ready to leave.  Ian decided to go up and over the top of the mountain rather than going back down the treacherous path they had come up.  Arlyn and Mike went ahead to clear the path of trees, branches or rocks.  They came to a place that was impassable, so Ian had to go “off roading” he says, to get around it. (Pause for editorial comment from Ian’s wife and author of this blog – IT IS ALL OFF ROADING UP THERE!  IT IS CRAZY DANGEROUS!!!).  So up and over the mountain they went and headed to the Mbabane Clinic (hospital).

Meanwhile, my haircut and highlights were going well J and I was able to contact some great friends who are medical practitioners in the country to get their council.  As expected it was recommended that they go to the Mbabane Clinic (hospital) because they can handle trauma, have x-ray on sight, good doctors and an orthopedic surgeon.  (I am so grateful to have gotten to know so many medical people in Swaziland who have freely given me their cell numbers.  THANK YOU ALL!).

Back to the race over the mountain.  There were times when the board would start to slide out the back of the car because the back was open. Kenny would literally have to hold the board down to keep Jimmy from sliding out the back.  Once they got off the dirt path/road (50 minutes of the drive) Ian was going 87 MPH on the main road.  As they climbed the mountain into Mbabane Ian saw that his temperature gauge was in the red.  The car was about to stop from overheating.  John saved the day by suggesting that he turn off the AC and turn the heat on high to suck the heat in to the car rather than in to the engine (it was 87F yesterday).  It worked!  The gauge moved to below the red line and they made it to the hospital.

I arrive at the hospital before the guys did so I was able to get them registered, brief the doctor and he had the x-ray tech on sight when they arrived.  At 3:30PM the big red Land Cruiser pulled up to the Emergency Entrance with the radiator hissing and spluttering, the battery had snapped off of connector cables and they were missing a side bumper.  But they were there.

John's wrist
While this is a good hospital, there are no orderlies to move people so Ian and the guys (and Doctor) slid the board out of the back and transferred him to a gurney.

We later discovered that John does have a broken wrist and it has been put in a cast.  Jimmy has a cracked pelvis and broken third rib.  They are both pretty beaten up and in a lot of pain.  Jimmy has been hospitalized and Mark Klee stayed with him last night to keep him company, sleeping under his bed.  We were able to contact Jimmy’s parents who went and shared the update with Chrisy. John called his wife and spoke with her. 

I can’t emphasize enough the miracle of the day.  Really.  The outcome could have been horrific.  They could have had massive head injuries (YES they should have had helmets on!), they could have not had any cell service and we wouldn’t have known they were missing until dark, it is possible that we wouldn’t have found them at all.  So many “what if’s”, but God is God and He is securely on the throne. I don’t know why He allowed this accident at all, but I do know that he spared their lives and allowed them to be heard and found.

We ended the day with a report that said it took one tractor and trailer, a truck, nine men and five hours to pick up all the debris on the top of the mountain.  Denis and Anthony lead the clean up team with Arlyn and Mike and they are all rock stars in our books.  As the sun set, the tractor with all the pieces arrived back on the farm.

Thanks Mike for all the photos!
 We will be having (more) conversations about safety on the farm, but for today, we give thanks.

Live from Swaziland … it’s Sunday morning.


PS – today Ian’s parents arrive from Canada for the first time. We can’t wait to show them Project Canaan!

1 comment:

  1. Wow! What a scary turn of events...yet, God is good...all the time.
    Praying for quick healing!!
    Thanks Janine for keeping us updated with "on the edge of my seat" commentary;)


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