Desert rescue: Namibians stranded in Damaraland share their experience

09 August 2021 | Accidents

ERWIN LEUSCHNER

SWAKOPMUND

Kai Jacobie and Marko Zahradnicky, who were reported missing after a camping trip in Damaraland, were found last Tuesday after an extensive aerial search. In an exclusive interview, Zahradnicky described the experience.

For the two 28-year-old Namibians, the recent trip into Namibia’s remote North-west was an unforgettable experience.

“We are overwhelmed by the help we have received. In Namibia everyone really stands together and that is amazing,” said Zahradnicky.

Zahradnicky and Jacobie know their way around the area well and went on a camping trip the previous Friday. They were expected home last Monday.

They spent the first night at the Brandberg White Lady Lodge. On Saturday, the two went into the Ugab River with a white bakkie. After a short trip to Sorris-Sorris they went looking for desert elephants in the river. The second night they spent in a swamp area and the following day (Sunday) they stayed about five kilometres east of the SRT Rhino Camp.

“We made a delicious potjie there,” says Zahradnicky.

On Monday morning, they were breaking up camp because they wanted to start driving home by noon.

“A South African tourist drove past us and we waved in a friendly manner. At that point we had no idea of what was to come,” he said.

Murphy’s Law

Then the bad surprise hit: the car battery, which had not caused any problems before, was dead. “The second car battery that supplies the refrigerator with power also didn't work,” says Zahradnicky.

While searching for help the two initially walked to the SRT Rhino Camp, but it was empty. Jacobie stayed there while Zahradnicky kept walking, hoping to find a spot with cellphone coverage.

He finally walked past the now closed Brandberg-West mine without any luck.

“It was already dark then and I returned to the Rhino Camp. We walked back to the car and arrived there around midnight,” he said.

“We decided that the best way to find us would be at the car. We also had plenty of water and food for several days.”

The help did come surprisingly quickly. Their parents reported them missing on Tuesday morning - and support came from all corners of Namibia.

Aerial search

Several pilots conducted aerial searches all day. It was shortly before 16:00 when they were spotted by the aircraft of the anti-poaching unit ISAP.

“The pilot threw a bottle of water out of the window. We were really relieved,” said Zahradnicky.

A short while later, Frank Stein touched down with a helicopter. They explained their battery dilemma to him and Stein flew to the village of Uis to get a new battery.

A little later he returned with a battery - but it too was defective. Stein flew back to Uis, where he decided to spend the night as it was getting dark.

It was only the next day (Wednesday) when helicopter pilot Stein finally found a working car battery in Uis and delivered it. The car finally started.

“It’s amazing how many people contributed to the search. We are infinitely grateful to everyone,” Zahradnicky said.

“The moral of the story: Always carry more than enough water and food with you.”

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