“I thought the end had come,” says accident victim whose bakkie was crushed by truck

Rescue 1 community outreach service saves lives

Tuesday, September 29 2015

“I thought the end had come,” recalls 19-year-old Diego Viljoen, survivor of a horrific road accident, which saw the bakkie he was travelling in struck by a container truck in Modderfontein, Johannesburg earlier this year. “My bakkie was crushed under the weight of the truck, leaving me trapped in a tiny area of the cabin which was miraculously left intact.”

Diego says he was in a great deal of shock after the accident and phoned his uncle to ask him to say goodbye to his mother, father and other family members as he did not believe he would ever get out of the wreck alive.

Soon after this, however, Diego heard a calm voice asking if he was okay and then advising him to try to stay calm while assuring him that a rescue team would extricate him from his vehicle as soon as possible. “It was like the voice of an angel,” he recalls. “It was a paramedic and he brought hope that I might actually get out alive of what seemed a desperate situation.”

Nick Dollman, a paramedic and crew member of Rescue 1, a special rescue vehicle operated as a community service by medical emergency services provider Netcare 911, arrived to find paramedics on scene, but was the first rescue unit to arrive at the accident. He says that what he saw took his breath away. A container truck had smashed into the bakkie, turning it over in the process. Thereafter, it drove right over the smaller vehicle.

“We were relieved to hear that the driver of the vehicle was conscious, secured the accident site and called the fire department to assist at the scene. Fortunately, a crew from Northview fire station, as well as a number of other emergency services, soon joined us,” notes Dollman. “Together we worked for an hour and three quarters to free Diego. A crane had to be brought in to lift the truck off the bakkie before the recue teams were able to free him, using hydraulic and cutting rescue tools.”

After he was freed from the wreck, Diego, who lives with his parents in Pretoria, was taken by ambulance to Netcare Sunninghill Hospital. He was discharged from hospital after just two days. His mother, Michelle Viljoen, says that considering the enormity of the accident, Diego’s injuries were not severe. Some nine months after the accident, however, he is still being treated for back problems and shock. While he has started driving again, he is adamant that he will never drive on Johannesburg roads again.

“Diego will be forever grateful to those who rescued him from the wreckage that day. They are his angels of the road,” says Michelle. “Diego often talks of how the warm and reassuring voices of the paramedics and rescuers helped him to deal with the terror of the situation. He is so glad to be alive.”

Dollman says that it was a tricky rescue operation made possible through the excellent teamwork of all of the rescue services and medical emergency services involved. “Everyone played a critical role, but the fire crew from Northview fire station deserve a special mention for their immense efforts.”

Shalen Ramduth, Netcare 911’s head of road operations, explains that Rescue 1 is a Netcare 911 social responsibility project, which is operated as a free service to the community to assist at major emergencies over a large geographical area. Netcare 911 carries part of the running costs of Rescue 1, which is also sponsored by Fury Motor Group and CarTrack.

According to Ramduth, the service is having a tremendously positive impact. “The crew of Rescue 1 has assisted at numerous emergency scenes and has helped save many lives, showing what can be achieved by a small team of dedicated, highly motivated and well-trained paramedics who are working for the good of the community.”

The Rescue 1 crewmembers are Netcare 911 paramedics who have special training in rescue. Their rescue vehicle is a custom-made, Ford Ranger 3,2 litre Hi-Rider bakkie with excellent all-round terrain capabilities which carries a range of rescue gear that equips the crew for many different situations. Rescue 1 can reach emergencies in areas where road ambulances and other emergency response vehicles are unable to go.

Equipment includes the latest range of hydraulic rescue tools, more commonly known as the Jaws of Life, pneumatic lifting bags, breathing apparatus, reciprocating saw, fire extinguishers, traffic cones and other safety equipment, a ladder, ropes, climbing harnesses and a rescue basket, medical equipment, a range of small tools, and stabilisation equipment. An electric generator powers the roof- mounted floodlights and smaller portable lights.
“The Rescue 1 unit was re-launched in April 2014, following an upgrade of its rescue capabilities,” says Ramduth. “The rescue service concept itself has been in existence for more than a decade at Netcare 911 and has evolved from a safety and incident management unit with basic rescue capability into its current, more specialised form.”

Netcare 911 operates a similar rescue service, Rescue 2 which has the same capabilities as Rescue 1, in KwaZulu-Natal. Ramduth explains that Netcare 911 is an emergency medical services provider and rescue services are not traditionally part of its work. However, these units were established when Netcare 911 realised the critical role they can play in the emergency services environment.

As illustrated in the above case, the Rescue 1 team works closely with all the other emergency services, operating to ensure the best possible outcomes for members of the community who are involved in such incidents.

Ramduth explains that, in addition to performing rescue work, the Rescue 1 team protect emergency care personnel working at traffic-related or emergency incidents by securing the scene to safeguard them from secondary collisions and other potential hazards. In addition, Rescue 1 carries portable equipment enabling the crew to set up landing zones at emergency scenes for the Netcare 1 helicopter emergency medical service (HEMS) to land safely and attend to critically injured patients.

“The Rescue 1 team also makes its services available to the public on the N3 highway to Durban during busy holiday periods such as Christmas and Easter, school holidays and long weekends,” relates Ramduth. “We put the team on standby when events such as the Comrades Marathon and the Momentum 94.7 Cycle Challenge are being held and we know the roads will be busy.

Our Rescue 1 team, including volunteers, spent more than 100 days along the N3 last year providing emergency assistance to the public.”
“During these periods our rescue base is situated at Reitz in the Free State between Villiers and Warden and our service is fully endorsed by the N3 Toll Concession. Our Netcare 911 colleagues from the Free State support us with ambulances and an advanced life support response vehicle.”
“We would like to thank our The Fury Motor Group and CarTrack, without whose sponsorship we would not have been able to bring this important free service to the community,” concludes Ramduth


Issued by:    Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare 911
Contact    :    Martina Nicholson, Graeme Swinney and Meggan Saville
Telephone:    (011) 469 3016
Email:, and