Oops - Disaster
No matter how careful and prepared you are, or how innocuous or benign the situation – always expect the unexpected! On Tuesday 16 April, we were heading north on the N7, approx 100km from the Namibian border. Catherine was fresh and had just taken over the wheel. As she rounded a blind bend on a pass, she was faced with an articulated lorry being overtaken by a bakkie (pick-up truck). Catherine instinctively swerved to avoid a head-on collision with the bakkie, but was equally worried about the ditch on the roadside. We made it without touching the bakkie, but then the vehicle’s heavy rear momentum took over and after a couple more swerves she was unable to regain control and we hit a rock face by the roadside, and following the impact the vehicle rolled. We ended up with Daph lying on the driver’s side. Thankfully we were not travelling fast, but this was a small factor when Daph lay stricken on her side.
Whilst hanging in his seat belts, Adrian looking down at Catherine and saw her lying at an obscure angle, covered in blood! We were both shouting at each other, worried for the others health. Equally Catherine looked up to see Adrian dripping blood everywhere. Her first thought was that he had a scalp wound because of the amount of blood, but on closer inspection it was a cut on his nose combined with a severe nosebleed. The pain in Catherine’s shoulder was excruciating, and the arm was at a strange angle, preventing her from lifting herself from the vehicle. Instinct took over and Adrian cut the ignition, kicked out the windscreen and carefully pulled Catherine from the wreck.
Though both badly shaken, we were relatively OK. The lorry driver thankfully stopped, called the police and was able to act as a witness. However, the bakkie driver did not stop (in RSA as in the UK it is illegal not to stop for an accident). The lorry driver provided a partial registration number for the bakkie, and the police said later that the driver was a regular on the route, so they hoped to apprehend him.
Although the speed at impact was not great, the chassis and A posts were both bent and the engine shifted on its mounting. The bull-bar and bonnet came off from the frontal impact and the roof rack was left on the road following the roll. All the equipment inside the vehicle remained in place – a good testament to an effective packing system. The rack was ripped from the roof, yet amazingly the Eezi-Awn roof tent emerged almost unscathed, apart from a dented stepladder.
It seems likely that the stiff chassis of the Land Rover took the brunt of the force, but the soft aluminium shell prevented potential shattering during the roll. The toughened windscreen and the darkened window film prevented glass flying around the cab.
Adrian, who escaped with a mild gash to the nose and (we found later) some whiplash, was able to ensure vehicle parts were out of the road. The police, who arrived after 15 minutes, took Catherine to the local cottage hospital and arranged for Daph’s recovery, as agreed with the vehicle insurers.
Adrian stayed with the vehicle and unloaded the majority of items from the cab, but due to the damaged rear, most of the Wolffpack boxes remained within Daph. The local recovery truck was accustomed to righting cars, not 4x4s and did not have the power to right Daph. Adrian had to direct the recovery operation and the subsequent struggle to load the separated roof rack onto the tow-truck. The police were very helpful, and at Adrian’s insistence, Daph and an overloaded police vehicle went to the local station to secure all the equipment.
Transfer to Cape Town
Following an X-ray of Catherine’s shoulder, the local cottage hospital recommended that she be transferred to Cape Town. She had a laterally displaced fracture of the distal clavicle, and whilst normally management of clavicular fractures is conservative, they were concerned about the angle of displacement and thought she might require surgery for the bone to heal. They arranged for an ambulance to transfer her to a Cape Town hospital.
Thus bloodied and shaken, we both embarked on a 4-5 hr drive at break-neck speed back to Cape Town. Catherine was admitted to a very efficient trauma department, had further x-rays and was transferred to a ward on the basis that she might require surgery the following day (so nil by mouth). She was released the next day, for the consultant orthopaedic doctor believed the bruising and swelling was too great for further immediate treatment. There remained a question mark as to whether surgery would be necessary. In the meantime, she was given strong painkillers and told to immobilise the shoulder with a special sling.
Neill, our former host in Cape Town, came out late on the evening of the accident to fetch Adrian from the hospital, and again to bring Catherine back the following day. We are very grateful for the support of Neill and his friends and their concern for Catherine. Everyone was extremely kind. We were thankful also for comprehensive vehicle and medical insurance.
Neill and Adrian went to recover the equipment and Daph a few days later. A long and frustrating day was spent due to the inefficiency of the vehicle recovery sub-contractors. The police however proved themselves extremely responsible, helpful and supportive and we were able to recover all our gear from the crash site and remove many extras from Daph.
Sad though the accident is, at least we were still within a country with capable communications and emergency services. Vehicles can be replaced, but bodies cannot. We are currently dealing with Daph’s vehicle insurance and our medical cover. Catherine had an operation on 26 Apr conducted by one of the South Africa’s top shoulder experts. The original plan was for a bone graft from her hip to repair the damaged clavicle. However on reduction of the fracture there was sufficient viable bone that the graft was not required. Dissolvable tapes were used to fix the bone, precluding the requirement for plates or screws and a second operation. We now wait for Catherine’s shoulder to recover, before we make further plans.
So What Next?
Six weeks following the operation, and the prognosis is still good for Catherine's shoulder. She is quite adamant that she intends to continue travelling; the experience has done nothing to diminish her desire to explore the continent. Her last appointment with the surgeon was on 3 June, and 4 x-rays were taken. These showed that the bone had started to join, though it was stressed that she would not be able to drive for another 3 or 4 weeks, as the Land Rover steering is very heavy, and it would stress the bone at present. Catherine was given a summary of the operation plus the x-rays to take with her in case of problems later on. She also saw the physiotherapist, who gave her some exercises, though she is not allowed to move the arm much for a while, and is still in a sling. The surrounding muscles are quite weak, and these must be built up over time.
Recovering in Cape Town is certainly pleasant, but finding a replacement Daph here is no easy matter (indeed in South Africa generally) for Land Rover Station Wagons are rare. All the dealers are snapping up what is available and charging over the odds for varying quality. It makes sense for us to get another Daph, the insurance has agreed a fair price. Due to the bent chassis, Daph was written-off. In addition we have been allowed to recover all the ‘extras’ from Daph, which would slot directly into another vehicle. Thus the preparation of a second vehicle should be that much easier, cheaper and quicker. Finding that vehicle is another matter! We’ll keep you all posted (interesting offers on replacement vehicles on a post card please!).
Thank you all for your kind offers regarding replacement vehicles - we were very encouraged by your support - the red escort, model land rover and the van with integral TV stand out!
A special thanks to Gary and Sarah, not only for their help with finding the vehicle in Jo'burg, but also for their creativity in coming up with these suggested revised website names:
Adrian flew to Jo'burg last week to buy another Land Rover Defender - strangely, Catherine has named her Daphne already, after our original vehicle. He drove back in one very long day, leaving Pretoria at 4am, to arrive back in Cape Town at 10.30pm. The vehicle is an identical 1997 model, a year older than the previous one, and it is currently being kitted out for the return trip (see Vehicle II Page) button on left hand side for further details..