The K9 Search and Rescue units are rarely in the limelight compared to their frontline colleagues. Yet they never hesitate to put their lives on the line on a daily basis.The Eastern Cape K9 Search and Rescue Unit comprises seven trained members and five fully trained and skilled canines. The Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) policing area is lucky to have a particularly experienced and skilful member, Warrant Officer Ettienne Gerber. He and his dog, Misty, display true altruism every day. 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.
The duo have come close to meeting their maker many times while braving treacherous waters to find a drowning victim, or bringing to the surface a suicide victim from the depths of the Van Staden’s or Stormsriver bridges.
By facing these dangerous situations, they help bring closure to many families.
Daily, members of the K9 unit including the SAPS Diving Unit who work hand in hand with the search and rescue teams, go the extra mile in carrying out their duties.
Members in this unit, including Misty, are highly trained in the use of ropes, including abseiling; swift and flood water rescuing; and recovering bodies from fast flowing rapids. The expertise, skill and precision of the work of the K9 Search and Rescue including the SAPS Diving Unit (Captain Ashley Adams) was tested when the team recently abseiled down a 120m abyss to retrieve a body under the Storms River bridge recently.
The dangerous recovery mission started on a recent Saturday. Wet weather halted any efforts of a successful recovery, though, and the next day, the team assembled at the bridge to resume the recovery of the body below. Because of 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 the following Monday.
On Monday, the team once again descended into the now waning waters from a steep precipice. The recovery mission lasted five-and-a-half 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 this week’s 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.
- This piece is an edited version of a media release by the South African Police Service.