An elderly Hillcrest woman went “missing” in her car for 15 hours on Sunday evening after she apparently blacked out and drove into thick bush bordering La Lucia.
Phyllis Hollis had called her housekeeper, Veronica Mkhize, to tell her that she was leaving a friend’s house in uMhlanga at about 5pm and would be home in an hour.
But the time passed and Hollis did not arrive home. After two hours, a concerned Mkhize alerted Hollis’s neighbour, Sue Christie, who called Hollis’s son, Justin, in Cape Town and the emergency centre SA Can.
SA Can is a free emergency service that is able to trace cellphone numbers, among other things, but only with the permission of the owner. Luckily her son owned the contract to her phone and was able to give permission for SA Can to act.
They managed to track the cellphone to a 300m radius. Rescue workers searched there and called the phone until it was too dark to look any more.
Justin said he barely slept that night. But at 5.30am on Monday he received a call from his mom and wasn’t sure what was happening. “I thought it was a ghost,” he said.
“I think her first words to me were something like: ‘Have you been trying to contact me?’ She was confused and could not tell me exactly where she was or what had happened.”
Andreas Mathios, a rescue worker from SA Can, said once they had Hollis on the phone they started to ask her questions. “Can you hear the traffic? Can you hear me hoot?”
This eventually led them to where she went off the road and, finally, to her rescue.
Brian Jones, from SA Can, said the bush was so thick they would have been unable to locate the car, even from the air.
Hollis went off the road while travelling on the M41 from Gateway and taking the off-ramp to get on to the M4. The road loops back on to itself, creating a sharp hairpin bend with thick bush on both sides. The exact area of bush is no more than 30m2-40m2.
Mathios said this type of bush was an issue around Durban and this was not the first time he had encountered the problem.
When Hollis emerged from the bush at 7.30am on Monday she was shaking and had suffered from hypothermia.
Justin said that during the night vagrants had apparently tried to rob her, but an older vagrant had chased the others away.
“My mom said he had tried to get help, but no one was going to stop on the freeway late at night for a vagrant.”
Hollis was taken to Umhlanga Hospital, where she was to stay for 24 hours. Justin said his wife, Leigh, was expecting twins in the next week or two, and they were relieved that Hollis would be able to meet her first grandchildren.