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Desert rescue

Via Fazat Mawater

Desert rescue

When Irene Sutton, her husband John and five friends decided to go desert camping in the Zekreet area earlier this year, the trip got off on the wrong foot when their vehicle almost immediately got stuck in muddy sand.

Despite the help of other vehicles passing by, Sutton said she could not free her car, even with a tow-rope.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Isabell Schulz/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Frantic, she put a call out for help on Facebook, where friends told her about Fazat Mawater (car rescuers), a team of young Qatari and expat men who volunteer to get people out of tricky desert situations.

A group arrived within a few hours and extracted Sutton’s car within minutes, she said.

Speaking to Doha News, Sutton added:

“This is a service that we did not know existed. However, when we needed them, the rescue team member was there to assist with minimum of fuss or drama.

They were hugely efficient, extremely friendly and they gave us the feeling that all was under control and that we should have no worries. This is a testament that there are a lot of very nice, kind, compassionate Qataris out there who are willing to help at a moment’s notice, and all they ask is a ‘Thank you’ or ‘shukran’ for their troubles.”

Formerly known as Fazat Al Dayeen, the group became a part of the Ministry of Youth and Sports last month, after performing more than 600 desert rescues since May.

While many private organizations charge anywhere from QR500 to QR10,000 for desert rescues, Fazat Mawater’s services are free.

The volunteers, however, now receive “rewards” from the ministry and have sponsors such as Hamad Medical Corp., Ooredoo, Woqod and others.

Their main headquarters are in Al Dafna at the Mawater Center.

Safety first

The men who make up the Fazat Mawater team have lived, for the most part, in or near the Qatari desert their whole lives.

Many of them actually resident close to the areas where they are needed the most, including Sealine Beach and Al Udeid desert.

Desert rescue

Via Fazat Mawater

Desert rescue

Lots of people flock to these areas between April and October to camp, drive ATVs and go dune bashing.

Speaking to Doha News, team member Mohamed Nimer Kafisheh explained his motivation for helping people stuck in the desert:

“The first rescue I ever did was leading the way for a lost tourist family back to the main road from the sand dunes. I found them in the middle of nowhere and they were headed in the wrong direction.

I am, by nature, an ‘outdoors’ person and I love and appreciate the Qatari desert. This family flagged me down and I told them to follow me. They were back on the right road in no time and I was hooked on helping people in the vast desert of Qatar. From then on, it’s been a huge part of my life.”

Driving in the desert can be hazardous, with numerous accidents reported each year, some of them fatal.

Earlier this year, a Sri Lankan Airlines flight attendant was killed and three of her colleagues injured while on desert safari in Qatar on a weekend evening.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Victoria Scott

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Over the summer alone, a state-run rescue team came to the aid of more than 230 cars and trucks stuck in the sand in popular areas of Qatar’s desert.

According to Kafisheh, most people get stuck in the desert because they do not know to drive in the thick sand and tidal waters.

Sometimes, drivers can be overly confident or not prepared for an emergency situation, which can happen at any time, Kafisheh said, admitting that he himself has been stuck before.

“It was many years ago, and it wasn’t a terribly difficult task for the person who helped me out…

The best way to keep yourself out of trouble is keep track of your speed, the time, your path (to find your way back to the main road) and lastly, stay calm. There’s never any good that comes from panicking.”

Managing a rescue

Kafisheh said he and his team have helped out in many types of desert situations, from simply towing a car out of the sand to scaling a steep sand dune to recover a vehicle on the edge of the precipice whose engine had died.

One of the most harrowing rescues occurred earlier this month in the “white mud pit of Salwa,” which is located about 14km south of the main road headed northwest to Dukhan, running along the western coastline of Qatar.

According to Kafisheh, a vehicle drove into the mud pit unknowingly and its tires sunk quite suddenly.

“The car then sits on its belly helplessly, all in a matter of seconds. The rescue mission required five vehicles and seven guys. It took five long hours, all to rescue one vehicle and its driver.”

When the team gets calls for help, they follow a checklist of very specific questions, first asking: “Is anyone hurt or in danger?”

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Klent Michael Real/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

That question is followed immediately by, “Do you need water?”

Other inquiries include “Can you pinpoint your location?” as well as “Can you send a photo of your car?”

At this point, Kafisheh said “We immediately broadcast the ‘call’ amongst our teams’ members. This way, we can see who’s available, as well as in close proximity, to take on the mission. We’re usually so excited, we end up having to flip coins.”

Trained team

Fazat Mawater leader Saud Al-Mohannadi and Mawater director Salem Saeed Al-Mohannadi said they are careful about whom they choose to be a member of the team, knowing that they are part of an important rescue project and they are representing Qatar.

The rescuers speak English and Arabic, and can also access translators for other foreign languages if need be. In addition, the rescue guys have had training in CPR and first aid, as well as fire and rescue training.

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Andrea Williams/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Now that the volunteers have tied up with the ministry, they also have access to highly equipped, all-terrain vehicles and state-of-the-art supplies.

That includes solar-powered car batteries, in case a vehicle is submerged in seawater or cannot be reached by the rescue team in order to receive a jump.

The volunteers also work with police when stranded tourists call 999 and don’t know where they are, which happens quite often.

In these cases, Qatari police rely on satellite equipment that allows them to arrive within 500m of the marooned car.

‘Respect the desert’

In addition to providing 24/7 rescue services, the team at the Mawater Center organizes beach cleanups and family events, urging those they come across to drive responsibly and clean up after themselves.

For illustrative purposes only.

HMC

For illustrative purposes only.

To access the Mawater Center during desert emergencies, call 7710-9999, 5581-6060, or 33344622.

Alternatively, call 999 and the Qatari police or Coast Guard will link you to a rescue team depending on where you are in Qatar.

To avoid needing their services in the first place, Fazat Mawater rescue team offers these tips:

  • Inform friends or family before taking a day or overnight desert trip. This way, if you run into any issues, people will know that you are “out there”.
  • Make sure your car is desert-ready. Fill up the gas tank, check fluids and water level, verify your car tire treads are in tip-top shape and do not forget to deflate the air in all of your tires once you get near the dunes to accommodate the sandy terrain. According to the rescue team, you can buy a good quality mobile air pump for between QR250-400. This apparatus works on your vehicle’s battery supply and is no bigger than a couple boxes of tissues. There are also tire air pump stations around the desert if you need help.
  • Carry recovery gear in your vehicle. Have a good-quality “snatch rope” in your car (at least 6m/20 feet) in case another car needs to pull your car out of the sand.
  • Stay hydrated. Bring enough water for your group and then double it, just in case! Also pack non-perishable snacks, a flashlight and a couple blankets in case of emergency.
  • Ensure your phone/phones are fully charged before you leave and bring a phone charger that easily plugs into your vehicle lighter. Carry a fully-charged back-up phone for urgencies.

In short, Kafisheh said:

“Always be careful and cautious when driving in the desert. Take the long way around if it’s the safer way. Spend an extra few minutes learning about driving over dunes as well as how to prepare yourself and your vehicle. Don’t attempt something if you are not comfortable. Respect the desert.”

What tips would you add? Thoughts?

Dune bashing

Andrea Williams/Flickr

Dune bashing

A state-run rescue team has come to the aid of more than 230 cars and trucks stuck in the sand in popular areas of Qatar’s desert so far this summer.

The squad of experienced rescue personnel, formed three years ago, are deployed at Sealine and at Khor Al Udeid (the Inland Sea) in the south of Qatar and assist drivers who get trapped on the beach, in dunes, or in the water during high tides, Gulf Times reports.

Part of the General Directorate of Natural Reserves at the Private Engineering Office (PEO), the team reportedly provides a free, 24-hour service to motorists who are either referred to them by police or who contact them directly via telephone hotlines – 3359 0909 for the Sealine area and 3357 0707 for Khor Al Udeid.

When Doha News called the numbers, there was no English-speaking assistance available.

Dune dangers

Sealine resort and Khor Al Udeid are among the most popular destinations for residents and tourists wanting to escape the city, particularly during weekends and on public holidays.

Desert rescue at Inland Sea

Isabell Schulz/Flickr

Desert rescue at Inland Sea

However, many desert visitors encounter difficulties when their vehicles get caught in rapidly-rising tides, or on soft sand on the dunes.

Mohamed Hassan Abdulkhaliq, an officer at Khor Al Udeid, told Al Raya newspaper that his 10-strong rescue team is fully equipped to deal with most emergencies, including towing vehicles, Gulf Times said.

A further nine officers work in the team covering the Sealine area, according to Saleem Qadri, who is based there.

The service was set up in response to complaints by many motorists that they were being taken advantage of by unofficial rescue services, which would charge thousands of riyals to help those stuck in the sand.

One expat who got into problems while in Mesaieed during Eid three years ago said he was quoted QR3,000 to rescue his vehicle, while an Arab resident who hit trouble while driving on Wakrah beach was told it would cost him QR6,000 to free his car, the Peninsula reported.

“He was riding a big 4X4 pick-up equipped with an electrical winch which can easily salvage any vehicle out of the sand,” he said of the operator who offered to rescue him.

Desert driving advice

Driving in the desert can be hazardous, with numerous accidents reported each year, some of them fatal.

Earlier this year, a Sri Lankan Airlines flight attendant was killed and three of her colleagues injured while on desert safari in Qatar on a weekend evening.

dune-bashing.jpg-771x655

Known as “dune-bashing,” desert safaris are a popular pastime throughout the region. The Qatar Tourism Authority has previously said it is considering introducing new rules which would raise safety standards for desert safaris.

These included mandatory safety standards for cars hired specifically for dune-bashing, such as  roll bars, first aid kits, radio equipment and rigid “bull bars.”

However, there does not appear to have been any progress on this initiative.

The website Cars in Doha lists a number of safety tips for those considering a drive in the desert, including:

  • Make sure your car has four-wheel-drive;
  • Ensure it is in full working order, including oil and water levels, brakes and seat belts;
  • Have the right tires and tire pressure for desert driving (18psi is recommended for most journeys, but it can be lower, depending on the terrain); and
  • Don’t drive alone – you might have an accident, get stuck, get lost or have a mechanical problem with your car and need help.

Motorists are also advised to ensure they have a spare tire and basic emergency equipment including a towing rope, spade, torch and extra batteries.

Thoughts?

 

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Luc B/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

A  Sri Lankan Airlines flight attendant was killed and three of her colleagues injured while on desert safari in Qatar on Friday evening.

A statement issued by the airline through the official Sri Lankan news agency news.lk named Ammendra De Kauwe as the victim in the incident, while three other cabin crew staff were taken to hospital for treatment and were said to be in a stable condition.

De Kauwe’s body is expected to be flown back to her family home in Seeduwa on the island’s west coast on Monday, according to The Sunday Times Sri Lanka.

Sri Lankan Airlines’ official statement does not give any details of what happened, but adds: “As the employer we have convened an inquiry in to the incident and await its report.”

However, the Sunday Times reports that the vehicle the group were travelling in “turned turtle” during a desert safari.

An employee of one of the popular tour organizers in Qatar told Doha News that he understood the group had been using their own, private vehicle and driver, and had not booked the trip through one of the country’s established travel companies.

Raising standards

The incident comes as Qatar Tourism Authority (QTA) is considering introducing new rules which would raise safety standards for desert safaris.

“Dune bashing” in 4×4 vehicles is a popular activity throughout the region, particularly on weekends.

Once dubbed “the graveyard of young men” by one Australian expat, the country’s vast expanse of sand dunes offer visitors an intense adrenaline rush, but the rapid ascents and descents carry significant risks with “accidents and near-misses commonly reported,” according to QTA.

Any regulation of individual tours would be near-impossible to enforce without the support of other agencies including the Ministry of Interior (MoI).

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

Andrea Williams/Flickr

Photo for illustrative purposes only.

However last year the QTA said it was planning new requirements for 4×4 vehicles, which appear to include them needing to have safety features such as roll bars, first aid kits, radio equipment and rigid “bull bars” attached to the front of the vehicle to protect its occupants.

At the time, QTA documents said “current (desert safari) options do not follow regulated safety standards.” However several tour operators said they were prevented from upgrading their vehicles due to Traffic Department licensing requirements, and that they welcomed the proposed new rules.

Walid Al Jaouni, the CEO of Qatar International Adventures, previously told Doha News: “If we are told, ‘No vehicles (in the desert) without safety bars,’ I would be happy. I know how important these things are. It will improve our business if we can (improve) safety … We would welcome these ideas.”

In addition to the new rules for the vehicles, the regulations would also require desert safari drivers to meet minimum requirements, including an advanced overland drivers certification by a recognized instruction institute, and a roll-over and simulation driver testing from a recognized institute.

Thoughts?