DESERT CHALLENGE 'WILL BE SAFEST EVER'
Sulayem hails medics, search and rescue team as unsung heroes of dramatic cross country rally
Dubai, UAE: The UAE Desert Challenge, which rounds off the international cross country rally calendar next week, will be the safest ever, according to two key members of the behind-the-scenes operations team.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Sean Petherbridge and Gus Duthie, head of Search and Rescue, oversee a squad of 21 dedicated professionals, all volunteers, who will play vital roles as the spectacular rally unfolds across some of the region's most punishing desert terrain.
With more than 160 drivers and riders from 36 countries going into action, Mohammed Ben Sulayem, President of the Automobile and Touring Club of the UAE, the rally organisers, has taken steps to ensure competitor safety remains a top priority.
An investment in new and upgraded equipment this year will ensure the highly-skilled team of medics are better prepared than ever for any emergency.
A quartet of medical helicopters permanently on standby at the Moreeb Hill bivouac, the rally's desert HQ near Liwa, will for the first time carry portable, laptop-sized ultrasound machines similar to those used by the military in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The machines, which have been sponsored by SonoSite, the world leader in hand-carried ultrasound, will ensure revolutionised pain relief for stricken competitors and rapid diagnosis for trauma cases.
"The safety of competitors is paramount and these innovations will greatly help us ensure this," said Englishman Petherbridge. "Without doubt, this will be the safest Desert Challenge yet. "The idea is that, if there's a broken bone, the fracture site can be identified and local anesthetic can be infiltrated to block the pain. We can scan in the field to look for internal bleeding to help in triage (decision-making) while out in the desert."
In another first on the event, which is sponsored by Nakheel and Nissan Middle East, Petherbridge and his 14 male and female medics, the largest number of trauma specialists ever used on the event, will be sending out SMS messages to pacify competitors in distress.
"Fear of being left out in the desert after an accident can cause a lot of stress," explained Petherbridge. "But we'll be able to track our helicopters in real time and send text messages to competitors to let them know exactly how quickly help will reach them."
Taking place under the patronage of H.H.Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, the Desert Challenge has its official start from the Emirates Palace in Abu Dhabi at 9.30am on 27th October.
The event is also sponsored by Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, ADNOC, Emarat, Hertz UAE, Oasis Water, Inmarsat, Arasca Medical Equipment, Mashreq Bank, Tag Heuer, FedEx, Dubai International Marine Club and Le Meridien Mina Seyahi Beach Resort and Marina, the official hotel.
The medical team will work in harmony with Duthie's six-man Search and Rescue team, most of whom are British ex-military officers. Duthie, who was born in Nairobi, has seven years' Desert Challenge experience and his crew will be able to pinpoint injured competitors in the often inhospitable desert with state-of-the-art equipment from Rally HQ and from the air via helicopters.
Such is the importance placed on SAR that the rally's daily special stages cannot start unless the team's helicopters, some times grounded by early morning mist, are able to lift off and cover the competitors in case of an emergency.
Like Petherbridge, Duthie is supremely confident that this year's event will enjoy unparalleled safety cover. His security company employers, Olive Group, have provided satellite tracking equipment which traces the movements of the SAR team going to their rescue.
And the team in Rally Control will also be using an upgraded version of the IriTrack system to track competitors and pinpoint those in distress. IriTrack has been used and developed over several years on the Desert Challenge to help raise safety standards in cross-country rallying globally.
Duthie said: "This will ensure that the managed response in the event of a competitor requiring medical assistance will be more visible to those managing the event in Rally Control, the injured competitor can expect a quicker response and the air assets will be better managed. The IriTrack system is fitted on to all competitors' bikes, cars, trucks and quads. The system triangulates the devices' position using data from GPS satellites orbiting the planet."
Sulayem, who has made competitor safety a top priority ever since launching the Desert Challenge in 1991, said: "Sean and Gus run their operations to the highest standards, and the medical and SAR teams this year will be the most professional and best equipped that we have ever had.
"It is so important that we have such a dedicated group of individuals who are prepared to work round the clock, on a voluntary basis, to safeguard competitors. These people are the unsung heroes of the event. Without them there could be no Desert Challenge."
-credit: uae dc