MUSCAT: An Omani national whose vehicle sank into a wadi in Oman because he was distracted, missed the wadi exit, and underestimated the terrain has asked people not to make the mistakes he did, as it might not always be possible to undo them.
Salim Al Barwani and his uncle were on a routine excursion to Wadi Dayqah in Quriyat, when his vehicle plunged to the bottom of the wadi, because he missed the exit and did not know he had entered its danger zone.
Although he’s been travelling to Quriyat twice a year for the last three decades, there was one important change to the surroundings this time around that he did not take into account.
“The dam in Quriyat was opened, because the water level was high, so water was flowing down into the wadi. I take a lot of landscape photography and I did not want to miss this opportunity,” he recalled. “Driving back home, I got distracted, and I went beyond the exit point, into the dangerous side of the wadi, into unfamiliar territory. I didn’t know where I was, but I was still convinced the exit was in front of me.
“We looked around and reasoned that we had driven here an hour ago, so we must still be in the same place,” admitted Salim, speaking to Evita Louis of TFM, the radio station of the Times of Oman. “In a minute, we went from driving a four-wheel drive that is more than two metres tall, to losing sight of our car in the wadi, where it sank like a rock. It happened so quickly, but thank god we are alive, because our windows were open.”
With his vehicle sinking quickly, Salim and his uncle quickly swam out through the windows that he’d left open by pure coincidence. These opened windows provided them the opportunity to escape the wadi.
A few days ago, a vehicle retrieval team from Guide Oman and 3R headed to Quriyat to extract Salim’s vehicle, which still lay at the bottom of the wadi. Their skill in retrieving stricken vehicles, and dedication to planning for such incidents, meant they were able to get Salim’s four wheel drive out in all of 20 minutes, with minimum fuss.
A popular pastime
With his vehicle returned to him, and supremely grateful for being alive, Salim Al Barwani now wants to share his story with the wider community, particularly since going off-road and exploring the more remote parts of the country is a popular pastime among both locals and tourists.
“Because I knew the location, I was complacent,” he said. “What I did not take into consideration was that the dam had been opened so the wadi was in full flow. I had never been there when the wadi was flowing. That led to the landscape changing.
“Guide Oman made all the difference…they made it all possible,” he said, recalling the rescue. “The first thing we needed to do was assess whether it was safe to attempt a rescue: they took all the precautions required. One of the safety measures they needed to look at was adding weight to both sides of the car, so that it does not slip or turn over while it is being recovered. This was done in a very professional and very safe way.
“By the time they’d gotten there, it was as if they had conducted rescue drills with my vehicle before. I have been with the 3R team before, and one of their mottos is that they do not leave anyone behind.”
Having survived this experience unscathed, Salim has things he plans to do differently the next time he goes off-roading.
“Normally, when I take part in such excursions, I follow my GPS and mark the point of entry and exit from the road,” he said. “This time, however, I did not do that, because I was in familiar territory. The next time, although I may be in a known area, I will make sure to mark the right points, because it is very easy to get distracted. “Although I know the location, I will prepare myself a bit better than I did the last time. I normally prepare a journey map for a trip, and inform people of my location, so that if I do not return around the time I am expected to, they will start looking for me. This is something I strongly encourage people to do.”
Plenty of advice
Salim has plenty of advice to give to others who intend on going off-roading. He is hopeful his wisdom will help those who find themselves in the sticky situation he did.
“Listen to the voice inside your head: when you feel uncomfortable, don’t try to convince yourself that everything is okay,” he said. “In this case, I did look around and thought there was no other place to cross. I did reason with myself that because I had come here an hour ago, what could go bad? Had I listened to myself, I would have driven back for about five minutes and found the proper crossing point.
“Whenever you are driving across a body of water, no matter how familiar it may look, always keep your windows rolled down and unbuckle your seat belt before you get in…what if it gets jammed when you are trying to exit the car?” he wondered. “I would have surely drowned.
“If you are in trouble, call the Royal Oman Police on 9999,” he explained. “What happened in our case is that there were people in the area who helped us get out of the water after the incident. One of them had the number of a friend in the ROP on his phone, but this person worked in Muscat, not Quriyat. The message did not make it to Quriyat, so the local police were not aware of the message until two days later.
“Another piece of advice is understanding your car when you go off-road. Don’t venture there if you are not familiar with the area,” he went on to say. “Go with experienced people: just because you are a convoy of three cars going to the desert for the first time does not mean you will be safe there. If you ever get in trouble, don’t panic. It is easy to say this, but panicking does not help. Staying calm and seeking help is the way out.”
His final piece of advice? Carry a cheap phone for emergencies, and store it safely on your person.
“What one of my friends does is take an OMR20 phone with him, he keeps it in a sealed wrapper, and that stays in his pocket until he needs it in case of an emergency,” said Salim.