A shepherd from the village Emirica (population 16) in the Kratovo region is fighting for his life in the Shtip hospital after being stranded on a mountain overnight, in polar temperatures for 12 hours while searching for a runaway sheep.
The shepherd was able to survive the terrible ordeal while lying near-frozen and motionless, only thanks to his mother.
The 90-year-old woman had come to her son’s rescue and remained by his side the entire night trying to keep him from freezing.
Updated April 6, 5:00 PM CET:
The 63-year-old shepherd’s condition had stabilized and improved in the past two days but took for the worse on Tuesday morning. The hospital in Shtip reported that that he died in a comatose condition due to brain hemorrhage.
The event shook the Macedonian public because the tragedy could have been avoided had it not been for the different government agencies passing on the responsibility to act between one another.
The Macedonian Helsinki Human Rights Committee is demanding responsibility from the institutions. They cite articles from the Law on rescue and protection that where violated by the relevant institutions.
After the event was made public by the doctor who went on a heroic rescue mission, the Government called for a special commission to determine why there was a huge delay in dispatching a rescue mission.
Pavle Zafirov, the doctor from the Urgent Rescue service, who responded first to the call from the nearby city Shtip, has made the difficult-to-bear experience public via a Facebook post.
Zafirov summoned a driver and a medical technician before heading to pick up two relatives of the shepherd.
Together they drove between 30 and 40 kilometers before reaching a point from where they had to walk in order to reach the stranded shepherd and his mother.
The crew carried the patient on an improvised stretcher for five hours through snow-covered and in many places steep, mountainous terrain before reaching the vehicle.
According to Zafirov, relevant institutions of the state that were contacted prior to the hurried mission did not respond when they were called to act.
Stojanche Angelov from the Center for Crisis Management says its employee for the Kratovo region had contacted the local police, who couldn’t supply an all-terrain vehicle but also didn’t offer their help in rescuing the shepherd.
The same happened when he called the fire rescue department, the national forest agency, the national electric company EVN and the local public works agency. None of these agencies saw the urgency to supply an all-terrain vehicle.
According to Angelov, his agency’s operative could have called for a helicopter, but it is unclear who grants that permission because that person can’t decide on his own. Angelov says there needs to be an urgent change in the procedure when responding to urgent events.
Macedonian President Stevo Pendarovski chimed after the event reached the media, saying had there been a request for a helicopter, the Army would have provided one.
Pavle Zafirov’s account of the events via his Facebook profile state:
We reached a heart-rending situation. The person had fallen from the goat trail that leads from his house in the village higher up to the sheep corral where he looks after a significant number of sheep.
During this period the sheep are giving birth and they need to be looked after frequently. It was a wonder that the shepherd remained alive after being stranded in a polar temperature for 12 hours.
He was found by his 90-year-old mother who wasn’t able to carry him yet remained by his side looking for ways to keep him warm.
Upon reaching the location I asked the relatives and the medic whether they are ready to carry the man to the vehicle. I was conscious about the risk in which I am placing the people and myself, but I had to take responsibility.
My profession doesn’t allow me not to transport the patient, who was fortunate to survive these conditions.
The relatives went to get poles and blankets. We wrapped the shepherd in blankets that we laid on the improvised stretcher.
We had to secure the device by sewing the blankets onto the poles. It took us five hours to carry the patients on trails that pass through extremely steep terrain and a forest.
In many places, the trail was covered in snow. We had to cross a river and go up a steep slope that few people would dare to tackle,” writes the hero, Pavle Zafirov.