How to survive if your vehicle breaks down in the desert

Paolo Rosetti's advice on what to do if you are stranded on the dunes.

Let us assume you are in deep desert dunes, 5km from a tarmac road, in the middle of the day in summer, and somehow get separated from your group of friends. And then you get stuck in the soft sand.

As the summer sun beams down, a wind of misfortune blows and the car overheats as you try to escape the grip of the soft sand. You reach for your mobile phone and suddenly realise it's gone - perhaps forgotten at the shop you stopped to buy water at.

It would be now that you realise you could be in very serious trouble.

Firstly, remain calm. The situation is not that bad, actually. Your friends know your approximate location and they will be searching for your tracks, except if a sandstorm blows up and erases your tracks. You're in good health and not stung by a scorpion or bitten by a sand viper. Your car will probably cool down and start up - it's not that you rolled it and are now stuck with your arm trapped under the vehicle's side. You know there is a road about 5km that way and you are not completely lost and disoriented. And you have plenty of water, don't you? It's not as if rolling the car also broke the water canister you had.

So the first thing is to remain calm and count your blessings. While all the above are theoretically possible, and you might be surprised to learn that dangerous situations are normally the result of two or three concurrent misfortunes, let us not assume that all that misfortune occurred to you at once.

Secondly, do not leave the vehicle. Not even for that 5km trot to the road. In the daytime, you would not reach a third of the way over sand dunes before you collapsed dehydrated in the sand. Besides, the sand is even too hot to walk on, unless you are wearing boots. Instead, lie down under the car, scrape a little depression in the sand (taking care not to waste too much energy), cover yourself as much as possible to keep out of the dry wind and take a nap.

If you did have a medical condition, or other situation requiring immediate assistance, then setting fire to the spare tyre might be an option - since your friends might spot the plume of black smoke - but, normally, conserving energy and maintaining your level of hydration is paramount.

Thirdly, wait for the sun to set. Nighttime is when you can emerge from the shade. If there is a full moon you can see for miles. It's decision time.

You might consider walking out. Walking 5km over dunes is not going to be easy and will take all night, but you might feel it's within reach.

Unless you have a very clear and feasible destination, and a navigation device such as a compass or GPS, or if you know how to navigate by the stars, then you must fight the urge to leave your vehicle.

The fact is that, in the UAE, if no one knows your exact whereabouts the authorities will come and find you and it will not take more than a few days.

Your job is to hunker down and keep thinking straight - your vehicle offers shade and evidence of your presence. A helicopter will easily notice a forlorn vehicle in the desert, but a person on foot is very difficult to spot.

So the rule is to stay put, under your vehicle, and wait.

Published: August 26, 2011 04:00 AM


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