JOHANNESBURG — Paramedics in the gold-mining town of Carletonville in South Africa are insisting they did everything in their power to determine whether a car crash victim could be saved before declaring her dead. Hours later, she was found alive in the mortuary fridge.
The unnamed woman was certified dead by paramedics at the scene of a pile-up outside of the town, which is southwest of Johannesburg, in the early hours of June 24.
The victim’s car had rolled, throwing all three occupants out of the vehicle. Two other crash victims died on the scene and the woman was also thought to be dead.
"We did all the checks, breathing, pulse, everything," ambulance service Distress Alert's operations manager Gerrit Bradnick told ABC News. "We made certain. Our job is to save lives, we’re not in the business of declaring living people dead."
After she was brought to the mortuary and placed in a refrigerator, workers later found her alive.
"Paramedics are trained to determine death, not us," a source at the Carletonville mortuary told the Sowetan newspaper.
"You never expect to open a fridge and find someone in there alive," the source continued. "Can you imagine if we had begun the autopsy and killed her?"
Bradnick declined to give any further details about the incident.
"The Department of Health are coming to investigate, so we’ve been told not to speak to anyone as the matter is now sub judice," he said.
Health department spokesperson, Dr. Paul Morule has confirmed the investigation and said the outcome will be reported to regulatory authorities. The woman’s family has been contacted, he said, but due to patient confidentiality neither the victim nor her family will grant interviews.
South African News channel eNCA reported that the woman is in critical condition and now in the hospital.
The ambulance service has launched its own probe into the incident. Bradnick said they will cooperate with the departmental investigation.