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POLICE OPEN INQUEST INTO TABLE MOUNTAIN CLIMBING DEATHS

Cape Town – Western Cape police have opened an inquest into the deaths of a 29-year-old foreign woman and a 61-year-old local guide in a rock climbing accident on Table Mountain on New Year’s Day, spokesperson Captain FC van Wyk said on Tuesday.

Another climber, believed to be a female visitor, survived the accident which occurred on Monday night on the rock face under the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway.

Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) said rescuers sprang into action after it was reported that two climbers were dangling from ropes about 150m below the upper cable station.

A third person, also on a controlled rope, was understood to be administering CPR to one of the people.

The Skymed medical emergency helicopter surveyed the scene and a rescue operation which involved the use of the cable car was kicked into action.

Hundreds of visitors and staff waited on top of the mountain while the rescue operation was carried out.

WSAR spokesperson Johann Marais said the surviving climber was rescued from the mountain shortly before 23:00 on Monday and she was taken for medical treatment.

The bodies of the other two climbers were removed from the mountain shortly after 05:00 on Tuesday.

“I can now confirm that as at 05:15 the bodies and our entire team were off the mountain, safe in the cable car and on their way down,” said Marais on Monday morning.

“We are so sorry for the loss, but relieved that our team is safe off the mountain. We do appreciate the cooperation and assistance from the Cable Car Company and all involved,” Marais said.

Martin Hutton-Squire, president of the Mountain Club of South Africa Cape Town Section said full details of what happened to the climbers on the popular route, known as Arrow Final, are not yet clear.

“We won’t know until there has been a proper inquiry,” he said.

He described the climb as iconic among mountaineers, locally and internationally.

Though not extremely difficult, it is very exposed and “a bad place to take a fall”.

Rock climbing has been a recognised activity on Table Mountain for more than 100 years.

Meanwhile, the Table Mountain Aerial Cableway was running as normal on Tuesday, according to company spokesperson Collette Van Aswegen.

Some people had complained about the delays caused by the rescue operation and said the staff at the top of the mountain did not communicate the situation properly.

Others thanked the mountain staff for the hot beverages that were handed as temperatures dropped.

“With us assisting the rescue services, we obviously followed their lead in how long it was going to take,” explained Van Aswegen.

The operation was intricate and the company felt it had to help.

“It’s just the right thing to do,” she said.

According to Marais, WSAR conducted 185 rescues/searches on Table Mountain in 2017, which includes 22 in December.

Jenni Evans / News24

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