Thirteen-hour rescue from Table Mountain ledge

It took more than 13 hours to rescue a man who had plummeted 20m onto a ledge on Table Mountain last week.

The 32-year-old tourist from Iceland landed on a ledge just bigger than a double bed with a clear drop of about 80 metres below him on the face of a cliff.

Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) were contacted just after 5pm last Monday, February 18, by a resident who had heard someone shouting for assistance from the area above their house in Camps Bay.

The Metro rescue crew, together with logistical operators, rescue mountaineers and SANParks visitor safety patrollers were asked to respond. The initial search area was plotted to be the section of the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) below the Pipe Track and above the residential line.

WSAR said they acted urgently as they feared the calls for help could have been from a victim of a mugging or more serious crime.

An extensive search of the area was conducted with the assistance of the neighbourhood watch and other groups.

It later emerged that distress calls were being carried down to the residential area by the south-easterly wind but the man was much higher up the slope on a steep section of the mountain, just below the upper cable station.

The fading light as well as the strong wind ruled out a helicopter rescue and it became apparent that a technical rope rescue operation was required.

Using an international cellphone number it was confirmed that the person in distress was the man from Iceland. He was able to guide a search team in a 4×4 along a jeep track to a position directly below him.

The Table Mountain Aerial Cableway Company (TMAC) had agreed to make just one attempt to send up a car since the wind had already exceeded their normal operational conditions.

By 8.40pm, a rapid response team had docked at the upper cable station from where they began to make multiple abseils towards the patient. By this time the daylight had completely faded and it was then that the rescuers could actually pinpoint the man’s position as he used the light of his cellphone to create a visual reference.

A second rescue team ascended via the India Venster route, while members who happened to be training close by also made their way to a point above the stranded hiker.

The first rescue climber reached the man around 2am and after an initial assessment he was secured into a harness and lowered down to the base of Cairn Buttress from where he was assisted to walk down to the waiting vehicles by four rescuers.

The rest of the rescue team took the remaining equipment and ropes, retraced their access route to Kloof Corner Ridge and then down the India Venster route to end up at the lower cable station at about 4.30am. The official stand down was declared just before 7am.

WSAR said the man could count himself extremely lucky as he had suffered no serious injuries. 

“WSAR would like to commend the experienced rescue climbers who had to negotiate very dangerous and unstable terrain, steep drop-offs, sheer cliff faces and the danger of rock falls in the dark. They had to abseil about 300 metres over multiple stages in order to reach and recover the hiker.”