Hikers find skeleton off mountain trail

KAREN WATKINS

A group of University of the Third Age (U3A) hikers are hoping to bring closure to a family after finding a skeleton above Llandudno.

Leading the hikers, who call themselves the Cape Mountains for the Curious and Adventurous, was Constantia mountaineer Tony Heher who described the gruesome find and its rescue.

The group were hiking the little-known Pimple Traverse, made popular around 2002 by Mark Liddell and Dave Orton. Access is from Suikerbossie Restaurant up Hout Bay Corner and Llandudno Ravine.

Dr Heher said it is not a well-known route but the Mountain Club of South Africa did it six weeks before and walked right past the skeleton.

Dr Heher said conditions were misty on Tuesday May 10 and they had accessed the route and were on a wide section of it when he was exploring a lower path and the other hikers who were about 10m above. It was when he crossed through fynbos to join them that he came across the skeleton. Partially hidden between bushes he initially assumed it was a Thar until he noticed the clothing and realised it had to be the remains of a human.

Describing the find, he said they estimate that the body had been on the mountain for about six to eight months. While they could not ascertain the gender, they could see it was a small, young person. There were no identity documents, backpack, shoes or shirt but a denim jacket and cotton trousers on the very broken skeleton.

Dr Heher said it is a remote area and getting to the place about 80m above where the skeleton was found is along a rocky ridge, not easy to get to and that the person who fell was probably unaware of the route below. They now want to explore the area above where the skeleton was found to see if they can find anything left behind by the person who fell.

“There’s a mystery here and also we’re keen to bring closure to a family,” he said.

Dr Heher said their dilemma was not knowing what to do after the find.

That evening he contacted a member of Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) and within half-an-hour his call was returned and he was asked to be at Cape Town International Airport next morning.

The police’s forensic pathology service, a member of WSAR and Dr Heher – to show them the way – flew to the site on Wednesday morning. It took them four hours to locate and airlift the remains from the mountain.

Riding close to the cliff face picking out the skeleton between two boulders and partially hidden in the bush was not easy. The pilot insisted on having a visual of the skeleton before he would lower the people who collected the remains.

Dr Heher said the teamwork between WSAR, Air Mercy Services and the police’s forensic pathology service was world-class.

Police spokesperson Constable Noloyiso Rwexana said the body is yet to be identified but a police investigation is currently under way and an inquest docket had been opened for investigation.

The Bulletin asked Table Mountain National Park manager Paddy Gordon if they have received other reports in the past of skeletons being found and also who people should contact if they come across them but he did not respond in time for this week’s publication.

Johann Marais, spokesperson for WSAR, said there had been nothing technically challenging about the operation to retrieve the skeleton.

He said their part in the operation was to assist the police’s forensics in packing the skeleton into a body- bag.

Mr Marais said it is not for WSAR to state the facts of the incident but from their observation there were many broken bones in the skeleton which would be consistent with a fall of 80m.

He said this type of retrieval is regular as they do it five to nine times each year.