On Wednesday the 8th of July I joined 500 volunteers in searching for Kenneth Stephen. He was a trail runner who went missing on Monday evening.
I heard about the call for assistance on Tuesday evening. After some discussion with my parents, I decided to go help. In the morning I packed my bag and my dad drove me to the meet point, which was below the cable car. I was late, so didn’t know what was going on, but I eventually signed in and found a group to be with. By 10am half of the groups had been given a part of the mountain to search and had started searching. But my group was still on Platteklip road when the organisers asked if anyone had rock climbing experience. Naturally, I said that I did. They told me and the two others who volunteered that we would be part of a special team. We were tasked with searching dangerous/risky parts of the mountain near cliffs. We would not be doing any actual rock climbing, but we would need to be comfortable with hights and able to hold on to the rockface. I was glad to help.
The WSR member asked if we were afraid of hights. We weren’t. He then told us that we would be getting a ride in a helicopter, and to feel free to smile and grin. After some talk, we threw our packs in a Jeep and drove up to the helicopter. The chopper was a beautiful Air Africa Mercy helicopter. We were given a safety briefing and told the order we would be flying up in, as there was only room for 3 passengers at a time. We had to wear harnesses, helmets, stow all lose items and clip into the helicopter. I went up in the first group. It was very cramped and quite loud. Once we landed safely, we got out, careful not to step on the float, we crouched on top of our packs next to the helicopter until it had taken off again.
After the second trio were brought up, we set of down to a narrow path on the cliff face on the camps bay side of the mountain. We skirted round to our first search area, between two tall cliffs. Our objective was to search everywhere off the paths, as they had been done already. There were two experienced WSR members with us. Andy Wood “Woody” was our team leader. We searched the first area toughly, and having found nothing, we moved on and round onto the town side of the mountain where we met up with two other climbers.
After a chat and a water break, we set about searching the ledges in the amphitheatre near Right face – Arrow face. We split into two groups and searched two terraces at once. The going was tough, because the brush was unpleasant, the sand loose and the nearby cliff daunting, but it was alright. We searched up to about halfway, where the wet rock meant that it would have been dangerous to continue. After searching the accessible parts of the cliffs in Africa face we regrouped and had lunch on India Venster ridge.
Everyone was very nice to talk to, and my lunch tasted great, even though my toast had untoasted itself in my bag. When we had finished eating, we split into two groups and went down India Venster. The WSR members decided to repel down a waterfall, to see if the body was at the bottom, but before they did, we received a call saying that his body had been spotted. None of I knew and more details at this point, so we headed down to the meet point by the cable car.
It transpired that he was spotted by a helicopter in Africa Amphitheatre. 50 meters below where we had been searching. The most likely explanation is that he jumped from the top. I got a lift home and later saw news coverage of the search and recovery on news24. Overall, it was slightly morbid, but fun experience, as I haven’t hiked in that area before. I will definitely volunteer again, even if there isn’t a helicopter ride in I for me. I am glad I could help.