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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Another death on Matroosberg

Published Wed 8 July 2009 by The Mountain Club of South Africa

Many will have read in the press about the 38 year old Italian man who fell to his death on the slopes of Conical peak on the Matroosberg last Saturday. This incident occurred very near the spot where a man (*) fell in 2007 and who's body could only be recovered by rescue services several months after the fall due to the treacherous nature of the ice and snow conditions in winter.

(click on image for a larger view)
Photo showing the area (not sure who took it). Conical peak is on the left. The arrow marking the vehicles shows the nature of the parking area and its proximity to the edge. It also shows the massive scale and the very long fall. The annotation showing the 75ft shorthaul relates to the length of the rope hung beneath the helicopter to which the rescuers are attached.

In Saturday's incident the man had driven up the 4x4 track, along with a horde of other tourists and snow-seekers, and had, together with a friend, moved away from the vehicle, each of them carrying a camping chair, presumably to sit and enjoy the view. For those who have not been to this spot, it is worth pointing out that the road terminates on a small plateau which serves as a parking area at the head of Groothoekloof. This parking area, covered with snow and ice in winter, is bordered on the one side by a vertical drop of several hundred metres.

Both men slipped and fell, but one managed to arrest his slide. The other did not. He fell about 500 ft and came to rest on a small ledge.

His body was recovered by a member of the MCSA mountain rescue team together with another WSAR member, who were airlifted to the site attached to a rope beneath the Skymed helicopter. They packaged the remains and were airlifted out. A difficult and traumatic job.

There is much ongoing debate about the accessibility of this area to vehicles and the experience level of the people who visit this place in the comfort of a 4x4, essentially accessing a high, remote mountain with all its attendant dangers. Many of the folk who journey here do not have the requisite mountain experience, and indeed many would otherwise not find themselves in the mountains at all, let alone in dangerous snow and ice conditions. No doubt there will be much debate on this issue.

There are many ways in which this tragedy (and the previous one) could have been avoided. Proper experience in ice conditions, proper equipment (axes and crampons for instance), and being aware of the nature of the surface (soft snow in places, ice in others) and the concomitant dangers, for example. The ease of access - driving right to the edge of an extremely precipitous cliff - is a serious problem with this place.

The MCSA extends its condolences to the family of the deceased. This is not the last accident we will see here.

Brent Jennings
MCSA Mountain Rescue

* The man referred to in the fall was a very dear friend that I knew, Andrew Johns.

Andrew was playing and sliding on a cardboard box down the snow, when it suddenly turned to ice. The momentum and the speed he was traveling at caused him to be unable to stop himself and he slid over the edge in full view of his wife and son. I still miss Andrew, and wish I could have told him what an amazing person I thought he was.

His body was only recovered 3 months after his death. The message I want to send out, is that if you dont know icy conditions, please be very careful when you wish to go and show your family the snow in the mountains. The people owning the snow filled land are eager to charge for the people who enter their property, but there are no real safety measures in place.

Please be very careful when you consider hiking in snow conditions.

My sincere condolences goes to the Italian mans family for the loss of their beloved one.



Anonymous said...

To the ED.

It is strange how this story of Andrew Johns have been changed over the past 2 years. Everyone writing this has a different beginning and ending. And ED, don't bring in the owners of the farm and the monetary values into this. What happened was an Accident! That’s why it’s called an accident. Unfortunately it was his time.

Juanita said...

Andrew was a personal friend of mine, so whoever said what, Im sure my 'story' was closer to the truth than the rest.

Im still concerned about the safety issues, but there is really nothing we can do about it.

I dont blame the owners of the farms. An idea is for the people who are charging fees to let visitors onto their property, they should also let them each sign an indemnity form to
a) make them aware of the extreme dangers - so that they then have a choice. Most people think they are in safe hands, because its the 'recommended' route.
b) take the responsibility off the owners of the farms.

Nothing we can do about it. All we can do is hope that nobody else will suffer this terrible fate by trying to pass this message on.

kind regards

Anonymous said...

And now another death. SO I ask you this, those of you who defend the farm owners. What real measures have been put in place to prevent deaths after the very first one occured ?? Regardless of pieces of paper, in court the reasonable man theory applies. Due diligence and receiving revenue and not taking active measures to ensure safety. POST a guard there for the day if need be, chain the area off, concrete barriers, salt gritting, etc etc. I've been to the exact spot many times and I am always cautious, but people receiving maonies MUST be held to account for safety !!

Jess said...

First of all, to whoever this ED person is, the story you have regarding what happened to Andrew Johns is completely incorrect, get your facts straight before commenting. I was married to Andrew for 2 months before his untimely death on 5 August 2007. I'm shocked that there is still nothing being done with regard to safety when visiting this mountain. I don't want to point any fingers at anyone, but when you are running a business or providing a service where people pay you for your services, you have an obligation to make everyone highly aware of the dangers that this mountain poses. I agree with the last "anonymous" comment, why is there no indemnity form? There are no warning signs and no barriers, why??? After 3 deaths...??? I absolutely hate to say this, but what's going to happen if/when this happens to a child, because if 3 adults can accidentally fall and die, then how much more so a child....? What are the implications going to be? What changes are they going to make then? It just saddens me that

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