In a dramatic overnight operation, emergency responders early Tuesday descended on ropes from a cable car on South Africa's Table Mountain to recover the bodies of two male climbers, including a Japanese citizen, who died after falling from a cliff. A female Japanese climber injured in the fall was rescued late Monday.
The iconic, rugged mountain overlooking Cape Town is a major tourist destination and the occasional scene of search and rescue operations because of hiking or climbing mishaps, but the effort to help the trio of climbers was among the more complex. Hundreds of tourists were stranded for hours on the mountain until the cable cars were again available to ferry them down in a process that ended well after midnight.
A local climbing guide and two Japanese clients were involved in the accident, said Merle Collins, a spokeswoman for South Africa's national parks service.
The climbers were secured with ropes just below the cable car station at the top of Table Mountain when they fell, possibly after one of them lost their footing and dragged the others down, said Johan Marais, spokesman for Wilderness Search and Rescue, a volunteer group. Still attached to the ropes, two of them ended up partly supported by a ledge on the cliff face, and tourists in a cable car saw one - presumably the woman who survived - administering CPR to the other.
A rescue helicopter flew to the area, but Wilderness Search and Rescue members concluded that it would be easier to reach the climbers by lowering themselves on ropes from an opening in the floor of a cable car positioned above the accident site. After determining that two climbers were dead, they transferred the injured survivor to a harness that was raised into the cable car, said Marais, who was not at the scene.
“It was difficult to communicate with her because of the language difference,” said Marais, who described the climber's condition as stable. She was taken to a Cape Town hospital. The bodies of her companions were recovered after the stranded tourists were taken off the mountain.
The climbers were traversing a mountain route called Arrow Final. About 30 volunteers were involved in the rescue and recovery operation.
In a separate incident, a helicopter on Tuesday was extracting a hiker who suffered an injury on Table Mountain, according to Marais.
Cape Town residents “tend to think of Table Mountain as part of their backyard or something in their front garden,” he said. “It's not that. It's an actual big mountain with large rocks and all the things that go with a mountain.”