Travel news and advice

Hong Kong tourist and local guide die climbing South Africa’s Table Mountain

Another tourist saved, hundreds left stranded on summit after dramatic rescue effort

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 03 January, 2018, 12:14pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 03 January, 2018, 11:30pm

A Hong Kong tourist and a local guide died while rock climbing on South Africa’s famed Table Mountain on New Year’s Day despite a dramatic rescue attempt, it emerged on Wednesday.

It was also confirmed that another Hong Kong tourist was rescued and sent to hospital. Both Hongkongers were understood to be women in their late 20s.

It had earlier been reported that the two foreign climbers were Japanese.

The massive rescue operation also prompted the suspension of the cable car service from Cape Town, leaving hundreds stranded on the mountaintop for hours.

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The Chinese consulate in Cape Town has pledged to provide help, while the Immigration Department in Hong Kong has contacted the tourists’ family members.

According to local media, the trio were scaling the front of Table Mountain, which rises almost 1,100 metres above Cape Town, using ropes on Monday afternoon.

Things got out of control when they reached about 150m below the upper cable car station, where they were seen “dangling” on ropes.

“After Metro Rescue conducted an assessment of the situation, we suspended operations at 6.15pm and assisted getting paramedics to the scene,” the cable car operator said in a statement.

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An initial attempt to reach the climbers by helicopter failed. Rescuers were then lowered from a cable car.

“In order to gain access to the injured climbers, rescuers are making use of the cable cars from which a rope system has been rigged to lower medical and rescue [personnel],” said members of local group Wilderness Search and Rescue.

Rescuers only able to save one Hong Kong tourist that night, and the climber was transported down the mountain via cable car. The bodies of the other two were found the next morning.

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“Our hearts go out to the families and friends of the two climbers who lost their lives,” the cable car operator said.

Local authorities have begun an inquest into the deaths. It is believed the ropes had not snapped.

According to a local mountaineering club’s database , 76 people have died on Table Mountain since 2000, with another 380 injured.

Local mountaineering expert Chung Kin-man said scaling peaks overseas often requires more skills and preparation.

He said there are more than 200 routes for climbing Table Mountain, and most are multi-pitch ones, meaning climbers have to switch anchors in mid-air.

This is unlike popular routes in Hong Kong such as those in Shek O or Tung Lung Chau, which are single pitch.

“Communication is also very important – are there any language barriers with the guide? Mistakes and misunderstanding can happen,” he said.

Chung said having a guide does not guarantee safety, and he suggested climbers start with an easier route first to gauge their capabilities.