File picture: African News Agency/ANA

Cape Town - Sanparks has confirmed a Japanese couple and a Capetonian guide were involved in the tragic New Year's day Table Mountain climbing accident.

Regional Communications manager for Sanparks, Merle Collins, said despite earlier information that two foreign women and a South African man had been involved in the accident, the gender of the victims had now been clarified.

She said it was unlikely their identities would be released on Tuesday as their next of kin still needed to be informed.

The accident happened at about 5pm on Monday evening when the three climbers were spotted dangling from ropes as they abseiled down Arrow Final. 

Its believed the guide fell first, followed by the other two. The ropes did not snap however, and an investigation is underway, led by police, to determine what happened. Both the guide and the Japanese man died on impact. The female survivor tried CPR on one of victims, but was unable to revive him.

The Table Mountain cable car had to be used in the rescue effort, leaving 500 visitors stranded on top of the mountain until late on Monday night. 

“A helicopter was dispatched but couldn’t get close enough. The cablecar was stopped midway and a rescue team was sent to assess the situation and found three people abseiling down the mountainside,” Collins said.

“All three had fallen, but the ropes had not broken so we are not sure why yet”. 

Collins said once the survivor was rescued, operations resumed to bring stranded people down the mountain.

“The last people came off the mountain after midnight at 12.30. It was below ten degrees, ice cold,” she said.

Authorities tried to keep the elderly and infirm comfortable in the Table Mountain restaurant and wifi lounges, but there was not enough space for everyone. 

The two bodies of the climbers were retrieved by 5:15am on Tuesday morning.

Collins warned that while Table Mountain appears deceptively easy to climb, even experienced climbers can get into difficulties.

“It is a mountain, it’s a wilderness area, and some people underestimate that fact. There are cliffs and edges and dangerous areas, that’s why we have footpaths. We ask people to remain on footpaths and known areas,” she said, adding: “I cannot comment on the abseiling as we don’t know what happened there.”

SANParks mostly deals with minor rescue operations involving dehydrated walkers, injuries like broken ankles or people getting lost. In those cases, walkers are carried off the mountain on stretchers. Last week, an elderly man was airlifted off the mountain when he lost consciousness, but has since recovered.

“Wear the correct shoes, and tell someone where you are going and what time they can expect you back, so authorities can be alerted if there is a problem,” Collins said.

African News Agency/ANA