While celebrating her 31st birthday with family around 5pm last Sunday, several sources say Jolandi le Roux lost her footing while jumping in the air at the cliff edge of Lookout Point to stage a photograph that would look as if she was leaping over the setting sun.
Imports manager Jolandi and financial director husband Andrew, 33, are alleged to have left the safety of the viewing platform and crossed the metal railing protective barrier designed to keep the public off a sloping cliff top of loose rocks and slippery gravel that suddenly drops to a vertical cliff face.
In a tragic irony, it emerged that the couple were married on Lookout Beach in Plettenberg Bay in September last year.
After Jolandi slipped over the edge, a distraught Andrew, an experienced trail runner and triathlete, found a way to scramble 100m down the treacherous 65-degree mountainside of loose rock.
The first metro rescuer on the scene, paramedic Henry Barlow, 47, lowered on to the mountainside from the Skymed helicopter at 5.40pm, was shocked to encounter Andrew.
“It’s one of the most dangerous places in the Peninsula,” said Barlow, who has seen it all in his 28-year career and struggled to find a secure footing before unclipping himself from the chopper.
“He risked his life trying to reach his wife but couldn’t. It was heartbreaking, but it would have been suicide to go any further. It was just cliffs and a 60m drop to the rocks and sea below us.”
Barlow wanted to airlift Andrew off the mountain, but he declined, saying he’d find his own way back. “It wasn’t safe and he looked like he wasn’t all there, but I couldn’t force him. I think he was relieved that help had arrived so that he could hand over and be by himself.”
By now, more rescuers had been airdropped on to the mountain, including Matthew Young, 33, a rock climber and advanced trauma life support doctor, who had been assigned to retrieve Jolandi.
Assisting him with various rope anchor points were fellow Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) volunteers Steve Hofmeyr, David Nel, Christo Lotter and Nicholas le Maitre. Above them at Lookout Point, around 20 other metro and WSAR rescuers manned their support stations.
Even for experienced Mountain Club rock climbers like Young, who has been at it for 16 years, the conditions below Lookout are treacherous. “It is not a nice place to be. The whole mountain is falling apart, literally. It’s ancient, crumbling sandstone that breaks off easily. It’s by no means inspiring. Especially in the dark when all you’ve got is a headlamp.”
Young’s first attempt to abseil down the one sheer cliff of the gully to Jolandi lasted 5m. “Rocks were falling all around me. One of them was as big as a car engine. So we decided to swing me across to the other cliffside.”
By now Young had slowed down as he had seen enough of Jolandi’s motionless, contorted form to know that she could never have survived the battering of her 100m fall.
With rescuers’ safety paramount, he moved with deliberation. “I was hanging in free air, slowly inching my way down to Jolandi, careful not to dislodge any rock that would dislodge her body.”
Young reached her at 9.10pm and “delicately secured her in a harness and attached her to my ropes”. Up at Lookout, Metro 1 incident commander Elvin Stoffels, 30, tasked with both complicated rescue management and regularly updating family, gently broke the news to an emotional Andrew, who had held on to the slim hope that his wife had survived.
Hofmeyr then lowered Young and Jolandi out of the gully. Dangling 20 storeys above the surf crashing on to the rocks below, the pair were then slowly hauled across by Nel and Le Maitre to their anchor point, where Jolandi was carefully secured in a body bag and stretcher.
By then it was 10.30pm. Despite approaching rain, rescue commanders decided to honour Jolandi’s family request and complete her retrieval instead of postponing until the next day.
It took another two hours to get her body back up the mountain to her distraught family who, despite their traumatic seven-hour vigil, had ordered pizza and soft drinks for rescuers.
Once Jolandi’s body had been placed in the mortuary van, her father approached the rescuers to thank them as it began to rain.
“I thought that was very brave of him, considering the complete nightmare they were going through,” said Stoffels. “It made the long night worthwhile because it’s not every day that we get a thank-you like that.”