Hikers safe after armed robbery

Eleven hikers became trapped between two gullies on the Sandy Bay side of the mountain. Picture: Tim Lundy

A rescue mission lasting more than 12 hours brought 11 hikers to safety after they were held at gunpoint by three armed men near Duiker Island last weekend.

Thanks to the tireless efforts of the police and volunteers from the Table Mountain Security Action Group, the hiking group, comprising men and women between the ages of 25 and 40 from around Cape Town, managed to escape unharmed from their ordeal.

According to Andre van Schalkwyk, of the Security Action Group, the hikers set off from the Hout
Bay harbour at about 7am on
Sunday March 25, intending to walk around the mountain to Sandy Bay.

“When they were near Duikers Island, they were approached by three individuals wearing masks and carrying firearms. They took a lot of equipment from the group, but not all of it. They took as many bags as they could carry and left. We assume they came over the saddle of the mountain (at the back of Hangberg), and they ran back in the same direction,” he said.

The hikers then took the decision to carry on walking in the direction of Sandy Bay.

“Some of them still had their cellphones with them, and decided to call for help to be extracted.”

Mr Van Schalkwyk said the challenge lay in the fact that the hikers were on a very rocky stretch of coastline, and they were trapped between two gullies on the Sandy Bay side of the mountain.

“They had no way of getting out.”

Members of Wilderness Search and Rescue, police and volunteers from the Security Action Group, formed in January to include
42 organisations ranging from hiking clubs, climbers, runners and neighborhood watches, made use of an exceptionally steep trail running over Karbonkelberg to extract the hikers, which was why the rescue took hours to complete.

“The SAPS were phenomenal. They sanitised the area for us before we went in, organised trackers and provided a police helicopter. One tracker even managed to find the exit point of the three armed men. A large number of detectives also came to take statements from the hikers once they had been brought to safety,” said Mr Van Schalkwyk.

He also paid tribute to Hout Bay non-profit Community Cohesion, which provided counselling to the hikers.

“They were fantastic, angels from the skies,” he said.

Community Cohesion director, Bronwyn Moore, said the organisation’s headquarters at Mainstream Mall served as a base for rescuers and victims.

“They received food, safety and debriefing sessions. We will be seeing all victims again for counselling sessions,” she said.

Hout Bay police spokesperson, Warrant Officer Tanya Lesch, said the station’s Captain Jacques Lourens had played a significant role in the rescue “right from the start”.

No arrests had been made as yet, she said.

There have been a slew of mountain attacks on hikers this year.

In January, commercial helicopter pilot Doug Notten was stabbed to death while hiking with his wife above Kalk Bay.

Earlier that month, two men attacked a group of nine hikers at St James Peak.