The Eastern Cape Department of Education has learned with great sadness the death of West Bank High School Grade 11 learner at the Amatola mountain hiking trail.
This happened during a school excursion that has become an annual event for FET classes for the school is meant to be part of PET (Physical Exercise Task) activities.
According to the Life Orientation educator for Grade 11, the trail they hiked on is Maiden Dam to Gwiligwili Hut which is 15km and takes approximately 8 hours to finish as the trail is rough, steep and demanding.
94 learners and 11 staff members from the school formed part of the excursion but only 91 learners and 9 staff members embarked on the actual hiking.
Only three (3) learners declared physical and medical conditions which meant that they can only join the hiking only to take photos with the whole class at the start and finishing of the trail, with two staff members who were amongst them to arrange for their transportation and lunch for hikers.
The staff members were spread throughout the trail to keep pace with the learners at all times to ensure safety.
After the 9km mark when one of the leading teachers finished the trail he came back down to assist other educators with learners who were not yet finished with the trail.
At about 14:40 other learners alerted other teachers to come and assist another teacher as a learner was struggling to walk.
In the turn of events the said learner was sprawled off the track on top of a ravine with very loose stones. This lead to him being disoriented and also had breathing problems.
He was helped to get up and rested against a tree but collapsed, teachers and other learners then lifted him up and another attempt was made to get back on the trail to reach safety but due to his body weight and the bad terrain it all proved unsuccessful.
While all the attempts were made the learner was conscious and interacting with the teachers.
The Principal was alerted of the incident immediately and called for an ambulance and other rescue units however the weather took a turn for the worst (freezing cold and drizzling) and so did the learner, he was again struggling to breathe and became totally disorientated.
At 16:20 the ambulance made contact with the grade 11 teacher who was on the scene for GPS location which was immediately sent. Keiskammahoek police were also contacted and they then contacted East London rescue unit to the site.
Sadly just before 19:00 pm the ambulance arrived and the paramedics certified the learner dead on the scene. Forensic, Search and Rescue units all arrived after 11pm and after 12.00 midnight and an assessment and consultation was done to retrieve the body but with rain, slippery track and darkness the retrieval of the body was postponed for the next morning.
The next morning (23 April) the task at hand was a huge challenge as it proved an extremely difficult task as the track was in a worse condition because of the rain. All rescue teams worked tirelessly to retrieve the body and finally at 16:00 pm their efforts payed off, the body was retrieved.
The Department would like to thank the teachers and learners of the school for risking their own lives in trying to save one of their own and all the rescue teams who responded when asked to help.
The department will be offering on site counselling to the teachers and learners in West Bank High School and family members of the deceased.
The Department also sends its deepest condolences to the family in this difficult time and the school as well.