Suspected burglar in manacles rescued after falling down cliff face

2014-01-22 00:00

A KLOOF rescue climber had to make a bizarre decision when he found an injured man hanging from a cliff ledge, “I had to decide whether to remove his handcuffs,” said Nigel Tonkin.

“He told us he wouldn’t do anything [to us] if we took them off, but in the end we decided to leave them on until the last moment.”

The drama began on Monday night, when a man arrested for house burglaries was taken to the Krantzkloof Gorge by police, to point out where he had stashed stolen goods.

The suspect — in his late 20s — reportedly either slipped or made a sudden escape attempt, only to fall 15 metres down a cliff face, and then roll another seven metres onto a tiny cliff ledge above a sheer 30-metre drop.

Tonkin said only dense foliage stopped the man from falling to his death, saying, “He was literally hanging half over the edge of the cliff when we found him”.

One person on scene told The Witness that the man had attempted to escape even from his own rescuers, but Tonkin said “he was too injured and sore to run away”.

RescueTech — the Upper Highway’s volunteer search and rescue group — dispatched half-a-dozen of its experts to the precarious scene in Crestholme, and set up an A-frame rescue rig at the top of the cliff.

Spokesperson Nic Holmes said the team had previously rescued three burglars who had “run off a cliff in the dark” in Kloof — “but we’ve never faced a situation like this one”.

RescueTech was also the unit that recovered the body of Zakithi Nxumalo after the Tongaat Mall collapse late last year, and has made numerous technical rescues in the Kloof Gorge and Inanda Valley.

Members of an SAPS search and rescue also assisted in the operation, which lasted over four hours.

Tonkin (23), who works full time as a geologist, said the prisoner had found a particularly treacherous place to fall, “He was on a second ledge under an overhang, with all kinds of vegetation all around — we had to abseil down over the overhang, then swing in and then do a 10-metre traverse to get to him. He was literally hanging over the edge.”

He said he had taken a key for the man’s handcuffs from police at the top, but that the team decided to unlock the manacles only when he was being shifted into the rescue basket.

“That was an unusual situation, but we were just being extra cautious, as he was pretty battered and bruised,” said Tonkin.

However — despite abdominal injuries and suspected cracked ribs — the man was expected to make a quick recovery at hospital.

By the time of going to print, the police had not yet responded to queries.

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