Extensive search for missing Drakensberg hiker

2018-01-04 10:24
An SAPS helicopter dropping members of the search team in the Berg crashed on January 1.  INSET: The missing hiker, Mark Grobler.

An SAPS helicopter dropping members of the search team in the Berg crashed on January 1. INSET: The missing hiker, Mark Grobler. (Supplied)

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Pietermaritzburg - A hiker from Centurion is feared dead after going missing on Boxing Day in the Cathedral Peak area of the Drakensberg.

It is understood that Mark Grobler (25) from Pretoria had planned to ascend the route from Mlambonja Valley from Cathedral Peak Hotel, and ascend through the pass to Twins Cave, and then return along the same route.

The Mountain Club Association of South Africa (MCSA) said Grobler had set out with enough supplies for five days, and that he was expected to return on December 29.

“When he failed to return … and his vehicle was found in the car park as recorded on the mountain rescue register, a search operation was initiated by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife who deployed an advance search party of Ezemvelo field rangers to follow the planned route,” it said in a statement.

An initial search failed to find Grobler, at which point search teams from the SAPS and the MCSA were roped in.

During the course of an intensified search, an SAPS air wing and private helicopter were deployed to search for Grobler, as well as ground teams. In addition, a 30-strong team from Ezemvelo and MCSA were deployed.

They were also supported by five dogs from the SAPS K9 search-and-rescue team to search through bushy areas.

But one SAPS helicopter crashed on January 1, causing the occupants to sustain minor injuries.

- Read more: Police helicopter crashes in Drakensberg

“In spite of this setback, the search effort was intensified and has continued [on Tuesday] and [Wednesday] with field teams covering the areas of lower probability of Grobler’s location as well as re-searching previously searched areas,” MCSA said.

At the time of writing, all search efforts had not produced any clues, MCSA said.

“In parallel with all the airborne and ground search efforts, the search management has checked cellphone records and Grobler’s mobile phone has not been active on any network since December 26 when he last sent an SMS message before turning the phone off.”

The search team have also been interviewing other hikers to establish more information on his possible whereabouts.

“In the complete absence of any clues, despite intensive searching and combined with the fact that Grobler is now five days overdue, the search management team has to accept that the probability of finding Grobler alive is now very small,” the MCSA noted.

The statement said rescue operators will continue to search in the next few days, and missing person notices will be distributed.

Grobler’s father was not willing to speak to The Witness when contacted on Wednesday night.

'Baffling'

Sources involved in the search described Grobler’s disappearance as “baffling”.

According to a source, five police dogs deployed in the search had failed to pick up any scent.

Rescuers did not find any signs of Grobler along any of the three trails he may have followed in the area, “not one piece of clothing or a rucksack”, and he seemed to have vanished without trace.

Search teams were questioning whether he had even set out on the hike as planned.

It is believed that before setting out, a hotel employee had warned Grobler that it was risky to hike alone in the Berg.

The weather on the Tuesday when he planned to set off was described as “a bit misty”. 

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  search and rescue

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