This Cape Town woman's car plunged down Chapman's Peak – and she lived to tell the tale

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Lucy Thomas is still in hospital after her car crash, but the photographer stays positive. (PHOTO: Supplied)
Lucy Thomas is still in hospital after her car crash, but the photographer stays positive. (PHOTO: Supplied)

She woke for a few moments at a time, reliving the feeling of weightlessness as her car sailed through the air. 

Then she blacked out again.

In those fleeting moments of consciousness, Lucy Thomas didn’t realise she was lying in the wreck of her white Volkswagen Polo, badly injured after her vehicle tumbled down the cliffs of Chapman’s Peak.

Her next memory is of the paramedics’ comforting voices as they hoisted her to safety.

“They told me I was safe and then I blacked out again,” Lucy (25) tells us from her bed in Cape Town’s Groote Schuur Hospital. She woke up here hours after being rescued from the wreck of her car. 

Lucy doesn’t recall anything about how the accident on 17 February happened, nor the wildfire the crash caused. 

And she has no memory of the hours-long struggle by 50 paramedics and volunteers to haul her back up the 75m cliff. 

“When I woke up in hospital, I was very confused and disoriented. My body was still busy processing everything,” Lucy says.

Her dad, David, later visited the scene of the cra
Her dad, David, later visited the scene of the crash, and this is all that was left of Lucy’s Volkswagen Polo. (PHOTO: Supplied)

There was a long, hard road to recovery ahead. 

Lucy’s spinal column, which had broken in two, was reattached with screws on 21 February.

Then she had surgery on her broken ankle.

But doctors and medical technology haven’t been able to save her from a future in a wheelchair – the accident left her paralysed from the waist down.

Since the crash, there have been other setbacks. 

Early in March, Lucy contracted a bacterial infection which left her in excruciating pain and with a high fever. 

This meant two more procedures to clean the surgical wound around her spinal column.

But now, after two weeks of constant antibiotics to get the infection under control, Lucy feels well enough to speak to YOU about the accident that so drastically changed her life.

There’s been progress: the cast has come off her ankle. 

‘When I woke for those few moments on the mountain, I felt so much relief. Not physical relief – relief that I was safe in the arms of a saviour.’

And if everything goes according to plan, she’ll soon be discharged from hospital, from where she’ll be transferred to the Western Cape Rehabilitation Centre at Lentegeur Hospital. 

“I’m actually looking forward to it,” Lucy says, referring to the extensive physical therapy that awaits her. 

Because, she says, though she can’t walk anymore, she’s still alive – and that in itself is cause for celebration.

Lucy, who’s single and lives with her dad, David, in Table View, is an avid photographer. 

On the day of the accident, like so many times before, she’d grabbed her kit and driven out to photograph the beautiful Atlantic coastline and endless ocean views.

Though she can’t recall how she ended up at the bottom of a cliff, she does remember exactly how she felt when she woke up in the crumpled wreck.

“When I woke for those few moments on the mountain, I felt so much relief. Not physical relief – relief that I was safe in the arms of a saviour. I’ve never experienced anything like that before,” she says.

The car crash caused a wildfire on the cliffs of C
The car crash caused a wildfire on the cliffs of Chapman’s Peak in Cape Town. (PHOTO: Supplied)

She’s since sought comfort in the Bible and is surrounding herself with “positive information and positive people”.

Before the accident, she spent time in a holistic mental-health clinic as she realised the importance of prioritising her mental health. 

“I learned valuable information there which is helping me achieve a positive outlook following the accident.”

When YOU spoke to her dad in the days following the crash, David was planning on starting a Facebook support group for his daughter so she could know how loved she is. 

And he clearly succeeded.

“I didn’t realise how much love and support there is out there,” Lucy says. 

“So many people share their own struggles and have so much empathy for me. I feel there’s a large group of people I can reach out to.

“I’m very thankful my dad started the group at a time when I wasn’t able to tell people how I was doing – that he was my voice, in a way. I realise now how important a support network is and that we must take care of our loved ones.”

READ MORE | This is how Soozi Dinnie remains hopeful 6 years after near-fatal accident left her paralysed

She and David are now both admins of the group and she enjoys sharing Bible verses and inspirational messages there.

Her mom, Catherine, is also playing an important role in Lucy’s recovery. 

Though her parents divorced when she was a teenager, they’re working together to raise funds to pay her considerable medical bills. She’s endlessly indebted to both her parents, Lucy says. 

“My dad’s also being very helpful in the search for a good wheelchair for me and he’s always sending me videos of what equipment is available.”

Her immediate future will involve at least six weeks of physiotherapy. 

Her infection delayed her transfer to the rehab centre, but Lucy is eager to tackle the next stage of her recovery. 

“I know it’s going to get easier and I really want to go to the rehab centre,” she says. 

“I want to strengthen my upper body and become self-sufficient.”

Her passion for photography also offers something to focus on during the major adjustments ahead.

Lucy’s parents, Catherine and David, have been her
Lucy’s parents, Catherine and David, have been her biggest supporters on her road to recovery. (PHOTO: Supplied)

Her first camera was a gift from her dad. 

“I really enjoyed learning how to use it, so I decided to study photography,” Lucy says. Compliments from her tutors at the Orms Cape Town School of Photography provided the inspiration she needed to decide on photography as a career. 

But she was still a fledgling in the business when the accident happened. “I took many different types of pictures. I photographed nature and had people pose in all kinds of ways. But I hadn’t found that one direction in photography I wanted to specialise in.”

The long days and weeks in hospital have given her time to develop a new vision – one in which she can combine her love of photography with people and her new reality.

Her research while in hospital has made her realise how inaccessible much of the world still is to people in wheelchairs and she wants to use photography to create awareness of the issue.

“At home, for example, a lot of renovations need to be done. Doorways must be widened and kitchen counters lowered so I can reach them from my wheelchair.”

Despite all her positive energy and plans for the future, there are times when she’s saddened by the loss of her legs, she admits. 

But she always manages to find strength in her faith, her parents’ love and her online community.

“To survive in this life, I know I need consistency and determination,” Lucy says.

She knows she emerged from the crumpled wreck for a reason and she’s going to make the most of her second chance at life – no matter the obstacles and challenges. 

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