Body found on Table Mountain in Cape Town after three-day search for trail runner
Dramatic scenes unfolded on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town on 8 July 2020, as search and rescue teams recovered the body of a missing trail runner, following a three-day search. The search had been going since the 36-year-old Ken Stephen went missing on Monday afternoon. “The body of a missing trail runner has been found on Table Mountain,” said Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) spokesperson, Johan Marais, confirming that the search for Ken Stephen, age 36, ended on Wednesday, 8 July 2020, two days after he went missing. His body was spotted below Africa Face on Table Mountain. The clothing worn fited the description of what the missing person was last seen wearing, Marais said. According to police, this had been pink shorts, a dark jacket and black running shoes. Paramedics then went by helicopter to the spot. “We can now confirm that the body of the person we have been searching for since Monday, 6 July 2020 has been found. The wallet, car keys and the clothing confirmed his identity,” confirmed Marais later on Wednesday. “WSAR acknowledged the assistance of Working on Fire, volunteers from the trail running fraternity and other volunteers who were meaningfully employed in the search, as well as their own volunteers. All in we had some 61 teams on the mountain involving about 500 people who offered their help and without any other casualties,” stated Marais.
The search operations
“Just before midnight on Monday evening, WSAR was alerted to a vehicle which was parked on Lower Tafelberg Road. The user of that vehicle's friends had raised the alarm that this trail runner may be on Table Mountain. Members of WSAR got together and they, in conjunction with the overdue person's friends, decided to do a search of the contour path and the path down to the blockhouse. A vehicle also drove the road towards the block house. Weather conditions were not good. Shortly after midnight the teams the family reported that the missing person’s cell phone appeared to be on the Clifton side of Lion's Head. Further searchers moved up from a temporary base at Nettleton Road. The search on that side had no result. Fresh searches were done on the contour path. The teams stood down just before 04h00am on Tuesday morning. The search was resumed on Tuesday morning with five teams out. The Department of Health/AMS helicopter joined the search, which is being coordinated from a command post close to the lower cable station”, reported Marais.
On Tuesday afternoon, Marais reported, “We now have 16 teams deployed all over Table Mountain participating in the search. Skymed, the helicopter contracted to the Department of Health of the Western Cape, had to return to base. We had more than 120 WSAR operatives and volunteers searching for him today. Volunteers need to be mountain savvy and well equipped to be used as assisting WSAR in our intended search on Wednesday. You must report and ensure that you are enrolled on the WSAR records if you want to assist in the search. Stay in the team to which you are allocated and always sign out at the control point. It is for the duty manager to allow a volunteer to participate in a WSAR operation“, said Marais.
On Wednesday, Marais reported, “As at 13h25 WSAR assisted by many volunteers have found no trace of the missing person. Skymed has again joined the search and is also used to troop searchers into or off the mountain. This an urgent appeal to members of the public to not paraglide on Table Mountain, to limit their activities on the mountain and we extend this request to private helicopter operators too. You are making our task to continue our search for the missing trail runner more difficult and making it impossible to operate the search helicopters assisting us. Please give our teams room to operate.”
Childhood friend Keith Counihan said earlier he was “shocked” at his friend's disappearance but expressed relief at the “massive” turnout, adding that they were “not alone” and hoping to find some results soon. “The response is phenomenal, the mountain’s packed. For those people who know Kenny, they're obviously here and a lot of volunteers who obviously don't even know him but feel the need to come and help out,” he said.
According to Counihan, volunteers had to sign up and then registered into teams of between five to six people, with an allocated team leader, before they are assigned a search area. The search and rescue teams picked up a “ping” from Stephen's cell phone around Monday midnight, which appeared to be from the Clifton side of Lion's Head but nothing had been found in the area yet.
Acting spokesperson for WSAR, Tim Lundy, said that although they're grateful for the big turnout of volunteers, logistically it's “a bit of a nightmare” to coordinate people safely. “Our biggest concern is that these guys are not trained like we train... it's just tasking them properly and we've got teams just set up for making teams with team leaders and sending them into areas,” he said.
Police spokesperson, Captain FC van Wyk, confirmed that an inquest docket was registered for investigation and a post-mortem will be conducted to determine the cause of death. This docket will be investigated by Cape Town Central SAPS Detectives, Van Wyk said.
Source: Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR)