Retrospective analysis of deaths in the Table Mountain National Park 2000-2011

Master Thesis


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University of Cape Town

Background: The TMNP is one of the more famous of Cape Town's tourist attractions. Stretching across the Peninsula, this conservation site is home to rare indigenous flora and fauna, biodiverse habitats and the spectacular Table Mountain. Despite its seemingly safe infrastructure, there have been media reports of accidents and deaths that have occurred in the TMNP and on Table Mountain. Aim: To determine the number and types of fatalities in the TMNP from 2000-2011. Method: The Salt River Forensic Pathology Laboratory is a state mortuary which serves the Cape Peninsula. Included in its drainage area is the TMNP. Approximately 3000 medico legal investigations are performed per annum, the details of which are stored in databases at the SRFPL and at the Division of Forensic Medicine at the University of Cape Town. These and archival records were retrospectively searched for all deaths that occurred in the National Park between 2000 and 2011. The collected information was categorised and analysed according to the demographic profile of victims, cause and manner of death, blood alcohol levels and activities prior to death. Results: Between 2000 and 2011, there were 98 confirmed deaths in the TMNP. The deaths occurred mostly during the South African summer months and on Fridays and Sundays (weekends). The victims were predominantly Caucasian (59%) and male (90 %) with a mean age of 39.4 years. The majority of victims were local, while 15 % were foreign, European and tourists. Overall accidents contributed to 53% of all unnatural deaths with victims predominantly sustaining head injuries and polytrauma which occurred from falls (71%) during mountain recreational activities. 24% of victims who fell tested positive for alcohol (>0.01g/100ml). Body mass index (BMI) calculations of the 98 victims revealed that 53% had BMI above 25. A p re -existing medical condition (predominantly cardiac) was the cause of the natural deaths. 26 A significant finding of the study was that 22% of deaths were due to suicides that took place on or surrounding Table Mountain. Suicides occurred commonly during summer with Fridays and Mondays being the common suicide days. The victims, all men, in the age range of 30-39 years (mean age of 39 years) were predominantly Caucasian (68%) and used hanging (45%) and jumping (27%) off the mountain as the two most preferred methods of death. 22% of suicide victims tested positive for alcohol at time of death. Conclusion: The TMNP is one of South Africa's most popular tourist attractions, due largely in part to the presence of Table Mountain. A retrospective study of deaths that occurred within the Park and on the mountain range over a 12-year period identified a predominantly Caucasian male victim demographic and found that head and polytrauma sustained from falls while participating in mountain associated activities as the leading cause of death. A significant finding was the high percentage (22%) of suicide deaths that took place. This study has helped to identify Table Mountain as a possible local suicide hotspot and points to a need for TMNP authorities to include in their safety protocols, strategies for suicide prevention. Larger collaborative studies are recommended as this would significantly impact on public health through the improvement of Park and mountain safety.

Includes bibliographical references