Murder on mountain

A police helicopter near Echo Valley in Boyes Drive during the rescue attempt in which a hiker was killed.

Despite promises made by SANParks to deploy additional resources on the mountain above Kalk Bay after five hikers were attacked and stabbed more than two weeks ago, a 57-year-old man was stabbed to death on Sunday while hiking with his wife.

Eyewitnesses at the scene said there were no signs of the “additional resources” or the Table Mountain National Park (TMNP) dog unit, which is supposed to identify possible escape routes in order to assist SAPS in apprehending suspects and gather evidence to assist with successful conviction (“Call for hiker safety,” Echo January 18).

But this could not be confirmed as at the time of going to print, SANParks had not responded to several enquiries by the Echo.

For Doug Notten and his wife, Julia, the hike up Echo Valley above Boyes Drive was nothing new.

As avid outdoors people, the couple had walked the route many times before and on Sunday, planned to find a suitable location to have a cup of coffee and enjoy their surroundings.

They did not have any valuables with them except for a rucksack containing the coffee.

Mr Notten’s sister, Caroline said the couple crested the peak above the amphitheatre and were making their way down the northern side of the mountain when they were approached from behind by a man walking faster than they were.

The couple stepped aside to let the man pass and as he passed Mr Notten he became aggressive and jostled Mr Notten.
Ms Notten, who was ahead of them, saw the man draw a knife and stab her husband.

He fell to the ground but attempted to fight back and Ms Notten then pepper sprayed the man which temporarily set him off course. Mr Notten urged her to run away

The man then followed Ms Notten, hurling rocks at her and hitting her several times. As she looked back she saw the man had returned to her husband who was bleeding badly.

The attacker then frantically stabbed Mr Notten repeatedly.

As she made her way down the mountain she came across other hikers and runners who assisted her but due to poor cellphone reception it took a while for them to call for help.

Caroline said some of the so-called emergency numbers hikers had saved on their phones were not answered and the calls that were answered had respondents who did not seem to understand what was being asked of them.

By the time police, medics and the rescue helicopters had arrived Mr Notten was dead.

Caroline said her brother was a polite and gentle man with a clever sense of humour who was idolised by his children.

“He took pride in being fit and strong and was a disciplined eater. He loved the wilderness and was good with his hands and built half of his house himself. He worked on his car himself, and loved the cars he drove and the aircraft he flew,” she said.

She said they often hiked, and swam in the sea and the Silvermine dam.

“They loved it, no matter what the weather or the physical challenges they made use of the opportunity to keep fit and happy,” she said.

She added that in his working life he had flown both the rescue helicopter and the police aircraft that were involved in his rescue attempt.

He leaves behind his wife, daughter, Anna, and two sons, Dominic and Nicholas as well as his mother and six sisters.

“We are all devastated by his death and his absence will leave a big black void in all our lives,” she said.

Table Mountain Watch spokesman, Andre van Schalkwyk, said he was extremely worried about the increase in violent attacks on the mountains.

Mr Van Schalkwyk said a newly founded group, the Table Mountain Safety Action Group, consisting of about 40 organisations which includes neighbourhood watches, hiking clubs and various other civilian groups, mobilised members after the attack on Sunday to help secure roads and keep a lookout for the suspect who was said to be wearing a khaki shirt and pants, similar to the uniform of a park ranger.

“We had eyes and ears everywhere but unfortunately no arrests were made,” Mr Van Schalkwyk said. He said the group had no jurisdiction in the parks but their aim was to focus on the security of park users.

Parkscape founder, Nicky Schmidt, who is part of the Table Mountain Safety Action Group, said there is an enormous amount of anger towards SANParks following the spate of serious attacks in the park in recent months (“Beach crime wave,” Echo January 12 and “Attacked couple thankful to be alive,” Echo December 7, 2017).

She was alerted of the attack around noon and said although it took place around 11am, the call for help came in much later due to poor cellphone reception. “If it takes half an hour to call for help the perpetrator is long gone by then,” she said.

Upon her arrival at the scene, she drove around the mountain, stopping at several places, where informal trails come off the mountain, hoping to see anyone who matched the description of the attacker.

She said as part of Table Mountain Safety Action Group, they can only patrol the perimeter of the park and have no jurisdiction inside.

She said after the attack, two to three SANParks rangers arrived at the scene but were brought there and were definitely not stationed in the area earlier in the day.

She said watching Mr Notten’s family on the side of the road as his body was brought down the mountain by helicopter was heartbreaking.

The Pedal Power Association (PPA), which is also part of the Table Mountain Safety Action Group, said it is saddened by the tragic and senseless death of Mr Notten.

PPA CEO, Robert Vogel, said their thoughts were with the Notten family and they hoped the suspect is caught and prosecuted. “We need to stand together and support the efforts of SANParks and law enforcement authorities in their efforts. If the Table Mountain Safety Action Group is to offer that support, it needs to be representative of all park users. “We have to all work together to make Table Mountain National Park a safe place to enjoy, for locals and visitors alike,” he said.

Police spokesperson, Sergeant Noloyiso Rwexana, said a case of murder has been opened and confirmed that no suspects had been arrested.