An elderly hiker went for an early-morning walk in Vogelgat Private Nature Reserve on Sunday morning 11 August and failed to return. This led to an intensive search that lasted throughout the rest of the day and night, and into the next morning.

The body of David Watson (75) was found shortly after 09:00 on Monday morning near the beacon on Maanskynkop and airlifted to Cape Town.

Giorgio Lombardi, the warden of Vogelgat, says David was a regular hiker. “David was very fit and would have been able to reach the beacon in under one and a half hours. When his wife, Elizabeth called the office at about 11:45, I was immediately concerned as he would normally be back by 11:00.

“Elizabeth said David had called her shortly after 10:00 to say the weather was deteriorating and that he was turning back. It appears, however, that instead of descending, David continued walking up the mountain. It had probably been his goal that morning to hike to the beacon and he wanted to reach his goal,” says Giorgio.

Search & Rescue teams were immediately deployed from Overstrand, Grabouw and Swellendam who, together with several of David’s friends, local trail runners, fire fighters, doctors, drone operators and AMS Helicopter personnel, began searching for David. “We even had sniffer dogs from Wellington and Somerset West joining in the search, which continued throughout the afternoon and night.

“It was amazing how many people just dropped everything to come and help with the search, even in the cold and rain. Because of the strong wind the chopper was unable to fly and we could only proceed on foot. I knew David often made detours while hiking, so we searched all the crevices, kloofs and valleys, right through the night.”

Giorgio says they were finally able to take to the sky on Monday morning and he spotted David’s body from the helicopter, lying only metres away from the beacon. “He appears to have died instantly from a catastrophic event such as a stroke or heart attack not long after he’d last spoken to his wife on his cellphone.”

Originally from the UK, David was a businessman in Johannesburg before retiring to Hermanus with Elizabeth a decade ago. He only started hiking after they’d settled in Hermanus, where he was also an active member of the Hermanus Bird Club and the Bowls Club. Among the couple’s many local friends are adventurer and mountaineer, Richmond MacIntyre and his wife, Avis. The two couples recently returned from a trip to the French Alps where the men went hiking on Mont Blanc.

Several of David’s friends have expressed their shock and grief at his sudden passing. He has been described as “well-liked and admired” and “an absolute gentleman with a wonderful sense of humour”. He will be sadly missed by his wide circle of friends. David leaves behind three daughters, a step-daughter, step-son and his wife Elizabeth.

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