A West Bank Senior Secondary School pupil in Qonce died during a school hiking trip after experiencing breathing difficulties on the last portion of the trail.
In a statement on the school’s social media page on Saturday, headmaster Braham Hill announced the death of Grade 11 pupil Siphosethu Toto from Bhisho.
Hill said eight teachers accompanied pupils on the hike, but he did not reveal the number of pupils who attended.
Hill added that cellphone reception was bad at the location of the hike, but that one of the teachers, a Mr Biko, eventually got hold of him. He immediately called private ambulance service provider Alderson Ambulance Services.
He said the ambulance took three hours to arrive at the scene and that it was already dark at that stage.
From East London, where Alderson Ambulance Services is based, to Keiskammahoek, it takes around 90 minutes by car.
“The paramedics tried their best for some time, but they couldn’t pull him through,” Hill said.
Alderson Ambulance Services’ chief operating officer Jason Leicester said the ambulance crew took the incorrect route due to Hill’s poor understanding of where the incident happened.
Leicester said the ambulance call centre was contacted at 16.25 and an ambulance was dispatched immediately. A senior paramedic was on board.
The crew reached Keiskammahoek at 17.28, he said.
“Unfortunately poor understanding from Mr Hill of where the incident occurred, resulted in the incorrect route taken retrospectively, ultimately it was closer to the N6 then to Keiskammahoek. It took a further 90 minutes to reach the group from Keiskammahoek,” Leicester said.
Leicester added that after pulling the ambulance’s tracking data, he was comfortable saying that the ambulance dispatch was not delayed at all and that the medical crew did not deviate from their duty and cause delays.
“On the contrary I have to compliment the medical team, headed by Cornelius Ellis, who has rescue experience, in the way they managed a difficult situation with unsafe terrain in reaching the patient, who unfortunately had passed already,” Leicester said.
Called for comment, Hill laughed off the allegation.
“They can say whatever they want. I am sticking to what I have said,” he responded.
Hill said the school would arrange counselling for pupils.
“Our hearts go out towards the bereaved Toto family. We must rest in the knowledge that God has other plans,” Hill said.
Police and the provincial education department have launched investigations.
Police spokesperson Captain Siphokazi Mawisa said: “Police can confirm that they opened an inquest docket following the reported death of a 16-year-old boy during a school camp in Keiskammahoek on Friday afternoon.”
At this stage, circumstances relating to the incident form part of the investigation, Mawisa said.
Eastern Cape education department spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said a psycho-social support team was arranged to deal with the matter.
Mtima said a team of internal investigators would investigate the matter and recommend the steps the department should take.