Three bodies discovered below - two children and a man
November 24 2008 -- Port Elizabeth, South Africa. The Daily Dispatch newspaper reports that the majestic, 71-year-old Van Stadens Bridge outside the Indian-ocean harbour city of Port Elizabeth has claimed another three lives. This latest event also is believed to be among the most shocking suicide tragedies thus far at the notorious "bridge of death".
The beautiful pedestrian bridge serves as a crossing across the gorge for the Apple Express, a narrow-guage railway line; it was opened on November 11, 1971. Just 12 days later, a Uitenhage man jumped to his death, and its reputation as the “Bridge of Death” grew from there. The latest tragedy brings the death toll at Van Staden's Bridge to at least 71. Most of the suicides are white South Africans - and many are Afrikaans-speakers.
The oldest person to commit suicide there was an unnamed 80-year-old Afrikaner man on 8 October this year - he was the 69th person, and with these latest three deaths that would be a death toll of 71 people, PE superintendent Priscilla Naidu said.
The most heart-rending suicide -- until today's gruesome discovery -- was on Oct 15 2006 when grieving mom, Rosemary Wait, 62, jumped to her death below: her only son Charles Jr. had drowned six years earlier in a rafting tragedy at the Storms River mouth in the raging Gamtoos River below the bridge -- and she could not stop grieving for her only son...
However, thanks to a R1-million video-camera surveillance system paid for by private donors and installed in August 2005 -- Gauteng journalist Franz Kemp raised the funds after his daughter Inge had jumped off in 2003 . Local police and passing pedestrians have also rescued some twenty people from jumping off since that time.
Yesterday, the nearby police from Thornhill - always first on the scene, they have a specialist-counselling team on hand for the bereaved relatives of these suicides -- retrieved the crushed bodies of an unnamed little girl, an older boy -- and a man on whom they found a suicide note. They believe that the three people died shortly after October 31.
Piecing together the events leading to the tragedy, police concluded that the man must have thrown the two children over the side, sending them plummeting to the rocky floor of the gorge, before jumping himself. The bodies were not found in one place, suggesting that one of the children might have panicked and tried to flee after the first victim went over the side.
Captain Anton Smit said the traumatic discovery was made by two Port Elizabeth teenagers who had gone for a walk during a picnic near the Van Stadens Wild Flower Reserve. Bryan van Vuuren, 17, and his friend Andre Trauernicht, 18, first discovered the body of the boy. The Afrikaner teens alerted Thornhill police station. A police sniffer dog discovered the little girl's body several metres further from where the other two bodies were found. None were severely decomposed and were identifiable. There was no sign of a vehicle parked near the bridge. By last night the bodies had not yet been identified.
While the suicides at this bridge averaged about one every 18 months up to last year, there has been a surge of suicides this year: besides the 80-year-old Afrikaner man on October 8, Humansdorp teacher Nicholaas Martinus, 26, jumped off on June 4 and a day before that, Kensington man Chris Botha. .