Trinidad: Teacher Dies In Plunge Off Sando Hill

(TRINIDAD EXPRESS) – Schoolteacher Renée Mitchell, 39, is believed to have fallen almost 80 feet off San Fernando Hill when, during a fete, she went to the side of the cliff to urinate and accidentally fell over the edge in a freak accident, according to police officers.

Mitchell eventually passed away at the San Fernando General Hospital just over half an hour after rescuers rushed her there following a search that lasted more than six hours.

Mitchell was a patron at the Solset Supernova fete which started at 4 p.m. on the San Fernando Hill and the incident occurred at around midnight – one hour before the event was carded to finish.

The Express was told by an officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, that Mitchell fell about 80 feet, then rolled a further 60 feet off the cliff face of San Fernando Hill before she came to a stop in the bushes.

The officers of the Mon Repos Fire Service Search and Rescue Unit undertook the rescue mission for Mitchell who fell just minutes before midnight on Saturday.

The rescue mission took them until after daybreak as the officers encountered challenges with the loose and falling rocks along the cliff face.

Under the cloak of darkness, the officers rappelled down the side of the cliff to reach her.

The rescue team had to clear bush along the hilly terrain before, using ropes and a rescue basket, they were able to return her to the top of San Fernando Hill.

At around 6.45 a.m. the rescue team brought her to safety and she was taken by ambulance to the San Fernando General Hospital.

Police officers said they were told by doctors that she suffered Polytrauma, consistent with a fall, which included head, neck and internal trauma and internal haemorrhaging.

She was pronounced dead by hospital doctors around 7.20 a.m.

An autopsy is expected to be conducted at the San Fernando mortuary this week to confirm the cause of death.

Mitchell, of Riverside North in Corinth Hills, attended the fete with her boyfriend, Peter Ribeiro, who was with her and raised an alarm at the fete when she fell off.

Detectives said that Ribiero told them that around 11.55 p.m. on Saturday she went along the cliff side to urinate and fell over the edge.

The Express was told that the area where Mitchell had gone was located on the western side of the hill, where there are hedges, and loose rocks.

She had initially dropped about 80 feet, then she rolled down a steep incline of a ten-degree slope for about 60 feet.

When the Express visited her home in Corinth Hills, the unit was locked.

Several attempts were made to contact Ribeiro on his cellphone, but the calls went straight to voicemail.

Ministries offer their condolences

Mitchell was employed as a schoolteacher at the Brighton AC Primary School, and the Ministry of Education posted a message of condolences to her family, friends, colleagues, and students.

The ministry said that the Student Support Services Division (SSSD) has been mobilised to provide the necessary support for her students and co-workers.

“Let us continue to offer our love and assistance to those who may be affected by this profound loss,” stated the Education Ministry.

The promoter of the fete, Damian “Fram” Baboolal, told the Express on Sunday that the information was still being gathered on the fatal incident and he reserved comment at this time.

“We are still gathering all the information and then we will issue a statement. We are working with the authorities before we put out the statement. The Fire Services managed the search and rescue of the person,” said Baboolal.

The San Fernando Hill falls under the remit of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries (MALF), and it also extended its deepest condolences to the family, friends, students and teaching colleagues of Mitchell.

“We know this is a difficult time for all those who knew Renée and the circumstances of her death make it even more difficult. Our Forestry Division is actively cooperating with investigators. Our immediate concern is the support of Renée’s family, students and colleagues. At the same time the Forestry Division has been mandated to ensure that the public can safely use the facilities at San Fernando Hill,” the MALF stated.

A woman who attended the fete spoke to the Express on the condition of anonymity.

She said she found the environment safe and there were no issues with the washroom facilities.

“The fete was on the ‘greens’, the grassy areas beneath the trees. There were rubber tiles for patrons to walk, and rope barricades near the edge of the cliff. There was proper lighting to get to the washroom facilities, and they were located far away from the edge of the cliff. I think there were at least 20 stalls and at no time did I see a long line to use them. My friends who with me went to the washroom a few times and they used it within minutes,” she said.

“The fete had maybe 1,000 people, and there was plenty of space to move around; it was not crowded. It was not the first time I had been to this party, and I did not feel unsafe at any time. My friends and I left at around 11 p.m. This morning when I found out about the incident I was shocked. I asked, ‘Where did that happen’, and I could not understand how this happened. I have been to many events on the hill and I have never observed anything unsafe about it. I would definitely return there for another event,” said the female patron.

San Fernando Mayor Robert Parris expressed his condolences to the family, friends and loved ones of Mitchell.

Parris said that Mitchell was a good friend and well-known to his burgesses in Pleasantville, which borders her neighbourhood in Corinth Hills.

He said the incident was of grave concern to him although the landmark does not fall under the ambit of the San Fernando City Corporation.

“She was a young person and to lose her in this manner, my heart just goes out to her family and loved ones. Before this tragedy, I had not heard of anyone who had fallen off the hill. But it is bothering me as the mayor of the City as during this Carnival season, there will be events at the top of the hill, and many foreign and local visitors. I do not yet know enough to make a pronouncement on this tragedy but several people from my district of Pleasantville know her and are in mourning,” said Parris.