DEADLY FALL – Schoolteacher falls 100 feet at San Fernando Hill fete

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Renee Mitchell. –

SCHOOLTEACHER Renee Mitchell fell over 100 feet to her death at San Fernando Hill on Saturday night, where she had gone to the Carnival IlluSions fete with her boyfriend, Peter Ribero.

Acting Chief Fire Officer Andy Hutchinson told Newsday on Sunday, “The initial fall would have been between 80-100 feet and then she would have rolled down a further 25 to 30 feet. She had a very bad fall.”

San Fernando mayor Robert Parris appealed to people to be careful as he sent condolences to Mitchell’s family and friends.

The San Fernando Hill falls under the remit of the Forestry Division of the Ministry of Agriculture, Land and Fisheries.

On Sunday, the ministry said it had initiated an investigation into the circumstances surrounding the death and ensuring the public’s safety in using the venue.

Agriculture Minister Kazim Hosein said he knows this is a difficult time for all those who knew Mitchell. He also acknowledged that 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.

Mitchell, 39, of Corinth Village, was a Teacher I at the Brighton AC Primary School and a special education specialist.

Condolences have been pouring in on her Facebook page from students, friends and relatives.

“We will always love you and forever miss you… R.I.P Renee Mitchell thank you for your grace, supportive nature and community work,” one post read.

According to reports, Mitchell and Ribero walked away from the central area of the fete, which was lined with tents and portable toilets, and went to a hedge at the edge of the cliff to urinate. She reportedly lost her balance and fell over around 11.55 pm.

The cliff is lined with multiple signs indicating “Danger. Unstable cliff. Keep off.”

Ribero raised an alarm and police and fire officers responded.

The fire services search and rescue team immediately began a rescue operation at the foot of the hill to the back of the Olera Heights apartment complex and then to the top of the hill, where they retrieved her at around 6.45 am.

A fire officer points to the exact location on the San Fernando Hill where school teacher Renee Mitchell fell some 100 feet on Saturday. – Photo by Angelo Marcelle

Hutchinson said she was still alive but unresponsive when she was brought to the top of the hill.

She was taken to the San Fernando General Hospital (SFGH), where she had emergency treatment, but was pronounced dead by Dr Sokbir around 7.20 am on Sunday.

The doctor said the death was possibly caused by polytrauma, which is consistent with a fall, which also includes head, neck and internal trauma and internal haemorrhaging.

A post-mortem is expected to take place at the mortuary of the SFGH on Monday.

Family members who were at the mortuary on Sunday confirmed her death. A woman said she was her younger sister and Mitchell was a teacher, but refused to give more details.

An 80-year-old Olera Heights tenant said she woke around 5 am to” some commotion” at the foot of the hill.

“I heard voices saying, ‘She over here,’ ‘She over here.’ I get up to go to church, so I did not pay much attention to what was going on. As an old lady, I mind my own business and now I am hearing that a woman fell and she died.”

Six-hour rescue

Hutchinson said the reason it took six hours to rescue Mitchell was because officers first had to survey the scene to determine the best method and angle from which to approach the area to get to her.

The area where Mitchell fell was quite dark, but Hutchinson said officers are accustomed to  training in that area and are familiar with the terrain.

He said the fire search and rescue team, under the control of FSSO Solomon and division CFO Rampersad and himself, used a hauling and rappelling system.

“They would have put a hauling system in place to attach the basket and back and spinal board, secure the casualty to the spinal board, then secure her in the basket to the line, using the hauling system, to bring the casualty up to anchor point, which would have been at the top of the facility.”

Hutchinson said the team would now prepare a report based on the information gathered from the scene. This report would go to him and the permanent secretary of the Ministry of National Security.

Parris said he was very saddened by the tragic incident and expressed condolences to the Mitchell family.

He said he was still trying to wrap his head around how such an incident could have happened on the hill, causing a young mother to fall to her death.

“I have never heard of any such incident happening on San Fernando Hill, which has become a mecca for Carnival events.

“I hope this incident does not dampen the Carnival spirit and deter promoters or patrons from attending events at this venue. People just have to be careful.”

San Fernando East MP and Minister in the Ministry of Finance Brian Manning will be reviving the Manning Fete, made famous by his late father, on San Fernando Hill.

Asked if this incident would cause him to relocate the fete, carded for February 5, Manning said no.

“The fete will not be relocated. We will take every measure possible, including increased security, to make sure that a tragedy like this doesn’t happen again.

“We will conduct an HSE review with the relevant authorities,” he said.

Newsday was unable to reach IlluSions director Damian “Fram” Baboolal for a comment.