WATCH | Chapman's Peak survivor returns to bends in a self-driving Benz

30 May 2018 - 15:02
By Dave Chambers
In 1990, Christopher White plunged down the side of Chapman's Peak in his Mercedes-Benz S-Class - and survived.
Image: Mercedes-Benz South Africa via YouTube In 1990, Christopher White plunged down the side of Chapman's Peak in his Mercedes-Benz S-Class - and survived.

Thirty years ago‚ Christopher White survived what became known as South Africa’s most famous road accident when his car plunged off Chapman’s Peak Drive in Cape Town onto the rocks 100m below.

Now he has re-created his fateful journey behind the wheel of another Mercedes-Benz. And this time‚ he completed it safely without even touching the steering wheel.

“This is real. It’s scary‚” White says as an instructor in the passenger seat tells him to stop controlling the self-driving Mercedes-Benz.

“The car’s in control‚ and as we get closer to the corner‚ yes‚ I can feel my heart beating.”

Mercedes-Benz put White in its most technologically advanced vehicle as part of a 5min 39sec commercial commemorating his accident.

Two years after the 1988 accident‚ Mercedes featured it in a commercial making the point that there were two reasons the East London man survived: he was wearing his seatbelt and he was in a Mercedes-Benz.

The German car maker’s biggest rival‚ BMW‚ went on to make its own ad on Chapman’s Peak Drive pointing out that if he’d been driving one of its vehicles he wouldn’t have skidded off the road in the first place.

The new ad‚ posted on YouTube on Wednesday‚ features White reminiscing about his survival in the accident‚ which happened when the Selborne man was 39 and driving back to his holiday home in Scarborough from a friend’s house in Hout Bay.

Recalling that he was listening to the Tracy Chapman song “Fast Car” when the accident happened‚ White said: “I took my eye off the road for literally seconds‚ then I saw all these cassettes going through the roof because the sunroof was open.”

In newspaper reports at the time‚ he was quoted as saying: “I wasn’t paying proper attention to the road. I skidded and went over the edge.”

In the new video‚ White says: “I don’t know how long I was on the deck but I got out of the car‚ that’s the amazing thing. I cut the seatbelt and got out of the car.”

His business partner‚ Griff Hawkins‚ says: “Chris became a bit famous after that and people used to come up to us in the street and say‚ ‘Are you Mr Christopher White?’ ”

The filmmakers take White out on a boat to look at the scene of the accident‚ and he says: “It’s scary‚ it’s very scary to see it. To think they had to climb down all of that to save me. To relive this makes me quite emotional.”

Net#work BBDO said launching the S-Class range of Intelligent Drive vehicles demanded an advertising approach at least as groundbreaking as the cars themselves.

Said creative director Brad Reilly: “We knew that this was the only way to do justice to the concept‚ to the cars and to the brand.”

Selvin Govender‚ marketing director of Mercedes-Benz Cars South Africa‚ said: “Moving forward from 1990‚ from a time when autonomous vehicles couldn’t have been imagined‚ to today‚ when the Mercedes-Benz S-Class is a reality‚ we needed to do the unimaginable.

“For White‚ Chapman’s Peak was a place of horror. We asked him to revisit it‚ to drive it again‚ but this time to let our car drive him.

"His fear‚ his trepidation‚ his emotions‚ are evident to start with. It’s heart-wrenching. But then you see him relax. You see the wonder on his face. You see the future of driving.”