River rescue tragedy

Hendrick Mphande

IN a dramatic rescue in the early hours of yesterday morning, five young men risked their lives when they dived into a flooding Baakens River in Nelson Mandela Bay to save two of three people in a bakkie which had careered into the icy waters.

While the men rescued a woman who was floating down the river and pulled a young man out of the back window of a half-submerged Colt 4×4 to safety, they could not save the driver, a man in his late 20s, who is believed to have drowned.

The rescued couple were in their early 20s, the men said, and were taken to St George’s Hospital for treatment before being sent home.

Police said last night they had yet to identify the driver and had opened a case of culpable homicide. Four of the rescuers, aged between 17 and 25 years and hailing from the Bay, Grahamstown and Addo, had been in the city to watch the Springboks play England at the Nelson Mandela Bay Stadium.

The fifth rescuer was a motorist known only as Steve.

The group had been en route to their accommodation in Summerstrand shortly after midnight when they spotted the partially submerged bakkie which had skidded off Valley Road near the old tramways building and into the river which was in flood following heavy rain earlier that night.

Jacques Strydom, 25, of Grahamstown and who works in Johannesburg, said he and his brother, Richard, 22, and two friends – Wynand Bezuidenhout, 25, and Nicholas Fleischer 17 – had been driving home when they came across a tour bus parked near the submerged bakkie.

“While we stood there to determine the situation, suddenly we saw the woman floating down the river. At that stage there were no paramedics on the scene,” Jacques said.

Bezuidenhout said: “I quickly ran down the road and jumped into the river ahead of the woman.

“I caught her in the middle of the river and dragged her out. She was out of breath and in a state of shock.”

She told them there were two more people trapped in the vehicle – one of them her boyfriend.

It was at this stage that another motorist, who introduced himself only as Steve, arrived to assist the four friends.

The five men waded into the floodwaters and tried to force open the bakkie’s doors, but without success.

Jacques said one of them stuck a hand through the bakkie’s rear window and felt there was someone trapped inside. The person responded by grabbing his hand.

They then forced the bakkie right- side up.

“We kept talking to the guy inside, but he insisted that he was fine. We then succeeded to open the door,” Jacques said.

He said the young couple kept “asking for each other and were very happy to see each other after their ordeal”.

“We then pulled out the driver. He was unconscious.

“Richard [who is studying medicine at Stellenbosch] managed to perform CPR but it was too late at that stage,” Jacques said. Police and paramedics then took over at the scene.

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