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Body of Ironman discovered under water with tyre tied to ankles

Triathlete body found after new CCTV footage was supplied

The mystery of the missing Ironman triathlete took a tragic turn yesterday when his body was found in the Port Elizabeth harbour, weighted down with a tyre attached to a rope tied around his ankles.

The discovery of Gabonese sportsman David Bellet-Brissaud’s body was made after new CCTV footage was supplied by Transnet.

The footage, in which Bellet-Brissaud was identified by the Adidas marking on the arm of his top, also showed him on the opposite side of the harbour to where it was initially thought he had been.

The news has devastated his family. His brother, Gael, left the harbour in tears, accompanied by a police official, after formally identifying the body yesterday afternoon.

An emotional and upset Gael asked last night for privacy for his family.

“Please, I want to beg for some time for our family now. It is a devastating time for us. We had a shock.”

The new footage showed that the police had been searching on the wrong side of the harbour after a man seen jumping between boats on CCTV footage was mistakenly identified as 48-year-old Bellet-Brissaud.

Police spokeswoman Colonel Priscilla Naidu said the investigating officers viewed the new footage yesterday afternoon and positively identified Bellet-Brissaud by the Adidas top he was wearing.

She said he was seen on the recording entering the harbour and then walking down the dock, where he disappeared from view. A strong light partially obscured the view.

“We called in the diving unit and the search-and-rescue dogs,” Naidu said.

“We put the dogs on the rubber duck and one of them, Misty, immediately indicated that there was a body in the water.”

Police divers recovered Bellet-Brissaud’s body 20 minutes later.

A thin green rope was tied around his ankles and attached to a tyre.

Naidu said no foul play was suspected in Bellet-Brissaud’s death and an inquest docket had been opened.

She said while the CCTV footage showed Bellet-Brissaud on the dock, a bright spotlight blinded the view at the end of it and it could not be seen where the tyre and rope came from.

It was also not possible to see what happened after he was seen walking on the dock. A postmortem will be held to determine the exact cause of death.

Just before 6pm yesterday, the two investigating officers – Eric Mathews and Ridwaan Baatjies, who had been searching for Bellet-Brissaud – helped load the stretcher with his body into the mortuary van.

Naidu said police were in touch with Bellet-Brissaud’s family and the postmortem would be done as soon as possible so that they could take his body home.

“David is a great sailor,” his sister, Vanessa Perret, said earlier in the day, before his body was found.

“He started sailing when he was 12 and owns a boat. He has been practising underwater hunting for years. He swims 4km every day for a workout.”

Known as “Dr Fish” on social media, Bellet-Brissaud was knowledgeable and passionate about the ocean.

On Wednesday night, his family – who were convinced that he had been kidnapped – upped their reward to R150 000 for “positive proof of life”.

“I think he might have seen something that was wrong on one of the boats and maybe he was kidnapped because of that,” Perret had said earlier.

Bellet-Brissaud lived in Libreville, Gabon, where he was responsible for logistics at the SEEF logging company.

His wife, Lydie, accompanied him to South Africa for the Ironman Africa Championships, that took place on Sunday.

She said earlier in the week that they had arrived in Port Elizabeth at about 3pm on Thursday last week.

They went out for supper with friends later and, at about 9.30pm, Bellet-Brissaud went to bed.

She stayed at the hotel bar to have another drink with friends.

When she returned to the room at 11pm, he was in the bed.

However, when she woke up at 1.20am on Friday, he was gone.

He had left his wallet and cellphone behind.

She first thought he had taken a walk to get some fresh air but, after a while, she woke up their friends and they searched for him around the hotel without success.

Lydie was not available for comment last night.

Perret said they grew up in Libreville where they had been living since 1981.

“David didn’t drink or smoke. Sport was everything to him. He was a very disciplined man,” she said.

He has two children, Anthony, 18, and Stacey, 20. Both live in Paris.