Car parts found in search for mom, kids missing in Herolds Bay
The search for a missing mother and her two children came to a halt in Herolds Bay near George on Wednesday afternoon after parts of a car — believed to be theirs — were found at the bottom of a cliff.
It was initially feared that they had been abducted, with police in the Eastern and Western Cape placed on alert.
The discovery of the car parts was made near the dangerous fishing and picnic spot Voëlklip, on the outskirts of the town.
The search was launched after Heidi Scheepers, 35, took her daughter, 6, and son, 2, to Herolds Bay for a walk on the beach at about 6pm on Tuesday.
Her husband, Ettienne, 36, had gone with them to the beach but left on foot to check on some of his businesses.
The couple own the Herolds Bay Cafe and run the Garden Route Property Management group that manages several holiday homes in the area.
After Heidi and the children failed to return home, social media posts asking for help in finding them went viral.
Police, rescue workers and residents joined the search, covering a large area of the town and surrounding suburbs, all the way up to George.
A rescue helicopter was deployed on Wednesday and the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) arrived to help after someone spotted parts of what appear to be a VW Caravelle door — the same colour as the missing vehicle — at the bottom of a steep cliff.
According to Ettienne, the vehicle his wife and children had been in when they disappeared was a charcoal Caravelle.
The search shifted in the afternoon to the rocky cliff near a gravel road in Voëlklip — a remote stretch on the outskirts of the town.
Southern Cape police spokesperson Captain Malcolm Pojie said police divers withdrew from the sea shortly after going in because the weather conditions were too rough to continue the search safely.
“[The] NSRI launched a boat to have a look while the helicopter hovered above,” Pojie said.
“At this stage, the only thing we can say is that parts of a vehicle [that appear to be] the same colour as the missing Caravelle were found at the bottom of the cliff.
“Due to the weather conditions, we were unable to retrieve the car parts at this stage.”
The cliff is about 100m high and rescuers abseiled down the cliff face but were unable to recover any of the vehicle parts.
“At this stage, we need to decide how to proceed.
“The weather is hampering the situation but our teams are trying their best to get answers,” Pojie said as the search for Scheepers and her children continued at the site.
An official, who is not being named because he is not authorised to speak to the media, said: “We cannot see the vehicle. What we can see are parts of what appear to be the same colour Caravelle, including the side door.
“The vehicle could be in the water, but at this stage it is all speculation.”
In an interview just hours before the car parts were spotted, Ettienne said he had cancelled his trip to Mozambique so he could continue searching for his wife and children.
“I was meant to leave today [Wednesday] for Mozambique to see the rest of the family, and my wife, Heidi, and two children, were staying behind.
“We all drove down from the house [in a nearby Golf Estate] for a walk on the beach before I had to leave in the morning.
“We had our walk and I then walked to one of the nearby properties we manage to check that it was all locked up.
“They [wife and children] were going straight home from there.
“I then went back to the shop [cafe] and got my car before driving home,” he said.
“I must have arrived home at around 7pm and they were not home.
“We live so close to the beach that it takes only minutes to get home.
“I got very worried and immediately started phoning all her friends and family, but no-one had seen her.
“I then went riding around all the streets searching for them and went to the police at about 9pm.”
An overwrought Ettienne said he had searched the entire area for the Caravelle Heidi was driving.
“Because it was a quick trip to the beach, we left the cellphones and everything at home. She literally has nothing with her,” he said earlier.
“My one child is a special-needs child, which is making me even more worried.”
Efforts to reach him later for comment after the car parts were found were unsuccessful.
Police said they would resume the search in the morning.
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