Search called off after eight children drown

Rescue workers called off their search for a schoolboy feared drowned in the sea off Richards Bay late on Sunday afternoon, hours after finding the bodies of seven of his classmates.

It is very difficult to find a body in the sea, particularly with strong tides, said Umfolozi police spokesperson Captain Tienkie van Vuuren.

Police will now wait until the body of Zwelakhe Zhongwe surfaces before sending in divers to retrieve it, she said.

Van Vuuren said the seven girls who died were Nomcebo Dlamini, Busisiwe Msibi, Busisiwe Ndaba, Bridget Gumede, Maggie Mawelela, Nokuthula Tshabalala and Thobile Ndlangamandla. All were between 16 and 17 years old and in grades 10, 11 and 12.

They were among a group of about 250 children from Ndlela Secondary School in Piet Retief, Mpumalanga, who attended a sports day at Mondini High School, in Ntambanana, on Saturday, she said.

On their way back home, they stopped off at Alkant Strand, in Richards Bay, for the night, sleeping there in three buses.

Van Vuuren said a large group of the children went to the beach for a swim at about 7am on Sunday—before lifeguards had arrived for duty.

The tide was going out, causing dangerous rip currents, said Umhlathuzi Fire and Rescue deputy director Rassie Erasmus.

The first lifeguard on the scene tried to warn the swimmers, but it was clear that some of them were already in trouble, said Erasmus, who commanded the search from the shore.

The alarm raised, the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) launched its 7m Spirit of Round Table rigid inflatable boat to help alongside the police water wing and a the National Ports Authority (NPA) helicopter.

Also at hand were Netcare 911 and the Mounties Ambulance Service, said the NSRI’s Richards Bay station commander, Harvey Moir.

“Five females ... were recovered by lifeguards and emergency services from the shore ... and two females ... were recovered by the NSRI rescue craft. All seven females were declared dead on the scene,” he said.

Lifeguards rescued about another 20 pupils, said Van Vuuren. They were all in “satisfactory condition” and did not require further assistance, said Moir.

“Information obtained from teachers in charge of the students at first confirmed that all of the pupils had been accounted for; however, it was later established that an eighth pupil is still missing,” Moir added.

The NSRI’s 12m deep-sea rescue craft Spirit of Richards Bay, the NPA helicopter and the police water wing searched all afternoon for the schoolboy at sea, while lifeguards and the fire and rescue services looked for him from the shore.

Police divers will resume shore and sea patrols for his body on Monday morning, said Van Vuuren.

“It is very sad that a healthy activity resulted in such tragedy,” KwaZulu-Natal education minister Ina Cronje commented afterwards, extending her condolences to the scholars’ families and teachers.

“Any activity outside school borders requires the written permission of parents,” she pointed out.—Sapa

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