A Richmond woman survived for three days in the KwaZulu-Natal heat without food or water when she got lost walking in a plantation behind her home on New Year’s Eve.
Stephanie Leeston-Smith, 63, lives on her own at her Byrne Valley home in Richmond after her husband died three years ago. The rest of her family reside overseas.
However, Byrne Valley is a close-knit community and her disappearance was quickly picked up.
Lilian van Rooyen, a friend of Leeston-Smith’s for the past 25 years, said a security guard from the Byrne Security Association who stays in the valley realised she was missing at about 6am January 1.
“Stephanie gives the night security guard tea at about 10pm, but on New Year’s Eve he didn’t see her.
“The following morning he realised she was missing.”
Van Rooyen said the valley was very safe and Leeston-Smith would often take walks in the plantation by herself.
A search was initiated, with teams checking the surrounding areas with sniffer dogs and volunteers.
However, Leeston-Smith was not found.
On Friday morning, security members from the Byrne Security Association found Leeston-Smith in a ravine in the plantation.
“She had gone for a walk and got lost. It was extremely hot and she had no food or water. We had found her jersey and a handkerchief belonging to her. She had also managed to write ‘Stephanie was here’ in the sand, but she wasn’t responding when we called her by name.
“Unfortunately, she didn’t have a cellphone with her,” said Van Rooyen.
Goodman Madonda, a local councillor and supervisor of Byrne Security Association, had gone out early on Friday morning and covered all the ravines, Van Rooyen said. “Most of them are very overgrown, but they eventually found her.”
Madonda said he searched surrounding farms and asked some of the farm workers to assist with the search on Friday.
“We searched five streams before we found her sitting in some shade. There was so much heat. I called to her and she saw me. She was awake. I then went to get help,” said Madonda.
Werner Vermaak, a spokesman for ER24, said paramedics managed to stabilise Leeston-Smith after SAPS Search and Rescue got her out the ravine.
“She was severely dehydrated and malnourished. She also suffered multiple cuts and abrasions, believed to have come from her falling down into the ravine.”
Leeston-Smith is recovering at Mediclinic Pietermaritzburg.