A young woman was pulled from the middle of Howick Falls in a dramatic rescue on Monday afternoon that left even emergency workers feeling shaken several hours later.
It is not clear whether 27-year-old Zama Vilakazi, from KwaShifu near Mpophomeni, had attempted to jump off the edge of the 95m-high waterfall, or had slipped.
However, Howick police said afterwards that Vilakazi had been “standing on the falls and attempted to throw herself over. It was a suicide intention”.
Watch commander Ronnie Ndlovu from the Howick Fire Department described on Monday night how he raced to the scene, not sure of what he would find but then saw the young woman hanging on a ledge at the “tip” of the top of the falls.
Ndlovu said that with no time to hesitate he secured a rope around himself and made his way through the water to Vilakazi and then secured the rope under her arms.
“I was above her and could only see her hair… She must have been there for 30 minutes or more.”
The rest of the rescue team helped to pull the pair up to safety and Ndlovu then proceeded to try to get her warm clothes, grabbing a jacket from a colleague.
According to Ndlovu, a dazed Vilakazi neither cried nor spoke, but later confessed to getting into an argument with a relative before the incident.
“What it was about I’m not sure,” he said.
“I don’t know how she survived… (In the past) we (the fire department) used to go there just to pick up the body,” the shocked hero said.
Netcare 911 spokesman Chris Botha confirmed that the rescue had happened just before 1pm and said indications were that Vilakazi had slipped and fallen from the top of the falls but had managed to grab on to a ledge where she hung on until rescued.
Botha said Vilakazi was not in a critical condition when paramedics reached her but had suffered a few bruises and scratches.
Botha suspected there may have been injuries to her spinal cord area. The woman was taken to Northdale Hospital but the hospital would not divulge details of her condition.
A source at the hospital said that a “shivering” Vilakazi was admitted to the casualty unit, that she was refusing interviews and photographs, and seemed “afraid”.
According to other sources, a “traumatised” Vilakazi had intended to commit suicide but backed out at the last minute.
Howick Falls is a major tourist attraction but 40 deaths have been recorded there since 1851, most of them suicides, but also including accidents and murders.
In 2003 a 21-year-old Chatsworth man plunged to his death while picnicking with friends.
In 2002 and 2004 two brothers, aged 21 and 18 respectively, jumped to their deaths.
The rocky area just behind the falls is easily accessible and squatters who live nearby regularly wash their clothes in the stream near the edge of the drop.