The loved ones of missing Midmar Mile swimmer, Herman “Thabo” van Straten, are struggling to come to terms with his disappearance during the race at the weekend.
“It doesn’t feel real,” his fiancée, Shené Jones, told The Mercury on Monday. “I’m trying to make myself believe that he’s in a hospital somewhere.”
She was speaking from a Howick hotel where she is staying while the search is under way.
Van Straten’s family was in Bloemfontein.
They were having a hard time, she said.
“They’re a very close family, but a believing family who has faith.”
Van Straten, a 43-year-old Joburg business executive, was missing, presumed dead, after he did not finish the company relay event at the Midmar Mile, near Howick, on Saturday.
Search-and-rescue efforts at the dam continued on Monday but, by late afternoon, Van Straten had still not been found.
He and Jones, 34, had known each other for seven years and became engaged on a flight to Mauritius at Christmas.
Jones spent much of Sunday sitting at the entrance of the hotel, hoping Van Straten would pull up to the driveway, she said.
“Today hit me hard. We’re the kind of people who speak every hour.”
She said he was “extremely fit”.
“He swims three times a week at gym and then does other exercise three times a week too,” she said.
He loved motorbikes and was a qualified scuba master.
“He’s passionate, very energetic and loves life.”
He was always willing to go the extra mile for people and had a positive outlook on life, she said.
Jones visited the dam on Monday saying she didn’t want to go at first. “But then I felt I needed to be there.”
She commended her fiancé’s work colleagues, who were staying in Howick with her and who accompanied her to the dam.
“They’ve been amazing,” she said.
Jones criticised the event organisers though and said she was frustrated that they had gone ahead with the next event after Van Straten went missing and that she was not assisted properly.
But Jack Haskins, of the police search-and-rescue unit, said race organisers had placed restrictions on the race which followed and no-one below 13 was allowed to compete.
He was aware Jones claimed she was “pushed around from pillar to post” when trying to report that her fiancé was missing and that a complaint would be lodged with event organisers.
Race director Wayne Ridden offered his condolences to the Van Straten family.