Police have finally recovered the body of missing Midmar Mile swimmer Herman “Thabo” van Straten.
It surfaced at about 4.20pm on Thursday following a six-day search for the 43-year-old Joburg business executive.
The body was recovered a significant distance from the shore about 800m from the start of the 1 600m race, police spokesman Captain Lolly Moodley said.
“About 15 minutes before the body surfaced, one of the rescue dogs began running up and down along the shore in the area in which we found it,” he said.
A team of two police divers aboard a rescue craft went to investigate. The recovery of the body took only a few minutes.
On Thursday, Van Straten’s fiancée, Shené Jones, 34, was too distraught to speak, but her sister, Lauren, said the search and rescue team had been “absolutely amazing”.
“And I say that on behalf of Shené, she was completely blown away,” she said.
“She told us she had never met a nicer group of guys.”
The family have not yet made funeral arrangements.
Jones visited the dam and placed flowers in the water several times this week. She described Van Straten, who proposed to her on board a plane at Christmas, as “a passionate man who loved life”
He was said to be extremely fit and had trained extensively for the event. He completed last year’s swim in 34 minutes.
Moodley said a body usually took between three and four days to surface in water incidents.
“It all depends on factors such as water temperature,” he said.
A post mortem examination would be carried out.
Van Straten disappeared while swimming in the business relay event on Saturday.
Jones raised the alarm after he failed to appear at the finish line.
The police search and rescue team spent the past week combing the dam. Police divers and rescue dogs worked as temperatures soared to above 30ºC. They spent hours diving up to 20m to search the dam floor. They also constantly patrolled the dam’s surface and scuba-dived along its perimeter.
On Wednesday, an Ezemvelo KwaZulu Natal Wildlife aircraft joined the search.
Earlier this week, organisers of the event, billed as the world’s largest competitive open water swim, came under fire from Van Straten’s family and the family of 45-year-old Gauteng swimmer Nick Mellet, who died while competing in the same event three years ago.
After Mellet’s death, the number of lifeguards and police divers at the event was increased but the organisers are expected to discuss more ways to improve the safety of swimmers at future events at a debriefing session later this month.