Durban - What should have been a celebratory Christmas function turned into a tragedy on Wednesday when a 15-year-old Phoenix boy drowned while trying to save his older friend at the La Mercy Lagoon, on the KwaZulu-Natal North Coast.
Ritesh Sewlal was with his mother, stepsister and a group from a Phoenix catering company where they all worked, for their year-end function when one of his friends got into trouble in the lagoon.
Talking to the Daily News from the scene where Ritesh’s body had just been recovered, Keelen Naidoo, 26, recalled how he started struggling about 5m into the water. The rest of the party were on the bank overlooking the water.
“We arrived at the lagoon at about 11am and I went in just after that. I can’t swim and I was battling so Ritesh came in to pull me out.
“He said I must go, that he was behind me.”
Although Ritesh could swim, he too started struggling to get back to the water’s edge.
Another friend, Jeremy Maharaj, 17, noticed the two having some difficulty and went in to help them.
“Ritesh went under the water. I tried to look for him for a few minutes and then the lifeguards came to help,” said Jeremy.
Lifeguard Adam Shunga was patrolling the area when he heard a woman scream.
His quick reaction saved the lives of Naidoo and Jeremy, but it was too late for Ritesh.
“I ran to the scene and saw two guys panicking in the water. I swam to them and pulled the guys out, but the third had gone under,” Shunga said.
“I lifted my head and saw people trying to get in to help so I told them to get out and I called my seniors.”
Shunga said there was a deep drop about 4m into the lagoon, making it a dangerous swimming area.
Search and rescue crews arrived and started the search operation at about 12.45pm.
After a search of the area, they retrieved Ritesh’s body about 20 minutes later.
One of the rescuers said the bottom of the lagoon had barbed wire and rubble that could trap swimmers.
Ritesh’s stepsister, Shanice Pillay, said the teen was a Rustic Manor Primary School pupil and worked as a waiter at the catering company in his spare time.
“He was outspoken, overprotective and loving of his friends and family and so hard-working,” Pillay said.
“He was looking forward to starting high school next year.”
Pillay said Ritesh was the only son of four children.
“The fact that he went into the water to save a friend speaks so much about his character,” she said.
Police have confirmed that the incident is being investigated.