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Durban - A gut feeling that something would go wrong during a fishing trip turned out to be true for a Molweni man, who watched in disbelief as the bodies of two relatives and their friend were pulled from the river below Inanda Dam wall at the weekend.
Two of the three had tried to rescue their friend, but ended up being trapped in the same “washing machine” current at the base of a weir below the dam. This would have made it almost impossible to surface, according to Nic Holmes, a rescue expert called to the scene.
Isaac Ngubane, 57, told the Daily News on Sunday he had warned his nephew, Sibonelo Madlala, and Madlala’s brother-in-law, Howard Mkhize, both 32, to be careful because they had never gone fishing before.
“I didn’t have a good feeling about this, but there was nothing I could do about it,” he said of their outing with friend Sanele Sithole, 28, on Saturday.
“I received a call at 11.45 from one of their friends telling me to come to the river because something tragic had happened.”
Ngubane said he was haunted by the sight of the men being pulled out.
“It’s a recurring vision that has not allowed me to sleep. People are being very supportive and their visits are confirmation this is not a nightmare,” he said.
He said paramedics and lifesavers had told him that his nephew had wanted to swim before they left, but had got into difficulties.
When Mkhize saw Madlala struggling, he went to his aid but also got caught in the current caused by the weir.
Sithole then jumped in to save his two friends, but all three drowned.
Holmes, a volunteer with technical rescue organisation, Rescuetech, said he had received a call from a bystander at the scene who told him three men were drowning.
“Two of them were fishing and the other was swimming. He was at the base of the weir when he got caught in the eddy current. This is a reverse rip current that drags you into the water,” he said.
Holmes said once at the base of the weir, it was almost impossible to get out as the water rushing overhead trapped a swimmer in a “washing machine” effect.
“To get out, you need to curl into a ball and drop to the bottom of the water. Then you can catch a current out.”
Holmes said the site was notorious for accidents and near drownings involving Dusi canoeists. It is known to them as the Top’s Needle Weir.
Emergency crews from ER24, metro police and the SAPS search and rescue unit helped recover the bodies on Saturday.
“The men were all declared dead at the scene. They were below the dam (on the river) where the water goes off a weir and creates a suction,” said a rescuer who asked not to named because he was not authorised to speak to the media.
“The water gets quite deep and they couldn’t get out.”
Police spokesman, Colonel Jay Naicker, said Inanda police were investigating.
Ngubane said the families of the three men were battling to come to terms with the deaths.
He said Madlala was supposed to have gone to Pietermaritzburg on Saturday but was persuaded by his brother-in-law to join him on the fishing trip.
“Sibonelo and Howard were kind beyond (what) words could describe.
“Howard was quiet and a great person, while Sibonelo was very helpful around the house,” he said.
“I think the family will need some form of counselling because we are still in shock and overwhelmed.”