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Cape Town - A paramedic whose vehicle landed in a river in flood made a last radio call to say that she was trapped in the murky water and needed help.
Hopes of finding 30-year-old Miriam Cekiso, a paramedic from Montagu, faded on Tuesday night as a search and rescue operation was scaled down at sunset. It is feared she drowned after her vehicle was washed away on a low bridge across the swollen Cogmanskloof River.
The search for the paramedic and her vehicle began early on Tuesday when she radioed a control room in the Robertson Hospital to tell them that she was caught in the river.
The accident happened in the midst of heavy storms that hit Cape Town, the Boland and other parts of the country. Heavy snow fell in KwaZulu-Natal, closing several passes, and blanketing Johannesburg. The R62 between Ashton to Montagu was closed, the R318 between Montagu and the N1 was briefly closed as was the Swartberg Pass in the direction of Oudtshoorn.
On Tuesday morning rescuers on the scene speculated that Cekiso – who was on her way at about 5.30am to pick up fellow workers – had driven down a steep descent on the R62 that led to a swollen river, and lost control going down the slope, with the vehicle landing in the river.
Keri Davids, spokesperson for the Emergency Medical Services, described Cekiso as a “basic life-support practitioner” who worked in vehicles used for transporting non-emergency cases between hospitals. The woman had been driving from Montagu, where she lives, to Ashton.
“She radioed us this morning to say the ambulance had left the road and was in the river. I can’t say if it was at the bridge, but she was in Cogmanskloof. We understood she was in the water when she radioed. She said her vehicle was in the river and she needed help. She was calling from the radio built into the vehicle, so she was inside the vehicle and it was in the river,” Davids said.
The rescue operation started soon after and 30 rescuers combed the river banks, and climbed up a hill next to the river to survey the river banks in search of her body. Heavy rain poured down. A rescue helicopter from Oudtshoorn circled above.
The river roared as waves of water plunged in and over the bridge. Only bakkies were allowed to cross the bridge where the water was 30cm high.
One of the women that Cekiso was supposed to have picked up, Lindelwa Ntsonti, said that she had been worried when Cekiso was late. Later she heard the news of Cekiso’s accident on the radio.
“I was so shocked when I heard. It is even more sad because she was supposed to pick me up this morning,” Ntsonti said.
Cekiso, a mother of two, was in her late thirties and had worked for the Robertson Hospital for seven months. She is from the Eastern Cape.
Rescuers were waiting for the river to subside at another bridge 700m from where Cekiso probably landed in the river as they suspected that her vehicle was trapped under the bridge.