A 12-year-old girl clung to a tree branch for more than an hour after the car she was in was washed off a low-lying bridge into a dam.
And when help arrived, she tried to fight off the security guard so she could climb back into the swollen dam at Blue Valley Golf Estate in Midrand to search for her father and grandmother, who were still in the car.
Just before midnight on Monday, the family tried to make their way over the bridge in their red Honda Ballade, after visiting relatives.
A storm was raging and the bridge was covered in water, which washed the car into the dam.
The father, a 40-year-old businessman from Meadowlands, Soweto, was driving. His 71-year-old mother was in the passenger seat. In the back sat Tshegofatso Dithung.
Her mother, Fundi Ndaba, said: “The doors of the car were locked. It had central locking and she couldn’t get out. The car was still floating then, and her dad told her to stay inside, that it was safer.”
But Tshegofatso realised the car was filling with water, so she opened the window and climbed out. Tshegofatso held on to the top of the car until she found a log to hold on to.
“She used backstroke to get to the edge of the dam,” said Ndaba. “There she clung on to the branch of a tree calling for help.”
Fidelity security guard Kabelo Masakgona, who was on his way to the bridge to block it because of the high rainfall, heard Tshegofatso’s screams.
His operations manager, Wayne van Wyk, said Masakgona called emergency services, and he entered the water to rescue her.
“He was able to reach out and grab the young girl by her clothing and drag her against the strongly flowing water to the embankment,” Van Wyk said.
“She screamed that he should let her go so that she could go into the water to try get them (her father and grandmother) out.”
Masakgona took the girl to his patrol car.
A resident of the estate said that within 10 minutes, police had arrived and started the search for the car.
The child’s uncle, who did not want to be identified, said he had driven over the same bridge a few minutes before.
“There was water, but it was drivable. I got lost in the estate and I went over that bridge,” he said.
“It rained and rained and it carried on raining for two hours.”
He said paramedics took a boat onto the dam and searched for the car for more than two hours, but the rain began to make the search unsafe and it was handed over to the Tshwane police diving team.
They took up the search at 6am yesterday but were delayed because of a lack of diving equipment.
The Johannesburg unit arrived to assist, and the search began in earnest.
Tshwane water dive unit member Frans Spong said the diving team found the car at about 10am. It was 3.5m below the surface.
Spong said they hauled the car up and found the bodies of the father and grandmother inside.