’Is that you?’’ eMkomazi pub patron Mfundo Mpisane asks of Connie Hallowell on seeing an image of him on television with a spear through his head after a spearfishing accident. Duncan Guy
’Is that you?’’ eMkomazi pub patron Mfundo Mpisane asks of Connie Hallowell on seeing an image of him on television with a spear through his head after a spearfishing accident. Duncan Guy

Spearfisherman’s life after a miracle

By Duncan Guy Time of article published Apr 24, 2021

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Durban - “Is that you on TV?” a voice bellowed from the pub section of Umkomazi’s Blue Ocean Dive Resort as the image of a spearfisherman with a spear through his head came on to the screen.

Mfundo Mpisane grabbed his beer and rushed over to where Scottburgh pastor Connie Hallowell sat watching a film about his August 2019 ordeal, having come to the diver’s stamping ground because he did not have DStv access at home.

His speargun had gone of when he put it down for a minute while collecting fishermen’s sinkers on the sea floor, off Scottburgh, for dive buddy, Chris van Rensburg, to melt down to make a weight belt.

Katie Hallowell, left, shows where the spear from her father Connie’s speargun entered his head while her mother, Cathy, shows the point of exit, while celebrating his 50th birthday this week. Duncan Guy

Recovered and back in the water after what many regard as “nothing short of a miracle”, Hallowell, from City Hill Church, is quite used to being approached by people who know his story.

He recalled, after the accident, coming out of the surf with his speargun and being approached by a woman walking along the beach, warning him he was taking part in a dangerous sport.

“She asked if I had heard about the guy who was shot by his gun,” he said.

Connie Hallowell’s horror moment on a Scottburgh beach that later became a miracle. Picture: Supplied.

In the conversation that followed, the woman told Hallowell all about where on his face the spear entered and exited. He tried to correct her and, eventually the only way to do so was to take off his hoodie, point at the spots and ask: “can you see?”

“Was that you?” Hallowell laughed as he recalled her exclaiming “along with a string of vulgar words” to express her amazement.

There’s actually not that much to see on his face.

“Perhaps I should have a tattoo that reads ‒ this is where the spear entered,” he joked ahead of sitting down to watch the documentary with his wife Cathy and daughter Katie on Thursday night.

It also happened to be Hallowell’s 50th birthday.

The film ‒ an episode in the weekly Keerpunt series about South Africans surviving life-threatening incidents ‒ can be seen through the Catchup facility on the DStv Now App (Season 3; episode 4). It is in Afrikaans although many of the interviews are in English.

The documentary was thorough, with interviews with the many people involved. Among them, local caravan owner and former medic, JP Nel, who organised an angle grinder and extension cord to saw off the sides of the spear so Hallowell could fit into the helicopter that flew him to Netcare St Anne’s Hospital in Pietermaritzburg.

There was footage from the theatre of maxillofacial and oral surgeon Ciaran Lalor knocking one end of what remained of the spear with a mallet, causing it to shoot out of the wound.

The path the spear took avoided important organs, leaving Hallowell free of any eye, brain or jaw damage.

“I do feel twitches from facial nerves and they seem to be linked to my teeth,” he said.

Other than that he’s fine, back in the ocean he loves at every opportunity.

“I now dive with a lot of experienced fishermen who wanted to meet me. I hope it was not because I was a freak show!

“They push you to your limits but it’s in a safe environment. I am able to stay under (water) for longer and dive deeper. Before I was just collecting sinkers and crayfish. Now I am hunting game fish.”

Hallowell added that he had learnt to judge the water better.

“I make more mature decisions now. So, if the sea is too big, I don’t dive.”

He said he found watching the film “very emotional”.

Katie, his matriculant daughter, who along with her mother Cathy and sister Cayla, studying architecture at the University of the Free State, were interviewed for the film, said it was good to see everyone’s stories coming together.

Katie had just arrived in Johannesburg at a dancing competition when she heard what had happened to her father. Like her sister in Bloemfontein, social media gave her a hint of what had happened before she was formally told.

Their mother Cathy, who is a nurse, endured a lonely journey to Pietermaritzburg during which, by chance, she came across the ambulance that rescued her husband, parked on the road waiting for a helicopter.

He was still conscious.

“I said to the paramedic ‒ may I take a picture? I am telling you this is going to be a miracle,” she said.

Cathy said that just before the accident the couple had been doing missionary work in the Philippines. She said that on the plane home they had watched a Christian documentary about a little boy who was rescued after a near drowning incident and the parents asked people not to say anything to them unless it was positive.

“Driving to Pietermaritzburg, God said to me ‒ you’ve got to see the positive things. I played praise and worship music and the journey (alone) to Pietermaritzburg was very peaceful.”

The family are beyond doubt that divine intervention not only saved the day but also brought many people into their lives to help Hallowell do his job – to spread the gospel.

One friend sent him a message during the screening of the film in which he quipped: “What’s the programme called ‒ God Doesn’t Want Me?”

The Independent on Saturday

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