Durban - A retired policeman is fighting for his life in hospital after he was shot three times while fishing at Winklespruit Beach on the south side of eThekwini on Sunday.

Hendrik May, 46, was shot in the chest, shoulder and stomach after he refused to hand over the keys to his car to two men who held him at gunpoint.

The drama began at about 5.30am moments after May arrived at the beach for a morning of fishing.

According to a witness who feared being named, two men, one of whom was armed, walked up to the rocks where May was fishing and pointed the gun at him.

“The next thing I know there was this commotion and I saw Hendrik push the one man into the water. Then the gun went off – bah, bah, bah – and Hendrik fell. That is when I knew it was a real gun. There was no way I was going to be a hero and run there, so I ran away to get help,” he said.

The witness said he ran to a nearby tuck shop and asked the shopkeeper to call the police.

“When I saw that the men had left, I ran back to the beach and went to where Hendrik was and told him to keep calm as the paramedics were on the way,” he said.

According to the man, a vagrant saw the two men getting into a car and speeding away.

Marisa Peyper, May’s girlfriend, said that soon after the shooting May had called her.

“It was after 5.30am. I was still in bed when he called. As soon as I picked up, he said ‘I’ve been shot, I’ve been shot’,” she said. “I could not believe it. I wanted more information and before he could answer, I heard him shouting ‘help me, help me’ to someone at the beach.”

Peyper said that because May had taken the car she had to wake up a neighbour and ask him to take her to the beach.

“By the time I got there, the paramedics were trying to stabilise him. He was still talking fine and he told me that God was not going to take him just yet,” she said. “While they were stabilising him, a paramedic called Albert Luthuli (hospital) and asked them to be on standby, because they were bringing in a man who had been shot and was critical.”

May was a former Pretoria policeman who was boarded five years ago because of a heart condition, Peyper said.

He moved to the South Coast around the same time he was boarded and, according to Peyper, took up fishing for relaxation.

“He usually fishes near home at Umkomaas, but exactly one year ago to the day he caught a seven-and-a-half kilogram shad at Winklespruit. It was the biggest shad ever caught there and he told me the night before that he wanted to go back to Winklespruit to see if he would have the same luck,” she said. “I wish he had never gone.”

Netcare 911 paramedic, Chris Botha, said May was in critical condition by the time paramedics arrived.

Yesterday, surgeons spent more than six hours in the operating theatre removing the bullets from May’s body.

According to Peyper one bullet was lodged just below his heart and another went through his shoulder.

“The doctor told me that bullets punctured his lungs and liver and that is why they took so long in theatre. He is in a critical condition and will be going back to surgery this morning,” Peyper said.

Police spokesman, Colonel Jay Naicker, said eManzimtoti police were investigating the shooting. No arrests have been made.