Exploding geyser kills kind helper

Published Mar 11, 2006


By Claire Reddie

One person was killed and a family home was left in a state of devastation when a household geyser exploded, rocking the normally quiet neighbourhood of Herlear in Kimberley.

Jan Hendrik Swanepoel was helping his landlady last Friday afternoon by trying to fix the problematic geyser, when it exploded with such force that his body was sent rocketing through rafters and roof tiles before landing on the afdak above a carport.

Despite efforts by emergency workers to rescue and stabilise him, Swanepoel, who was 52, died later in hospital.

"This is a very quiet suburb with a strong community spirit," said Herlear resident Richard Sabatini, adding that the community were still reeling in shock more than a week after the accident.

"There is a buzz since the tragic accident and everyone here is talking about geysers and explosions. People are questioning how and why a geyser would cause such an explosion and how it could have left such devastation in its wake."

Sabatini described the blast as a kind of shock wave that one instinctively knew as a noise associated with a bomb or an explosion.

Another neighbour, who wished to remain anonymous, said he heard the explosion shortly after 4pm and that debris from it had fallen onto the roof of his house.

The community of Kimberley has reacted with shock to the fatal accident, and electrical and plumbing professionals across the city have warned the public of the dangers of working with geysers.

The executive director of the Master Builders Association of the Northern Cape, Vic Smailes, said many accidents in Kimberley were the result of a lack of qualified plumbers.

"In all my years in the industry, this is definitely the worst geyser accident I have ever seen."

He explained that in recent years, consumers had demanded more pressure from geysers for showers and baths.

"A 400kpa geyser, which is one of the most common household geysers, is the equivalent of a small bomb."

Smailes said many geysers burst, but safety devices prevented excessive damage, adding that many factors might have contributed to the magnitude of this explosion.

The chairperson of the Institute of Plumbing in the Free State, Gert Fraser, said that under no circumstances should any person try to repair a geyser without the proper knowledge.

"This type of accident is not a common occurrence, and the few geysers that have exploded in the past have done so as a result of incorrect installations and improper knowledge."

The spokesperson for the SA Police Service in the Diamond Fields area, Mashay Gamieldien, said the police had opened an inquest docket and were investigating the fatal accident.

Sol Plaatje municipality spokesperson Sello Matsie said the local fire department would be assisting with investigations.

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