South Africa Marine Field Course: Sodwana Bay Incident

Warning: the contents of this post may be disturbing for some viewers.

On the first day at Sodwana Bay, something happened that left the staff overwhelmed and students distressed. I didn’t want to include it in my original post as to not upset anyone who was looking for a chipper update on my time here.

For the test dives (and the rest of the dives over the next few days), we divided into two groups for the week to stagger the dive times and sites. I was in the first group, so we got back from our test dives a bit earlier. After I went to the toilet, I sat in a chair facing the south to watch for the second group coming in about 100 meters from the dive shop shelter.

When the second group was pulling in, they thought they saw a turtle in the surf. While the divers were getting off the boat, I saw a staff based on shore rush into the water with all her clothes on when she saw the true silhouette through the wave. She called out for another worker and they pulled a dark figure from the water.

At first, I thought it was a shark, but then I realized it was a person; a limp body of a local, or at first we assumed. They waved for help and as I was facing the beach the whole time, I passed along the message of help to the first-aid trained university staff.

First on the scene were Bill and George. George started C.P.R. while the rest of the students watched helplessly from a distance. After a few minutes, Bill did C.P.R. for a while until we realized it was futile. The casualty was just that.

Although a few men in uniform were on the scene, I’m not sure what their role was in helping. Not to mention there are limited emergency services nearby, if any. So even if the casualty wasn’t dead, we would have had to continue C.P.R. until the emergency services arrived, which could have been hours.

Accepting that we could do nothing more, we covered the body in a towel and left it in the hands of the authorities.

After a few days, we put a few more pieces together:

  • He was a young, lone tourist from Mozambique. He left his clothes in the car of a local, who gave us the little information we found out about him.
  • He had nothing in his clothes of value: no ID, no money, nothing.
  • He smelled quite strongly of alcohol when he was pulled from the water.
  • They reckon he was dead for quite some time before we pulled him from the water as when you drown, first you sink, then your body takes a few hours to release all sorts of gasses as it starts to decompose, then you float.
  • The matter of finding the family is now in the hands of the Mozambique police.

All the students seem okay, but some of the staff seems quite shaken. I wish we had an open conversation about it rather than just pretending it never happened, but I guess that’s just the British way.

Personally, it was quite distressing in the moment and I’m sweating as I write this… but that could also be from the heat of the stuffy hotel. Anyway, I’m fine and I hope anyone effected is willing and able to talk about any troubles they may be experiencing.


1 Comment

  1. Don Cox
    April 14, 2018 / 12:25 pm

    Hard to figure out exactly what happened. He may have just passed out during a period of low tide and when the tide came in he couldn’t react properly or it may have been a suicide. Hard to know.

    Glad you are OK.

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