Crocodile kills ‘drunk’ swimmer

2010-01-04 00:00

JOHANNESBURG — The New Year celebration of a group of friends from Phalaborwa in Limpopo ended in tragedy when a crocodile grabbed and apparently consumed a young woman.

Friends said Mariska Buitendag (27), a waitress, didn’t have time to scream or call for help. She didn’t even struggle.

All they saw was a ripple on the water where seconds before she had been swimming in the Olifants River.

Her boyfriend, Pieter (Borris) Henning, said another friend cried out: “The crocodile!”

Henning, who was on the bank, immediately jumped into the river to look for Buitendag.

“Everything happened hopelessly too fast. I was too late. She was gone,” he said.

He and Buitendag had been going out for only a week.

Buitendag and a group of friends went to the banks of the Olifants outside Phalaborwa to celebrate New Year on Friday morning.

In the course of the morning, Buitendag swam in the river twice, but the third time, as she swam on her back, the crocodile struck.

A police officer, who was on the scene shortly after the incident, said Buitendag was about 10 to 15 metres from the bank.

Police spokesman Sergeant Malesela Makgapo said the group had evidently had a lot to drink.

“Swimming is strictly prohibited where they were swimming,” Makgapo said.

Witnesses and police officers at the scene confirmed that the friends had drunk a lot.

Police first searched for Buitendag’s body by poking long sticks into the water, but found nothing.

On Saturday, the police water wing from Polokwane was called in to continue the search, also to no avail. A police sniffer dog patrolled the bank to try to pinpoint her remains.

A long-time resident of Phalaborwa said locals know “you don’t even put a toe in the river, it’s lousy with crocodiles and hippos”.

Buitendag worked at a local restaurant. She had two children. Her parents were in Pretoria at the time, but rushed back to Phalaborwa, where they did not want to speak to the media.

Makgapo said police have opened an inquest.

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