‘How I cheated death’

2013-04-17 00:00

A 44-YEAR-OLD Umhlanga businessman and his wife return to Durban today, having cheated death by minutes at the Boston Marathon on Monday.

About 10 minutes before the explosions that claimed the lives of three spectators, runner Lance Corbett had posed for a photograph under the South African flag near the finish line.

Video footage of the blast minutes later shows that very flag and those from several other countries engulfed in smoke.

Corbett, who runs a family business called Rand York Castings in Umhlanga, told The Witness that his wife, Leigh, had greeted him when he crossed the line.

Then he posed beneath the South African flag for her to take a photograph.

Corbett said he was tired and sat down briefly before he and Leigh started to make their way back to their hotel, the Chandler Inn.

The official marathon finish tracker shows that Corbett crossed the line 10 minutes before the first blast.

Corbett described how he heard a loud noise and wondered what it was. “I didn’t realise that a bomb had gone off.”

It was only when they reached the hotel that they heard the news of the terror attack.

“The South African flag was directly in front of the blast. If I was 10 minutes late in my run, things would be different.”

Family and friends had called urgently to check that they were fine, Corbett said.

The couple have a daughter and two sons.

Corbett, who has taken part in marathons around the world in the past four years, including New York, Sydney, Berlin and Paris, said the bombings would not deter him from returning to the U.S. to participate in other events.

“We can’t have individuals dictating our course in life,” he declared.

Olympian and Comrades Marathon athlete Rene Kalmer was also among the 26 South African athletes who completed the marathon.

“It’s really very emotional … it feels like we are in a movie, except that it is reality,” she told The Witness from her Boston hotel room.

Kalmer described the first 40 minutes after the blast as the scariest.

“I started to communicate with my family. I sent them messages on Twitter and my sister contacted me on Skype.

“My brother saw the blast on TV and my family started sending Bible verses to keep me calm and to assure me that everything was going to be fine.”

By 8 am [Boston time] yesterday, she and her boyfriend, Andre van Wyk, had not ventured outside their hotel.

“We have not really gone out because we’ve just woken up and are packing to get ready to leave … We are staying at a hotel about 250 metres away from the blast and the area is still considered a crime scene, with many police officers here.”

Kalmer said everyone was still in shock.

“The first blast went off after an hour after I had finished my race. I was having dinner. At first we thought that it was just a celebration because it is a holiday here.

“When the second explosion went off, we knew that something was wrong and we went into the hospitality area, where we saw on TV what had happened and we were in incredible shock. There were lots of police officers on the street.”

Kalmer said she and Van Wyk were heading home yesterday.

“There is still a lot of ‘what if’ playing out in our minds.”

Van Wyk told The Witness there were nerve-racking moments.

“We did not know what was going on or what was going to happen. We just ran to our rooms and grabbed our passports and iPads and went to the hospitality room.

“… We are staying next to the John Hancock Tower, which is one of the tallest buildings in the state, so we were worried.”

Stuart Theobald, a South African journalist based in London and Johannesburg, said he had finished the race 90 minutes before the explosion.

About half-an-hour before the first explosion, his friend Ndanga Kamau had stood and taken a photograph at the exact spot where the first bomb was detonated.

After the blasts he immediately went on to Facebook to alert loved ones that he was fine, Theobald said. “I also got a lot of phone calls from worried friends and family who knew that I was in Boston running the race.”

Describing the moment the bombs went off, he said: “I’d just finished running and was sitting in a restaurant with a friend when the first bomb exploded. The place was full of people who had completed the race, so it was a pretty festive atmosphere.

“We heard an explosion. We didn’t know what it was initially. We heard another and everyone started to run away from the windows. It shook the ground and at a time like that, you hope for the best but assume the worst,” Theobald said.

Details of the two South African spectators who were hurt in the blasts were sketchy yesterday.

Department of International Relations and Co-operation spokesperson Clayson Monyela would only say: “It was minor injuries. They were treated on the spot and released immediately. It’s like you bumping your foot and receiving first aid.”

Sello Mokoena, KwaZulu-Natal Athletics president, condemned the attacks, saying they had threatened one of the few things that brought about social cohesion in the world.

“More than 20 000 people were gathered in the spirit of social cohesion … We are going to have to bring in new security measures for our athletes after these attacks,” he said.

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