Popular local missing at sea

2012-01-06 00:00

HOWICK mother Gillian Whittal, whose youngest son “AJ” is missing after being swept out to sea while snorkelling off the Cape Vidal coastline on December 29, said yesterday she believes that he is at peace.

Though distraught and struggling for closure following his disappearance, Whittal told The Witness she was not clinging to any hope that her son might miraculously be found unharmed.

“It does seem rather unreal... I can’t quite believe that it has happened and it is difficult because he has not been found,” she said.

But in her semi-sleep she’d felt a “golden aura” surround her sending her a strong message that her son was at peace.

“I felt absolute calmness come over me,” she said.

AJ (Alexander James) also leaves his father, Billy and two older brothers, Ian and Grant. Grant, who is on a visit from Ireland, had not seen his younger brother for about two or three years when the tragedy struck during the family’s long-awaited reunion and holiday at St Lucia.

That fateful afternoon the family decided to snorkel and swim at Cape Vidal, choosing the time to coincide with low tide.

While the others had lunch AJ went snorkelling alone for a while. When he didn’t return, his mother said she went to look for him and heard from people on the beach what happened.

Some fishermen reportedly saw him go into the sea, which was rough, and tried to call out to him but he was probably unable to hear them because he had a problem with his eardrum and was wearing earplugs, Whittal said.

“They tried to hold out their rods for him to grab onto to help him but couldn’t reach him,” she said. “He put his hand up and then that was it, he was gone.”

She added that the family was not yet able to arrange a memorial service as her son’s death is not official, but believes they will do so in due course.

Tears yesterday welled in the eyes of AJ’s friend, Cheryl Naidoo, manageress at Exclusive Books where he worked for six years, as she recalled his “happy, positive” personality together with another of his colleagues, Carmen Hughes.

“He was the live wire behind the counter … bright and quick. AJ always looked on the bright side of life and always had something positive to say. He was an inspiration to others,” said Naidoo. He was also a deeply spiritual person,” she said.

The staff are battling to come to terms with the tragedy and she still prays for a miracle, she added.

“Customers are always asking after AJ. He was very popular here.”

AJ’s friends have arranged a wake to honour his memory at Forgotten Falls in Howick on Saturday afternoon.

Andrew Zaloumis, CEO of iSimangaliso Wetland Park Authority, said yesterday the search for Whittal is continuing.

He said two people standing on a reef that was exposed at low tide had called out to Whittal to return to more sheltered water behind the reef, but he didn’t respond.

A short while later he was seen waving his arms and a swimmer, wearing flippers, tried to reach him but the current was too strong.

“Sea conditions at Cape Vidal were very rough and boats were not able to launch,” he added.

Police spokesperson Colonel Vincent Mdunge said although it seems probable that Whittal drowned there was no conclusive evidence yet to confirm this.

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