SA river adventurer killed by croc in DRC

2010-12-10 00:00

PRETORIA — A young South African adventurer was killed by a crocodile during a white-water expedition in the Democratic Republic of Congo that was the first of its kind in the world.

Hendri Coetzee (35) of Centurion, who was described yesterday by his parents as a “big adventurer” was attacked on the Lukaga River in Katanga province on Tuesday.

He and two Americans were undertaking an expedition for National Geographic magazine when the reptile pulled him from his kayak and attacked him about 160 km from Lake Tanganyika and the village of Kalemi. His body was not recovered.

His parents, Adriaan and Marie Nieman, were on holiday in the Cape when they received a late-night e-mail from one of Coetzee’s companions, American Ben Stookesberry, describing the attack.

Marie Nieman described her son as “very fond of adventure”, saying he was different from a young age.

“I could write a book about his wonderful life,” she said.

Coetzee, an experienced river guide with an honours degree in psychology and several white-water and kayak championships to his name, was leading a team from First Ascent Kayaks when the attack happened.

Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic were in kayaks on either side of Coetzee.

In the e-mail, Stookesberry described how a “giant crocodile” grabbed Coetzee by the shoulder and pulled him upside down in his kayak and then pulled him off the craft.

“The water churned violently and the boat shook and spun over the course of 10 to 15 seconds before nearly disappearing and then resurfacing to briefly reveal an empty kayak. That was the last time Chris and I saw Hendri.”

Stookesberry and Korbulic paddled to a safe spot and contacted the International Rescue Committee, which alerted the South African and American embassies and sent a team to bring the pair to safety.

Stookesberry said they had been warned about “dangerous crocodiles”, but “we decided to proceed because we felt we could paddle in tight formation and limit our risk just like we had done on the Murchison Falls section of the Nile just a month ago”.

The expedition, with 200 km on the Lukaga river, began on the White Nile in Uganda and the Congo in the DRC and focused on exploring previously little-known rivers and on the water crisis in central Africa.

Coetzee led the first sea-tosource expedition on the White Nile in 2004 and paddled alone for 200 km up the Congo and to Murchison Falls on the Nile.

His kayak sponsor, Celliers Kruger, said Coetzee was “without doubt one of the best river experts of our time”.

Clayson Monyela, a spokesperson for the International Relations Department, said they are providing consular support to Coetzee’s family.

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