Woman swept away

2010-03-24 00:00

THE notorious low-level bridge in Woodhouse Road near Sobantu village has claimed the life of a young woman. Her car was swept into the swollen waters of the Msunduzi River in the early hours of Sunday morning.

Swastika Hansraj (21) of Northdale was last seen with friends at a pre-wedding function in Gandhi Road on Saturday evening.

She was supposed to have made a speech later at the wedding of a friend, and everyone became worried when she did not pitch up.

Friends told The Witness that Hansraj had left the function to drop off a friend, who lives close to her home.

Hansraj’s father, Anand, reportedly phoned his daughter at about 12.30 am on Sunday, and she said she would be dropping off a friend before heading home.

A source close to the family said Hansraj might have been going to meet some friends at the Golden Horse Casino when her car was swept off the bridge.

Some friends received calls from her cellphone between 1 am and 1.30 am, but when the calls were returned her phone was off.

The matter was reported to the police.

Yesterday morning, her car was spotted by a pedestrian who was crossing the bridge. The pedestrian spoke to a security guard at the nearby municipal dump, who contacted the police.

The vehicle was barely visible, being obscured among the reeds and bushes about 500 metres downstream from the bridge.

The river was swollen in the early hours of Sunday after heavy rains in the midlands on Saturday afternoon, with Dargle and Merri­vale getting 70 mm and 55 mm respectively.

People in the Sobantu area said that this was the third time in two years that a car has been swept off the bridge, and both of the previous victims died.

The Witness has also reported numerous incidents in which people have drowned while swimming there or trying to cross the bridge while the river was swollen.

Police spokeswoman Inspector Joey Jeevan said Hansraj’s body must have been in the river for about 40 hours as it was in an advanced stage of decomposition.

“The police and family searched tirelessly for Swastika. When a 21-year-old woman goes missing at that time of the night, it becomes a concern. Even though we only found her now, all the roleplayers did their part,” said Jeevan.

She dismissed claims by paramedics that the vehicle had a tracking device. “If the vehicle had a tracking device, it would have been easy to locate it.”

She warned people to avoid using the bridge at night because it is difficult to see the state of the river.

Divers struggled for hours to find a safe location from which to retrieve the body from the car.

A police helicopter was brought in to lift the body out of the river.

A police source at the scene said that was the only way of doing it safely without endangering the parties involved. He said the current was strong but manageable.

Hansraj’s purse, bangles and rings were recovered and given to the family.

Hansraj’s grieving father couldn’t talk.

A friend, Marleni Naidoo, said she was with Hansraj at the pre-wedding event. She said Hansraj was supposed to drop off a friend who also lives in Northdale.

“From there she was supposed to have gone home. What she was doing in that area is a mystery. I don’t know any friend of hers in that area and, sadly, now she won’t be able to tell us why she went there.

“I’m going to miss her a lot, especially her relaxed personality,” said Naidoo.

Vernon Govindasamy, the groom, described Hansraj as a pleasant person who wouldn’t harm a fly.

“It was always pleasant to have her around, and when she didn’t pitch up for the wedding we were surprised. Whatever happened, only God knows, and we pray that one day revelations will be made as to what exactly happened to her,” said Govindasamy.

Yesterday, e-mails about Hansraj’s disappearance were circulating furiously in the city. One claimed she was caught on CCTV cameras at the Sasol garage in Lahore Road at about 5 am on Sunday morning. However, an employee at the garage, who asked not to be named, said the footage was actually taken at 10.30 pm on Saturday.

Other e-mails speculated she might have been the victim of human traffickers.

Duzi-Umngeni Conservation Trust director Dave Still said it is sad to lose a young life in this way.

He said a higher-level bridge is needed. “There’s a lot that the municipality has to deal with, but I hope in time the bridge can be attended to for the safety of all who use it,” said Still.

He said he did not check water levels at the weekend, adding that yesterday’s level was a bit high — and that if the car was found 500 m downstream, the river current must have been strong.

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