Witnesses tell of horror jump
Buks Viljoen and Aletta Otto
Johannesburg – A seriously injured army captain desperately called out, "Liefie! Liefie! Liefie!" to his wife, giving her mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, after a cable swing jump near Graskop, Mpumalanga, went horribly wrong.
Captain Hendrik Samuels, 28, and his wife Jo-Ann, 25, were tied together in a harness for a tandem jump, and hung about 60m deep in the Panorama Kloof after having a serious fall and crashing into a rock.
Samuels's efforts to save his wife's life were in vain. He is with the 7 South African Infantry Battalion (7SAI) in Phalaborwa.
"What were shrieks of excitement initially, turned into a bloodcurdling cry of horror when they realised they were falling," a shocked woman, who did not want to reveal her name, told Beeld shortly after the incident.
Died on impact
Jo-Ann, who was a teacher at the Wesvalia High School in Klerksdorp until recently, seemed to have died upon impact.
The accident happened as many tourists were watching, including Frans Effrink from Modimolle (Nylstroom).
Effrink was standing at the opposite side of the gorge.
Unaware of the tragic accident which was about to take place, he was filming the Samuels' jump.
"They swung across the gorge. Seconds after they started swinging back, I heard a loud noise."
"I looked up and saw the winch on the thick cable which was stretched across the gorge starting to shift. The swing rope was automatically extended. The next moment, the couple hit the rocks at the bottom of the valley. There was a deathly silence for several minutes while the two were hanging barely a metre above the valley floor."
Effrink saw Captain Samuels starting to move. "It's such a helpless feeling when you hear how someone is desperately screaming for help. None of us could do anything."
Effrink could see Samuels perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on his wife.
Luke Martin, head of the provincial ambulance service in Nelspruit, was a member of the Red Cross's Air Mercy Services (AMS) team who participated in the rescue effort.
According to Martin, Jo-Ann sustained multiple injuries, and was already dead by the time they reached her.
"It was a very difficult rescue effort because of the steep cliffs." The rescue effort took about five hours.
Since the helicopter was unable to descend into the gorge, the rescue team had to drag the stretcher up the steep cliff. The rescue team included Danie Theron from the police's rescue unit in White River.
Captain Samuels was picked up with the AMS helicopter and rushed to the Nelspruit Medi-Clinic. "He's in a stable condition, but extremely emotional at this stage," said hospital spokesperson Robyn Baard on Sunday.
According to Constable Kethimoze Nkosi of the Graskop police, they suspect that one of the winches or a gear feeding the rope had broken.
He said a charge of culpable homicide was being investigated.
The owner of the Big Swing company that operated the cable swings, Mike van der Merwe, on Sunday denied that the equipment was defective.
"There was no fault in our system. We tested it. We're still waiting for the outcome of the investigation," he added.