Surf kills heroic granddad

2014-10-04 00:00

A FREAK wave at a La Lucia beach yesterday resulted in the death of a Gauteng granddad who heroically saved his grandsons before he was overcome by the strong surf.

At around 10 am, Jo’burg residents Charlie Thirtle (64) and his two grandsons, aged 12 and 13, were taking a stroll along the beach, when a massive wave sucked them into the ocean just outside the La Lucia Sands resort.

Thirtle heroically braved the surf and managed rescue the boys, however, in harsh sea conditions he himself was swallowed by the waves.

Onlookers managed to retrieve his body from the surf and tried to resuscitate him to no avail.

Thirtle, who celebrated his birthday exactly a week ago, was on holiday with his family, staying at the resort.

He had arrived in Durban on Tuesday.

His son-in-law Bill Wagenaar — the father of the grandsons — who was at a nearby shop when the incident occurred, said the family was traumatised after what happened.

“I immediately rushed down to the beach but he had already passed away. He wasn’t even going to the beach to swim. They were all fully dressed and wearing jerseys, when they went out for a walk. Because the waves were so strong, they actually ripped off some of his clothing,” he said.

Tristan Spink, a manager at the La Lucia Sands, said it was a tragic incident.

“This is not a bathing beach so there are no lifeguards present. People walk along this beach often but this was just a terrible accident,” she said.

Wagenaar, who arrived with his wife and two sons in Durban on Thursday night, said they were just visiting the city for the weekend on holiday.

“He is a hero. He is a brave man. If it wasn’t for him, I don’t know what would have happened to my sons. I am so thankful to him for what he did,” he said.

Thirtle was engaged and set to get married on December 13.

When Weekend Witness arrived at the scene, Thirtle’s body was wrapped in two blankets on the shore.

Sea conditions at the tranquil beach were still choppy with strong winds.

Russell Andraos, surf forecaster for Wavescape, a local surfing website, said the major cold front sweeping KwaZulu-Natal brought with it strong swells.

“The swell is changing. It’s high and low and constantly changing as we enter into the new moon and with springtide, the waves are bigger,” he said.

He said it can be surprising for people taking a casual stroll on the beach who don’t notice the swells getting bigger.

“The sand also remains very soft which contributes to people getting sucked in depending on the strength of the swell.”

He advised people to be cautious on the beaches if they see the waves rising.

“They need to move back because soft sand easily collapses and depending on the strength of the swell, they will get sucked in,” he said.

Police spokesperson Jay Naicker confirmed the incident, and said that an inquest docket had been open with the Durban North police.

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