Aspiring seaman 'died a hero' in Durban gas leak

2017-02-20 17:20
Henro ter Borg (Supplied, TygerBurger)

Henro ter Borg (Supplied, TygerBurger)

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Cape Town - "He died as he lived, no holding back," says the family and friends of Henro ter Borg.

Naval seaman Ter Borg, 21, from Brackenfell, died a hero on Friday when he, along with two fellow sailors, attempted to rescue three workmen overcome by methane gas in an underground pit in Durban.

He was always ready to lend a hand, no matter the consequences for himself. It was the essence of who he was. Those who knew him, knew this about him, they said.

It was also these qualities of selflessness and daring that earned him a place in the Maritime Reaction Squadron, formerly known as the South African Marine Corps.

At the time of his death, he was undergoing training for this elite unit.

He was a fearless adventurer at heart.

'His death is not real to us'

"Since he was a little boy he always wanted to join the defence forces, something that would allow him to live out his love for the daring and exert his boundless energy. Stuff like hanging out of helicopters on ropes. That was Henro," said a family member.

Ter Borg matriculated at Brackenfell High School in 2014, after which he took a gap year and then joined the South African Navy.

"All his friends and teachers will remember him as someone who would always be willing to help, no matter what. In fact, he went out of his way to help others. It was typical of Henro to run in where others wouldn't dare," said Stokkies Truter, a teacher at the school.

"He touched many lives."

For Ter Borg's family the reality has not set in yet.

"We keep on expecting him to walk through the door or ring us up. His death is not real to us," said the family member.

Ter Borg was on a tour of duty in Durban for the 2017 Armed Forces Day celebrations when the incident that authorities describe as a freak accident occurred.

"Three workers from the Department of Public Works were working on a sewage valve when gas fumes leaked out and affected their breathing," said South African National Defence Force chief General Solly Shoke.

"They tried to escape the pit, but were overwhelmed by the toxic gases and passed out. One contractor ran for assistance and approached the Maritime Reaction Squadron bus passing nearby at that moment.

Incident under investigation

Ter Borg, along with seamen Amrithlall Ramdin, 41, from the Durban naval base and Francois Mundell from SAS Makhanda, residing in George, immediately responded to the cries for help.

They descended down the pit.

"They unfortunately succumbed to the high levels of fumes in the pit," Shoke said.

As more assistance arrived other officers descended into the pit through a compressed air breathing apparatus to bring the six people above ground.

Resuscitation attempts failed and all three seamen and three workmen were declared dead on the scene.

Shoke conveyed his heartfelt condolences to the grieving families of the seamen.

"These sailors who laid down their lives did so while on a noble duty to save the lives of fellow South Africans in distress. Their actions are commended."

He said an investigation by military police into the exact circumstances surrounding the incident is underway.

Read more on:    durban  |  accidents
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