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Tue Sep 16 11:22:56 SAST 2014

Search continues for missing rugby players

GARETH WILSON and MKHULULI NDAMASE | 27 March, 2012 01:05
Ncena Njalo, uncle to Lundi Ramba, 30, who is among the missing, and neighbour Hlumisha Limaphi with a lifesaver Picture: EUGENE COETZEE

As a massive rescue operation was launched to find five rugby players who were washed away into the sea in Port Elizabeth on Sunday, one of the survivors described the horrific incident.

Zolani Mcopele, 29, said: "After training we wanted to get the sand off our bodies, so we got in the water because the weather was lovely. Moments later I noticed that my feet could not feel the sand, and we were all screaming by this time.

"It took about 45 minutes to get help. By that time two of my teammates were already dead and their bodies were floating next to me.

"The cries for help and the visuals of my drowning teammates will stick with me for life. I cannot sleep at night. I will miss them."

The massive search and rescue operation at the Bluewater Bay beach for the five missing players - who are presumed to have drowned - continued yesterday.

The team of 21 rugby players from the Motherwell Rugby Football Club were swept out to sea after being caught in a rip current shortly after noon on Sunday.

At the time, on-duty Bluewater Bay Surf lifesavers and other rescue workers managed to save some of the players, and children.

Rugby player Masixole Myosana, 29, was pulled from the surf by lifesavers. However, attempts to resuscitate him failed and he was declared dead on the scene.

Devastated family members of the missing men gathered at the Raymond Mhlaba Sport Centre yesterday, where social workers offered to provide them with help and support.

They will visit families and the club's players to offer counselling.

Ellion Mtsawana, the father of 18-year-old Avuyile, who is still missing, believes his son will still be found.

"Dead or alive we believe he will be found. On Sunday morning he made me and his mother breakfast - something he never did. He also gave us his ID photo as if he knew he wasn't going to come back," said Mtsawana.

Area commander Major-General Johan Kapp has established a joint operation centre at the Swartkops police station to help the search operation .

While the identities of the missing men are known, only the names of Tshabalala, 18, and Lundi Ramba, 29, could be released.

Police spokesman Captain Andre Beetge said the police were still not sure how many people were washed out to sea.

"Not all those who were rescued were rugby players," he said. "No one is sure how many people were in the surf . It is extremely difficult to ascertain how many people are missing."

SA Rugby Union president Oregan Hoskins described the drownings as a "devastating tragedy".

"This is really like a nightmare. To get a phone call like that saying that so many team members had drowned is really a shock," he said.

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Tue Sep 16 11:22:56 SAST 2014 ::