Popular PE runner found unconscious on trail after huge Facebook campaign
Just hours after a huge search party was set up to look for a visually impaired Port Elizabeth woman who had been reported missing, Kathleen Flanagan was found unresponsive in the Baakens Valley.
Now, friends and family are desperately willing the young woman, who has just 10% vision, to pull through after an ordeal which they are still trying to make sense of.
Police spokesperson Col Priscilla Naidu said a volunteer search party went looking for Flanagan after she was last seen on Tuesday afternoon and she was found on the footpath on the hikers’ trail.
“She was unconscious and taken to hospital,” Naidu said.
Flanagan, 34, was last seen leaving her place of employment in Pickering Street about 3pm on Tuesday.
“We hope she will be OK. We will only know tomorrow,” her distraught mother, Gerda, said on Wednesday evening. Gerda said she had been unable to see Flanagan, who is in ICU, due to Covid-19 safety protocols.
She was unsure what had happened but said it appeared Flanagan, a keen runner, may have tripped and injured herself while out on a run.
“She usually has a running buddy but did sometimes go for a run in the sixth Avenue [Walmer] area as she knows the area from before when she could see,” Gerda said.
Octavia Boshoff, who spearheaded a search party on behalf of the Crusaders Athletics Club, said people had come out in their numbers to look for the much-loved young woman, who had been with the club about four years. Boshoff said at least 100 people had joined a WhatsApp group used to co-ordinate the search, with about 80 people scouring the Baakens Valley.
She said Flanagan’s worried mother had called her on Wednesday morning, asking if she had seen her. Boshoff, in turn, had phoned other friends she hoped would have heard from Flanagan, who had not been answering calls.
“We started with the logical places but when we had exhausted those resources, like phoning hospitals and mortuaries, I let Crusaders know and put it on Facebook and the news spread like wildfire,” Boshoff said.
She said search parties had started by looking at restaurants and then had moved on to the valley.
As news of the young woman’s disappearance spread, a number of Nelson Mandela Bay residents changed their Facebook profile pictures to a photograph of Flanagan.
Boshoff, who said it did not appear that Flanagan had been attacked but that she “seemed to have tripped and fallen”, said she was blown away by the number of people who came out to help, referring to the rallying call to help as “wonderful wildfire”.
Before she was found, Gerda, told The Herald her daughter had been distraught lately and on antidepressants after a sudden deterioration of her sight.
“Kathleen has been going through a lot of stress lately, especially over the past two years when her eyesight diminished to 10%,” Gerda said.
Flanagan, an accountant and qualified fashion designer who suffers from retina pigmentosa (RP), was involved in last year’s Retina SA and PE Host Lions Club Dining in The Dark experience, where guests wore glasses that mimic a range of visual impairments to raise funds dedicated to finding treatments for degenerative eye conditions.