South African river guide Hendrik Coetzee is missing, and presumed dead, after he was attacked by a crocodile while paddling a remote river in the Democratic Republic of Congo on Tuesday. The experienced guide, who has led expeditions all across Africa, was taking a team of kayakers down the Lukuga River at the time.
Coetzee, along with American paddlers Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic, has been exploring the river as part of an expedition sponsored by First Ascent, a gear company that is owned by Eddie Bauer. They have been paddling rivers near Congo, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, while spreading the word about the lack of clean water across the continent. The team had been making dispatches to the First Ascent blog along the way, and that is where news first broke about this tragic event.
While the exact details of the events are a bit hazy, it seems that the three men were paddling the Lukuga when a large crocodile sprang up from the water and pulled Coetzee from his kayak. His two companions witnessed the attack, but saw no sign of their guide afterwards. They immediately paddled to shore and called for help from the International Rescue Committee, who quickly dispatched a team to retreive them, and search for Coetzee. That search turned up no trace of the South African.
This story is a sobering reminder of just how dangerous some of the places we travel to can be. Reading it reminded me of a trip to Africa that I took a few years back, during which our guide warned us not to get to close to the river, which was crawling with hippos at the time. My companions and I nodded and acknowledged the large beasts, which are recognized as one of the most dangerous in Africa. Our guide simply smiled and told us it wasn’t the hippos we had to watch out for, but the crocs which lay just below the surface, waiting for us to stray too close. Needless to say, we gave the shoreline a wide berth from then on.
[Photo credit: Sarah Mccans via WikiMedia]