Nica Richards
Deputy online news editor
1 minute read
4 Jan 2022
7:08 pm

Close call for wildlife rescuer after being swept away by Vaal River rapids

Nica Richards

Dirk was assisting others in saving baby birds affected by rising Vaal River levels when he encountered some gnarly rapids.

Dirk, who was found hugging a tree on Tuesday morning after going missing. Photo: South African Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre/Facebook

A member of urban wildlife rescue organisation Wild Serve’s team had his family and friends fearing the worst after failing to return from a Vaal River rescue mission on Monday. 

Dirk Engelbrecht, Wild Serve general manager, was out kayaking with members of the Owl Rescue Centre and the South African Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre to help rescue baby herons and egrets being washed out of their nests due to rapidly increasing water levels along the Vaal River. 

Close call for wildlife rescuer after being swept away by Vaal River rapids
Baby herons that were rescued along the Vaal River. Photo: South African Wildlife Rehabilitation Centre/Facebook

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After encountering what locals call “Hell’s Corner”, Dirk was nowhere to be seen, and an urgent search involving a helicopter from the South African Police Service, ER24, Netcare 911 and the National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) ensued. 

The search was called off in the early hours of Tuesday morning, and resumed a few hours later. 

The NSRI responded with an Arc inflatable and searched for Dirk as far as Groenpunt Correctional Services, Vaal Dam station commander Jake Manten said in a statement. 

During their search, the NSRI rescue team found a missing, damaged kayak wrapped around a tree. While searching the area, the team then found Dirk holding onto a tree he climbed to escape the deadly rapids. 

Dirk was promptly rescued from the tree, which he reportedly spent the night in, and brought him to safety, where he was reunited with family, friends and colleagues. 

He was treated for exhaustion and dehydration by ER24 paramedics at the scene, but required no further medical assistance. 

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