Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Outdoorsman-Adventure blogger presumed dead from crocodile attack in the heart of Congo

JOHANNESBURG – An acclaimed outdoorsman who wrote movingly about testing himself against nature is presumed dead after a crocodile snatched him from his kayak while he led an American expedition from the source of the White Nile into the heart of Congo.

Two Americans being guided by 35-year-old South African Hendrik Coetzee on the grueling trip could only watch in horror. They paddled unharmed to safety after the Tuesday morning attack on the Lukuga River in Congo .

The International Rescue Committee, which runs development projects in the Central African nation, helped evacuate the Americans to a nearby town, Ciaran Donnelly, the organization's regional director in Congo , said Thursday.

Coetzee's body has not been recovered. The stretch of river where the trio was traveling is notoriously dangerous because of its whitewater, and the high density of crocodiles and hippos.

In a blog called The Great White Explorer that chronicled the trip sponsored by the Eddie Bauer clothing and outdoor equipment company, Coetzee wrote about the thrill of taking to uncharted waters, including stretches that might soon disappear due to planned dams. He also described sometimes facing suspicion from military and other officials. One day ended in a storm:

"As hard, warm drops trashed at our little selves and a pair of goats, we stood precariously on an unknown slope deep in the heart of Africa, for once my mind and heart agreed, I would never live a better day," wrote Coetzee, who was known as Hendri.

A friend, Celliers Kruger, who owns a South African kayaking company, called Coetzee a legend.

"He was the bravest guy I've ever known," Kruger said. "But he wasn't crazy. He was very calculated and set the bar high for future exploration in Africa ."

Coetzee wasn't just interested in the adrenaline rush, said Hugh du Preez, a friend who kayaked with him.

"He also had a fantastic social conscience," he said, explaining that Coetzee ran kayak trips for underprivileged kids in Sudan . "He was one of those people that would look after others not only in a physical sense but also nurture them spiritually and mentally."

Eddie Bauer said the trip was a first-of-its-kind kayaking expedition from the White Nile and Congo rivers into Congo . The three men, all experienced kayakers, were documenting unexplored whitewater and development projects in the region.
The two Americans — Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic — are currently in Congo but expect to return home to the U.S. shortly. Korbulic is from Rogue River , Ore. , and Stookesberry is from Mount Shasta, Calif. Coetzee had been living in Uganda at the time of the expedition.

One of the Americans recounted on his blog how Coetzee has warned them about the dangers of the trip, including "three-ton hippos that will bite you in half."
"Stay off the banks because the crocs are having a bake and might fancy you for lunch. Basically, stay close behind me and follow my lead. Any questions?" the blog quoted Coetzee as saying.

Deadly hippo and crocodile attacks on humans are not uncommon in Africa , though figures are hard to pin down. Johnny Rodrigues, a wildlife expert in Zimbabwe , said parks authorities there are reluctant to give out numbers for fear of scaring away tourists.

"They are the predators of the water," Rodrigues said of the crocodiles.
In his blog, Coetzee discussed the importance of trusting instincts and the group's only rule — "nobody panic."

In Coetzee's most recent entry dated Nov. 26, he wrote: "As I licked my dry lips and carefully checked that my spray deck was on properly, I had the feeling I might be doing something I should not. I pushed through the doubt and when I finally shot out the bottom of the rapid I was happy I did. It was just paranoia after all."

"Dwarfed by lush green mountains rising up to 3,000 feet above us, we were drawn in ever deeper with a constant eye on the banks for trouble," he wrote.

Matt’s Note: To live a life jam packed with exciting and delicious moments is worth more than gold to some of us. Hendrik lived such a life and will be sorely missed by many that who like me are only just now becoming aware of his amazing existence. Pouring over the pages of greatwhiteexplorer I find myself humbled, inspired and in great admiration of the life of a great outdoor adventurer.

Credit goes to the AP Wire for digging this one up for me. Link to full article below.


sage said...

Humbling... When I was younger and mostly into kayaking in the strongest waters to be found, there was a guy who was considered a great kayaker who drown--got caught by debris underwater... Even the best are vulnerable. That said, it sounds like he was on a wonderful adventure. Prayers for his family and now I'm off to check out his blog.

Basspastor said...

Hmmm one of the life lessons I take from fishing is not to take it for granted that I can't be eaten.

Poor Soul, what a terrible way to go.

Cofisher said...

I hardily agree that it's a horrible way to go, but anyone with his experience should always know that it's a possibility. Same with Steve Irwin and the bear guy. Life is a gamble and not for the meek.

Coloradocasters said...

I will not say whether Hendrik was right or wrong in taking this trip into what is arguably the most dangerous kayak water on this planet. Suffice to say he died doing what he loved and I would be terribly disappointed if I did not go in similar fashion. Some wish to die a king’s death with wealth, fame and a legion of mourners. Please let my passing be a warrior’s death in the froth of battle or when I truly take that last cast.

It also extremely poor form to speak ill of the deceased (some folks have bashed his latest thread). Remember those that have passed in as bright of light as you possibly can. For the dead cannot defend themselves to your harsh words…or can they?

Raz said...

My thoughts are with his family and friends.

Outdoors-man (and women) perish all the time doing something they love.
Using sound judgement and being as safe as possible is key to survival.

May he rest in peace.

Anonymous said...

I have always thought an animal attack would be such a great way to go. Beats being hooked up to a machine!

Guy was a stud. Full stop.

We should all be so lucky.

Coloradocasters said...

@Raz: I agree and there is one thing my tackle box needs is more caution and good judgment. Caution vs. fear: Caution is taking that second look before you leap and some extra gear to help with the descent and maybe even the landing. Fear is never taking that leap. Reckless is leaping without looking at all. At times I have been far too reckless and nearly paid the ultimate price.

Hendrick’s story gives me both caution and courage. More caution, more courage…less fear.

Cofisher said...

I agree, prayers for him and his family. I can't imagine being eaten alive.