(Editor’s note: This story has been updated, below.)
By Joe Carberry
Published: December 8, 2010, 12:03 AM PST
In a horrific turn of events, South African paddler Hendri Coetzee was killed by a crocodile earlier this week on a tributary of the Congo River in central Africa, multiple sources have confirmed to C&K. Coetzee, 35, was among the greatest expedition paddlers of his generation, renowned for tackling difficult rivers in dangerous places, often alone.
Coetzee died while taking part in an Eddie Bauer-sponsored expedition which also included American paddlers Chris Korbulic and Ben Stookesberry. The group had already completed the first descent of the Rusizi River, connecting lakes Tanganyika and Kivu in the war-torn border region of Rwanda, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was a risky mission from the start: the team accessed the river from Rwanda because they were more confident that Rwandan president Kagame had things “under control.” According to a blog that Stookesberry filed for Outside magazine, there was a report that at least 25 bodies had been pulled from the Rusizi recently, deaths resulting from ethnically charged warfare in Burundi.
The crew’s next step, according to Stookesberry’s blog post, was on the 200-mile stretch of the Lakuga River that drains Lake Tanganyika. This is where the attack occurred.
Coetzee was a paddling legend, having run a 200 km section of the Congo, and the Murchison Falls section of the Nile solo and unsupported. He also led the first Source to Sea expedition of the White Nile in 2004.
Dec. 8, 2:21 PM PST
Statement from Eddie Bauer:
Yesterday Eddie Bauer received word that the South African whitewater guide, Hendri Coetzee, who was leading First Ascent Kayakers Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic through the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was pulled from his kayak on the Lukuga River by a crocodile and is presumed dead.
Following the incident, Ben and Chris were able to paddle to safety and contact the International Rescue Committee (IRC) who dispatched a team to evacuate them to safety. U.S. and South African embassies were also notified. The team is completing formalities with local authorities in Congo and expects to return home shortly.
The First Ascent kayak team, including Ben, Chris, Jesse Coombs and Darin McQuoid, partnered with Hendri, a well-known African guide with many first descents and extensive knowledge of the whitewater in and around the DRC, in a first of its kind whitewater kayaking expedition from the headwaters of the White Nile and Congo Rivers into the DRC. The mission for the Africa kayak expedition was to run and document the unexplored whitewater of the region, while focusing on the people and clean water crisis in Central Africa. Jesse and Darin returned to the U.S. in November after the first leg of the trip, as originally planned, while Ben and Chris continued on.
We are saddened by the tragic accident and express our deepest sympathies to Hendri’s family and friends. We would like to thank the IRC and Solidarites International, who continue to provide assistance and support to the team.
This story will be updated as more information becomes available.