February the 5th 2002 started off as normal for many KwaDukuza residents – it was just like any another day – but that was soon to change dramatically.
As lifeguards we had just come out of the busy December/January holiday season and we were welcoming a few quiet days before the next holiday period.
We started the day with some routine training and then, after opening the swimming area for the day, we cleaned our first aid room and checked over out medical trauma bags making them ready for the next emergency.
At around 15h30, we were chatting about the day’s events when we received a radio message calling us to assist with an emergency that none of us had thought we would ever encounter – a train had crashed at Groutville.
As any emergency worker knows, the element of panic has to be brought under control and I remember, as we ran around with our adrenalin pumping, that I was thinking about what we might be faced with when we arrived on scene.
Carnage is not something we want to experience in our lifetime, but having been an operational medic during military service, and having worked as a lifeguard, I guess I was a little more prepared than most other people to deal with the horror.
Carnage it was, a passenger train had collided with a stationery goods train and there were multiple injuries in the first few train carriages.
The scene when we arrived was unbelievable, with emergency personnel running around making space for ambulances and rescue helicopters and pulling people out of the wreckage. Over the noise and the screaming of the injured, I still don’t know how I managed to hear our instructions, but we were tasked to sweep all the other carriages for casualties.
There was an eerie feeling as we boarded the train and I remember looking out the windows at the hundreds of onlookers on the banks watching us. It is funny how certain things draw your attention… like how empty the train was. There was not a bag or piece of clothing anywhere. That struck me as odd. It like nobody had even been on it.
The sweep of the other carriages revealed no other injured and set about assisting other medics in the triage areas after the rescue workers had freed trapped passengers.
Time went by unnoticed as we worked with the injured and loaded them into what seemed an endless row of ambulances.
I remember looking around from time to time and wondering how they were going to clear the mangled train carriages and engines from the tracks and how long it would take to get the line open again.
I don’t think we’ll ever forget what we witnessed that day. Some things are too sensitive to include in the story, but thinking back, it was incidents like this that built some of the best lifeguards along this part of the coast.
22 people lost their lives and over 100 were injured that day – a day many families of lost ones and the emergency personnel that worked there, will never forget.