Two missing Stellenbosch University students’ bodies retrieved
Stellenbosch University students Ethan Kirkland, aged 19 and Leila Lees, aged 18, were last seen on Friday night, 21 October 2022. Family and friends reported the two missing on Saturday. The South African Police Service (SAPS) have been searching for them since. Over the weekend, two WhatsApp groups were also created in order to help in the search for Kirkland and Lees. The red Subaru Forester driven by the two when they went missing, was found in a quarry on the corner of Paul Kruger Street and Bird Street in Stellenbosch on the morning of Monday, 24 October 2022. Tasso Steyn, deputy chief fire officer, Operations and Logistics at Stellenbosch Fire and Rescue Service, said, “A passenger vehicle with two occupants left the road and went through a fence ending up in an open construction site filled with stagnant water and reeds. The vehicle came to rest in an upside-down position with only its rear wheels and tow bar visible.”
Two bodies, believed to be that of Kirkland and Lees, have since been retrieved. Police and emergency services on Monday searched a large pit filled with water in which a car wreck was discovered matching the description of a vehicle driven by a couple who were reported missing in Stellenbosch.
Steyn continued, “All Fire and Rescue teams were from Stellenbosch Main Station. Response included one major rescue pumper, one rescue vehicle and one skid unit with swift water trailer. The team consisted of medics, high angle, swift water and rescue technicians; total of 10. Two rescue technicians used ropes to gain access to the construction hole down embankment. Breathing apparatus was used to ascertain if there were occupants in vehicle. The bodies were removed from the wreckage by SAPS divers and Fire and Rescue personnel, who then used a Stokes basket stretcher and winch to get the bodies up the embankment. The vehicle was then hoisted out of the water in conjunction with Metro Rescue crane (Rescue 6), SAPS divers and Fire and Rescue.”
“Challenges included that accessibility to the wreckage was not easy due to the depth of the water and the density of the reeds. Technicians had to go under the water surface with breathing apparatus to gain access to the wreckage. The stagnant water caused health concerns for all involved in contact with the water.”
Steyn added, “The call was received at 10h08 on 24 October 2022 and all vehicles were back at base by 14h39. Both were declared deceased by the medical personnel.”
Professor Deresh Ramjugernath, the university’s deputy vice-chancellor of Learning and Teaching, said the death of the students was a blow to the campus community.
“Our hearts go out to the families of Ethan and Leila, whose lives were cut short by this tragedy. They had a bright future ahead of them and we cannot imagine the amount of pain their parents and loved ones are going through at this point.
“May the families have strength to go through this painful and challenging time. Our thoughts are also with the sister of Ms Lees who is a Maties student,” Ramjugernath said
The large open pit next to Bird Street has been a source of controversy in the town as it posed a potential threat to a neighbouring property.
Sources: Tasso Steyn, deputy chief fire officer, Operations and Logistics, Stellenbosch Fire and Rescue Service; Matie Media, IOL, Times Live