Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Pool incident

Ngare Ndare village with Lewa conservancy behind seen from the rock climbing site 
 ‘Please call me’ came the SMS while I was having a well earned brew after a long days biking with the group. I stepped out and called the number knowing little that was about to unfold. It was Ibrahim one of the forest rangers that we use ‘there are two people missing in the river and have been for two hours’. I shouted for Ndorito and we grabbed our kit and the new intern Andrew. We headed down through the forest to the village in failing light to see what was happening. En route we tried to think what could be going on, impossible they where swept away there is no real current in the river, where they lost along the river line in some way? Would we be assisting some other rescue services in a team effort to solve the incident. 
We arrived in the village which upon arrival seemed empty no one was about nearing the river though was a different matter, hundreds where present around a large pool at the foot of a waterfall central to the Ngare Ndare village. We met the Police commissioner and rangers who guided us to the pool. It was quickly obvious that we where the rescue services and that no one else was there to help. On looking into the pool on the approach it was clear by the accounts of between two and four hours and that the pools outflow was shallow meaning they could not have been washed out that we where not looking to save a life anymore. I was a little surprised that of all the onlookers which I would put in the hundreds not one was in the water. Swimming is not a common thing among Kenyans especially away from the major towns. I think a mix of it not being a part of school and also perhaps a fear of what might lurk in African rivers.  
Ndorito looked at me as we where getting our wetsuits on as quick as possible and quietly but simply said ‘dead Dan’ I nodded and we jumped in. We did a loop around the pool noting that there was a reasonable push from the waterfall and looked at some of the undercut embankments in its direction. Nothing was obvious anywhere but we shouted for long poles as the darkness began to creep in. We probed around for a while until we where only lit by poor torches from the embankment. We had noticed while probing that the pool in some areas was extremely deep which had some giant holes among the rocks. Eventually at about half seven well after dark we got out to the Police and Agness who was housing the mother of the missing brothers explaining it was to dark to continue. It was a bit tricky among the expectant faces looking for answers explaining that at this stage we where not looking for people who would be alive anymore it was a case of trying o find the bodies which could be returned to the parents. The mind was spinning as Ndorito took the wheel back to camp thinking of the various miracle stories you see online, had we made an error and that they where just stuck somewhere head above but unable to get attention or in a strange sump underwater and just unable to get out. 
Up early we headed down as the group slept at first light we where back in the pool this time armed with huge poles. The crowd gathered again all intently staring as we worked our way around the brown water a result of the recent rains. Probing bit by bit stirring up the mud moving rocks around but nothing. We made our way out to meet the group as we arrived at camp we heard just as we left a body rose up. This was the younger brother and had a large split to the head making it obvious the jump had resulted in a bang to the head which explains why he never came back up and prompted his brother to jump.
Ironically at this point we headed to the canyon with the group(long way from these pools). As we geared up and headed to the practice pool doing a few jumps to prepare for the higher ones I could see people in official suits heading down to the pool although they wouldn't come near the pool. I was called to them. Six higher ranking police in different uniforms who ranged from CID to Officers requested that they needed more help and could we come again to locate the second body. One suggested that as we started we might like to be the ones to finish ‘oh please let me’ I thought. We finished early that day and headed back to the river once more. 
This time there seemed to be more than ever in attendance word had obviously spread further. In we went and probed for around three hours it was Toby who called me over after a long time suggesting his probe was on something. I took it and immediately jumped out of fright it was a person. I think at home people are trained in special ways to recover bodies and not jump out their skins at the thought. We lost the spot and probed for a long while. We paused thought for a few moments bobbing nervously eyes fixed on the long Green Mamba snake making its way across the pool towards the waterfall. The probes where ten meter lengths of very heavy wood thick at one end tapering towards the other cut from a local tree. I found it again much later this time bubbles came up but it was jammed under a rock, an obstruction or just heavy. It was clearly what we had been looking for. This put me in a difficult decision making position. I was worried about saying to the Police and the huge numbers surrounding us the body is there but I cant get it out. It was about 10 metres down. We had no diving equipment and the water was muddy and you would never see a thing and could get caught up in the terrain below. I knew it would naturally come up sooner or later. There where a raft of holes and what seemed like cave like hollows under there and it would be highly possible I would end up stuck and so made the decision to keep looking for a while and not to say anything. There was no one within hundreds of miles who could have come with that equipment and knowledge. The sad fact was that they had perished and that perishing in the process was not a constructive way of operating in a rescue attempt. The real tragedy was this was exactly what had happened. As we got out the village chief’s remarks where of gratitude to are efforts ‘this has been a wonderful experience’ which I thought was an odd thing to say but knew that he was just trying to express some gratitude. 
 He explained to me what had happened along with Agnes who was looking after the mother, the father was present at the pool. They where casual workers who where home visiting, the younger of the two suffering from difficulties mental or otherwise had threatened to take his life and jump and did his brother jumped in to save him but could as neither could swim and died himself unable to get out. More striking and sad to me to see the look of dwindling hope on the face of possibly the father at my face which had I cant help you written across it as I left the pool edge. He was holding an old tow rope which he threw to the first body hoping he might take it until it was obvious he was dead and that until a second came up and was proved not alive I suspect he will hold the throw line ready in hope. As Peter one of our new instructors went up above the falls to get into the sun and warm up he came across a group of men holding the mother back from the jump as she was determined to join her boys and was being restrained by the locals.  
The second rose a few days later and the two where laid to rest in Isiola on Tuesday. 

This was from the chief of the village at Ngare Ndare 

‘Hi I am writing this on behalf of the Ngare Ndare location to thank Dan and his colleagues for their exemplary efforts to search for the bodies of the drowned brothers. They will be laid to rest today at Isiolo. May they be rewarded equally’