- Strong tides dragged Alice Barnett and Summer Robertson to their deaths
- Barnett 19 and Robertson, 21, had been in the country for 10 weeks
- Three others got into difficulties but lifeguards pulled them to safety
- They were days from flying home when the tragedy occurred
Henry Austin For Mailonline
Days before they were due to fly home to the UK from the trip of a lifetime, two young volunteers were drowned after being swept out to sea in South Africa.
Charity volunteers Alice Barnett, 19, and Summer Robertson, 21, were pulled to their deaths after being overpowered by fierce currents off a picturesque beach on December 4, near Kenton-on-Sea, a small town on the country’s south-eastern coast.
The pair had gone for a celebratory swim with three-other British members of a team that had completed a 10-week charity adventure together at a stunning and remote camping resort.
Friends Alice Barnett (left) and Summer Robinson (right) were drowned off the coast of South Africa after going on a swim to celebrate the end of a 10-week charity adventure. The pair had been teaching special needs children and helping to educate young people about drugs, alcohol and AIDS
Summer Robinson (left) and Alice Barnett (right) went swimming with three other friends, but while they were pulled to safety, volunteer lifeguards could not get to the pair in time
Alice Barnett was described as ‘an angel’ by her father Pete Gallagher on Twitter. Around a month before her trip she wrote that she could not wait to contribute in anyway she could
The three other people who went into the water with Alice Barnett (pictured) were treated for symptoms of near drowning after they were brought to shore
All five quickly got into trouble in the turbulent coastal waters where the south Atlantic Ocean meets the Indian Ocean, known for their strong tides and currents.
After hearing their desperate cries, a frantic rescue operation was launched by volunteer lifeguards at a surfing tournament taking place at the resort.
But although they were able to pull three of the girls to safety, Summer had passed away by the time they brought her to shore, while Alice’s was washed up on the beach a day later.
Family, friends, classmates were quick to pay tribute to the pair.
In a moving tribute on Twitter, Alice’s father Pete Gallagher said that there were ‘no words to say how devastated we are to have lost our beloved angel Alice.’
Around a month before she jetted out to South Africa his daughter, from Tring in Hertfordshire, had shared her excitement about the trip on a charity website.
‘I have learned so much about global development and international issues and cannot wait to contribute in any way I can,’ she wrote.
Alice Barnett’s headmaster said that many teachers would have picked her out as their favorite student
Friends of Summer, from Shrewsbury in Shropshire, also used social media to communicate their grief.
One, Beth Hemmings wrote on Twitter: ”My heart goes out to Summer Robertson’s family. Really hits home how valuable life is when something so tragic happens to someone you knew.’
It is thought Summer was working for Jaguar Landrover at the time of her death after previously working as a sales assistant for retailer Dunelm.
Family members are believed to have flown out to South Africa.
Alice’s former headmaster at the Sir Henry Floyd Grammar School in Aylesbury said his former pupil had been teaching special needs children and helping to educate young people about drugs, alcohol and AIDS.
‘The whole school community has been hurting since we heard the devastating news,’ he said.
‘I often smile when I hear headteachers talking about students who had experienced major tragedies. The students are always described as wonderful, good natured and talented. I often wonder how true those statements are.In Alice’s case I know that she really was a lovely person.’
He added: ‘Not only was she very gifted herself she was always generous and selfless in sharing her gifts. Many of our younger students have had the privilege of being helped by her at lunchtimes in the art room or the drama studio.
‘Some teachers have said that if they were allowed to have a favourite student then their choice would have been Alice. Her family are in the thoughts and prayers of all of us.’
Port Alfred police spokesman Lieutenant Luvuyo Mjekula said the three survivors were a 41-year-old man and male and female of 18-years-old.
All of them showed signs of near drowning and were treated by the team’s medics before being transported to nearby hospital for observation for secondary drowning, according to South Africa’s National Sea Rescue Institute.
They received counselling from the Port Elizabeth police psychological services, said Lieutenant Mjekula.
‘The bodies will be repatriated as soon as the post mortem examinations are done,’ he added.
A Foreign and Commonwealth Office spokesman said: ‘We can confirm the deaths of two British nationals in the eastern cape, South Africa, on December 4. We are providing consular assistance to the families at this difficult time.’
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