A city mom and her two young children were found following an extensive search-and-rescue operation on Sunday morning after they were forced to sleep between mountain boulders after losing their way on a hiking trail near Port St John’s over the weekend.
Nicole de Wit, 34, an American citizen from Michigan, who has dual citizenship in South Africa, and her husband, Josh de Wit, Kimberley Baptist Church youth facilitator, were holidaying with their children, three-year-old Sammy and their 11-month-old baby girl, at the time. They are regular hikers.
The National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) Port St Johns volunteer rescue duty crews were alerted on Saturday that the family was missing at around 4pm.
Nicole and her children had separated from Josh at Cremorne in the vicinity of Mount Sullivan, near the Umzimvubu River mouth.
Spokesman for the NSRI, Craig Lambinon, said it appears as if Josh went to find the trail and while searching, he reportedly heard Nicole screaming for him.
“When he returned to where he left them, they were no longer there and he could not make further contact with his wife.
“Josh searched for his family but the rocky and steep terrain made it difficult and he went back to their holiday camp to raise the alarm fearing that they may have fallen from the cliffs.”
Lambinon added that the police were dispatched and a search was conducted, which included community members but nothing was found. “NSRI Port St Johns volunteers joined in the search with local community members, which continued throughout most of the night.
“NSRI Port St Johns volunteer rescue duty crew dispatched a search party to begin a search together with local community members and although in a relatively small search area the search was made difficult by steep cliff faces in a remote and barely accessible area.”
He stated that after getting no sign of the missing persons by midnight, additional help was sought. “The police’s K-9 Search and Rescue Dog Squad and the Eastern Cape Department of Health’s EMS helicopter were dispatched yesterday morning to join the search.”
A Mountain Club Rescue team and a South African Air Force helicopter from 15 Squadron, Charlie Flight, Port Elizabeth, were also placed on alert.
Lambinon indicated that local community members taking part in the search and rescue operation came across the mother and the two children walking along a road towards their holiday camp on Sunday morning.
“It appears that the mother and her children had also gone in search of the hiking trail and had been separated from the husband. The mother and the two children spent the night huddled in a gorge in shelter. They found the trail on Sunday morning and managed to reach the road.”
Josh’s sister Christelle and her husband Phillip Botha travelled from Cape Town to Port St John’s to support the family.
Botha said that Christelle had made contact with the NSRI in Cape Town, Durban and Port Elizabeth to begin the search.
“Sammy had hurt his head and was bleeding and Nicole moved to an area in the rocky terrain, where she could treat him, while Josh was looking for the trail. By the time he had turned back, he was unable to find them and was forced to leave after visibility became limited.”
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