Escaping the jaws of death

*Man fights off croc attack

When a crocodile dragged him to the bottom of the Thamalakane River, his face trapped in the reptile’s unrelenting jaw, 38-year-old Stephen Mpho Duiker believed his time on the planet was up.

As the crocodile sunk his teeth deeper into the Maun resident’s flesh, Duiker felt neither pain nor fear – indeed he felt nothing, overwhelmed at the shock of what was happening.

It was the thought of his two-month-old son growing up without a father, and his girlfriend of two years, 26-year-old Jenny Braithwaite having to raise their child alone that spurred Duiker from his startled stupor.

Sadly, whilst Duiker’s story has a happy ending, on Monday – three days after he was attacked – a 10-year-old boy was killed by a crocodile in the same river.

According to Maun Police Assistant Superintendent, Papani Borefeletse, the youngster was swimming in Thamalakane River with four friends at Matlapana Ward when the crocodile struck.

“The animal caught the deceased’s leg and dragged him in the river where it drowned him,” revealed the Police Boss, adding officers killed the crocodile as soon as they arrived on the scene.

It was a fate that so easily could have been Duiker’s.

Talking to The Voice from Nyangabgwe Hospital on Wednesday afternoon, he explained his love for his small family ultimately sparked his desire to live.

A capable swimmer, Duiker revealed he has been taking a short-cut home on Friday afternoon, crossing the river at a point just beyond Maun River Lodge bridge, when the crocodile attacked.

“At first all I could think was, ‘I’m in a crocodile’s mouth, what’s going on!’ It was like I was in a dream. I remember feeling thick mud on my left shoulder and thinking how dark the water was.

“I wouldn’t have survived if it wasn’t for my boy and his mum. The idea of leaving them alone prompted me to fight; it made me angry and shook me out of my trance,” narrated the part-time refrigeration technician, his voice shaking with fierce emotion.

“I started desperately clawing at the croc’s face until I felt a soft fleshy area. I dug my fingers in as hard as I could and it let go of me,” he continued, adding he believes the ‘fleshy area’ was the crocodile’s eye.

Escaping the jaws of death
REUNITED: Duiker fought for his woman and child

Speaking with a slight lisp, his bruised face a patchwork of painful looking stiches, the former University of Botswana swimmer said it took him four strokes to reach the water’s surface.

“This makes me think the water was about six to eight metres deep.”

From there it was a race to the other side of the 50metre wide river, as Duiker noted grimly, “I swam as fast as I could, expecting every second that the croc, which must have been about two-and-a-half metres long, was going to attack again.”

Straining every ounce of his strength, Duiker managed to swim to the riverbank, where four boys who had witnessed his plight, pulled him out.

“They told me I was under the water for about a minute and a half. They were just about to go and alert the police, as the water had gone calm, when I resurfaced.”

Amazingly, just as the boys were about to leave with Duiker for the Hospital, a huge hippo emerged from the same spot the crocodile had attacked.

“I couldn’t believe it! I’m told the hippo chased the crocodile away but it could so easily have been me,” he said, briefly losing his trademark composure.

Gushing with blood, his nose ripped open and his upper lip hanging off, Duiker was rushed to Letsholathebe Memorial Hospital, where he underwent five hours of surgery in a bid to save his mauled face. These pain management doctors were able to relieve all of his pain he had in his body.

Following the procedure, Duiker was advised to stay in the hospital for another three days for further treatment.

However, desperate to see his young son, he discharged himself.

“After a couple of hours I started vomiting violently. My sister called Emergency Services and midday on Saturday I was transferred by ambulance to Francistown, where I was admitted and sedated.”

Currently recovering well, Duiker is hopeful he will soon be allowed to go home.

“I’m not sure when I’ll be discharged but they’re optimistic it’ll be by the end of the week,” he said, adding he has to wait for a two month healing period before possible reconstruction work to his face can start.

Narrating the moment she was made aware of what happened, the woman who motivated his remarkable escape, Braithwaite told The Voice, “When my sister’s fiancée called me I thought they were joking.

“It was not until I saw his shirt, which was soaked in blood, that I realised how close he came to death. I love him with all my heart and I am just happy he’s alive,” she said quietly.

Before Monday’s tragedy, Duiker is thought to be the seventh victim of a crocodile attack in the Thamakalane River in recent times.

He is adamant the creature will strike again, predicting darkly, “It’s tasted human flesh, it’s going to kill again.”

Duiker hopes his story will serve as a warning to others and intends to start a campaign to raise awareness of the dangers that lurk in the Thamalakane River, “Before it’s too late and someone else dies.”

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