Accident Database

Report ID# 3441

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Accident Description

Hendrik Coetzee was killed by a crocodile while leading an expedition to map unknown whitewater areas in the vicinity of the upper White Nile river in Africa. According to Chris Korbulic, one of the two people Coetzee was guiding, the 3 paddlers were on a stretch of flat, green water about 100 feet wide, in the middle of the river. They were in tight formation, so close their paddles would hit if they didn’t stay in synch. This was Coetzee’s strategy to deter attack by both hippos and crocodiles, presumably because they would appear to any predator like one larger animal instead of 3 smaller ones.

Coetzee was in the center in a red boat. The paddler on the left was slightly ahead, and the paddler on the right (Korbulic) was slightly behind. Unknown to them, a mature 15-foot crocodile approached the group from the rear. Korbulic said, "I glanced over to measure that we were not paddling towards or away from each other. And just in my periphery I saw the crocodile come out of the water, and he got onto Hendri’s left side - just the left shoulder with its mouth." The two paddlers watched in horror as the overturned boat shook for about 20 seconds, presumably while the crocodile was pulling Coetzee out of the tight-fitting cockpit. Realizing they could do nothing, they paddled as fast as they could less than a mile downstream to a village, where they caught Coetzee’s boat as it floated by, without even a scratch to tell how he had disappeared. (condensed from AP report dated 12/21/10, written by Jeff Barnard)

SA whitewater river guide dies in DRC crocodile attack

Camilla Bath

The International Relations Department on Thursday said it was investigating reports that a South African kayaker was attacked by a crocodile in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Hendri Coetzee was apparently killed on the Lukuga River earlier this week. The well known whitewater river guide was leading two American kayakers through the DRC when tragedy struck. It is believed he was pulled from his kayak by a crocodile and did not resurface.

The International Rescue Committee dispatched a team to evacuate the other two men to safety. They were expected to return to the US shortly. The South African and American embassies in the DRC were notified of Coetzee’s death and local officials are in the process of confirming the incident.

On the Death of Hendri Coetzee By Adventure Lab Dec 08, 2010

Though reports are still sketchy, Outside has learned that South African kayaker Hendrik (Hendri) Coetzee died after being attacked by a crocodile—on the Congo's Lukuga river. He was paddling with Americans Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic. Coetzee gained prominence after he led the first source-to-sea expedition down the length of the Nile, in 2004. He later returned and soloed the infamous Murchison Falls section of the Nile, as it flows through Uganda. That stretch is notoriously dangerous, both for its whitewater and its high density of crocodiles and hippos.

Outside had been following the expedition with online dispatches, the last of which we received from Stookesberry on November 29. Stookesberry concluded his transmission ( as follows: In just a few hours time, we will board a cargo vessel and cross 270 miles down and across Lake Tanganyika through Tanzania and to the massive lake's singular outlet at Kalemie, DRC: the beginning of the Lukuga River. We received the team's last SPOT messenger transmission (indicating that everything was OK) on December 5, three days

In an earlier dispatch ( ) from November 1, Stookesberry quoted Coetzee, who had more experience paddling among Africa's dangerous aquatic wildlife than just about anybody: "Stay out of eddies…especially the small BS ones, because there are three-ton hippos that will bite you in half. Stay off the banks because the crocs are having a bake and might fancy you for lunch. Basically, stay close behind me and follow my lead. Any questions?" And in a post ( from November 19, Stookesberry mentions a notorious crocodile on the Rusisi River. [T]here is a crocodile at the river's mouth named Gustav that is an ancient, well-fed man eater. If you are as worried about this next week of the expedition as we are, please take Hendri's advice and refer to Rule #3. [No matter what, don't panic.] We'll post updates as we confirm them.

The following is an official statement from Eddie Bauer. We will post an update from Ben and Chris as soon as we hear from them.

Yesterday Eddie Bauer received word that the South African whitewater guide, Hendri Coetzee, who was leading First Ascent Kayakers Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic through the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), was pulled from his kayak on the Lukuga River by a crocodile and is presumed dead. Following the incident, Ben and Chris were able to paddle to safety and contact the International Rescue Committee (IRC) who dispatched a team to evacuate them to safety. U.S. and South African embassies were also notified. The team is completing formalities with local authorities in Congo and expects to return home shortly.

The First Ascent kayak team, including Ben, Chris, Jesse Coombs and Darin McQuoid, partnered with Hendri, a well-known African guide with many first descents and extensive knowledge of the whitewater in and around the DRC, in a first of its kind whitewater kayaking expedition from the headwaters of the White Nile and Congo Rivers into the DRC. The mission for the Africa kayak expedition was to run and document the unexplored whitewater of the region, while focusing on the people and clean water crisis in Central Africa. Jesse and Darin returned to the U.S. in November after the first leg of the trip, as originally planned, while Ben and Chris continued on. We are saddened by the tragic accident and express our deepest sympathies to Hendri’s family and friends. We would like to thank the IRC and Solidarites International, who continue to provide assistance and support to the team.

Hendri was 35 years old. He was on an expedition on the Lukugu River in the DRC. He was accompanied by Ben Stookesberry and Chris Korbulic. He was attacked by a crocodile two days ago while they were paddling in the middle of the river. The croc pulled him over and they never saw him again.

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