A Close Brush with Death – Low Level Bridges!

Alard Hüfner recently had this close encounter and with his permission I have now published his story here. This version might be slightly different than the one published on the tangent.


“The river was not in full flood, but it Nearly Killed us!!!  We were having an awesome Monday afternoon paddle on the crocodile river just outside JHB. I had paddled this section once before and was confident that I could remember all the dangers. We handled confluence rapid no problem, and were having a blast skipping work for a Monday afternoon river run. Paddling along in our plastic kayaks we saw something coming up, but were not exactly sure what it was. I didn't remember it, as last time I paddled this section, the water was a meter higher. Douard was ahead, and his boat landed on something about 15 cm under the surface of the water. Seconds later I arrived and pull up next to him. Then we both realized that under the water, hidden from us, was one of those very dangerous low level bridges. The ones that have those big round pipes that funnel the water flow through and under the bridge.  Next second I felt the back of by boat being pulled, so I leant down stream, then it really started to suck, with in a split second the ass of my boat was sucked under, I desperately tried to cling onto the bridge, but the water was to strong and it pulled me under and into one of those pipes. I was still in my boat and realized I am under water, under a bridge being pushed through a pipe.... Fucking scary, all I could think of: Please let there not be a blockage PLEASE. Thank God there was no blockage and I got spat out the other side of the bridge. I pull my splashy and got out of my boat, to get some air and saw that Douard was still looking for me where I got sucked into the hole.... What he did not see was that Marianne was about to be sucked in. She had seen what had happened and paddled to the side, and thought that she was safe, but the water sucked her down a different hole. I watched in shear horror as she got sucked under, as I was desperately trying to get back upstream to the bridge. Douard was screaming for help on the bridge as Marianne was not popping out the other side. What seemed like minutes, passed.. still no Marianne. Douard was trying to feel for the boat under the water… nothing. All I could think of was: what am I going to tell Oliver...( her husband ) THEN like a drowned dreadlock rat the face of Marianne popped out of the hole on the downstream side of the bridge. Her boat still stuck in the pipe under the bridge. The chances of getting out of your boat when you are stuck under water under a bridge in a pipe... are VERY slim. Somehow Marianne managed to get out of the boat and was pushed out the other side.
My stomach turns tense and uncomfortable every time I think about what happened ... and I cant stop thinking about it.... 

Conclusion: Rivers are way more scary than mountains.  Steer clear of anything man made in a river!!! A million times more respect for water.

From: Am happy to be Alive


A very close call indeed. Thanks Alard for mailing me the story. While Alard seems to think the mountains are safer I’ll still stick to the water and stay away from dangling from a shoe string high above mother earth. Check out his website too. There is information for rock climbers on some of the bigwall climbing in Southern Africa. There are also other regions. Some smart pictures there... CLICK HERE for the link.


This river has killed several people already and one must appreciate the danger of these low level bridges as well as the weirs. Some of the bridges form a bad suck back behind them. Some of the pipes are just large enough to jam your head in, others will just barely take your whole body and kayak. Lucky escape! Be careful out there…




Adrian Tregoning