Coast KZN

20 Apr 2017

Protea Banks dive death – shark attack or medical condition?

Judi Davis (South Coast Herald)


Although what remained of the wet suit was identified as possibly that of the missing diver, this still needs to be confirmed via proper forensic investigation – Lt-Col Zandra Wiid


National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) spokesman Craig Lambinon has confirmed that his organisation is involved in a search for a missing diver off Protea Banks.

He was unable to provide further details about the operation or about the missing person but Beulah Mauz of dive operator African Dive Adventures told the South Coast Herald that the diver was one of her company’s clients.

A massive search, involving NSRI boats, local ski-boats and dive boats and a helicopter was under way, she said. Ms Mauz was unable to comment further but promised to provide more information as it became available.

Mr Lambinon said a press release would be issued once the operation was concluded.



A body, believed to be that of a missing diver from Germany, has been recovered.

This according to dive master Beulah Mauz of African Dive Adventure.

Two sources have told the South Coast Herald that the man had been attacked by sharks.

However, Ms Mauz said the National Sea Rescue Institute had not released any information about the probable cause of the diver’s death.

The South Coast Herald has not yet received a report from the NSRI.


UPDATE: April 13, 6.30am

According to a sot on the NSRI’s Facebook page, this is how yesterday’s tragic sequence of events unfolded:

NSRI Shelly Beach, NSRI Port Edward and Police Search and Rescue were activated following reports of a scuba diver, a 68-year-old German citizen, missing during a dive at the Northern Pinnacle, Protea Banks yesterday afternoon.

According to fellow divers, of a group of people on a charter scuba dive had been surfacing when the man disappeared.

The NSRI Shelly Beach sea rescue craft Caltex Challenger and Spirit of Dawn, the NSRI Port Edward sea rescue craft Wild Coast Sun Rescuer and a Police Search and Rescue boat launched to join a search operation already underway by multiple private boats and by charter boats.

The coordinated search included the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA), MRCC (Maritime Rescue Coordination Centre), NSRI Durban and Telkom Maritime Radio Services.

The SA Police Services, Med-Evac ambulance services and Hibiscus Fire and Rescue Services also responded, and stood by at the NSRI Shelly Beach sea rescue base.

A Natal Sharks Board fixed wing aircraft was placed on alert and the NSRI Air Sea Rescue and an SA Air Force 15 Squadron Augusta helicopter were also activated.

An extensive drift pattern and sweeping line search operation was conducted using the three sea rescue craft, the Police Search and Rescue boat, private boats, private fishing boats, and charter boats. In addition, police divers conducted a scuba search.

During the search the remains of the body of the man, believed to have been bitten by a shark, were located by crew of a private fishing boat.

The body was brought to shore by a sea rescue craft and has been taken to Forensic Pathology Services.

Police have opened an inquest docket.


UPDATE: April 19

The shark-mauled human remains recovered from the ocean shortly after Austrian diver and master instructor Leopold Mairhuber (68) went missing off Protea Banks last week, have not yet been positively identified.

“Although what remained of the wet suit was identified as possibly that of the missing diver, this still needs to be confirmed via proper forensic investigation. An official identification still needs to be done,” said police spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Zandra Wiid.

She said the search for Mr Mairhuber had commenced on Wednesday last week at 1.45pm, after he had failed to surface with the rest of the dive party. The search had been conducted by SAPS Search and Rescue, Port Shepstone, the National Sea Rescue Institute and many private boats. The human remains that had been found had been taken to Port Shepstone mortuary. DNA samples had been taken to ascertain whether the body was that of the missing diver, she said.

Since the disappearance of the diver and the possible link between this tragedy and the discovery of the shark-bitten remains, there has been much speculation regarding what had caused the death of the person whose body had been found.
Beulah Mauz of African Dive Adventures, whose client the missing diver had been, described his loss as a terrible tragedy. Assuming the remains were that of the diver, there was still no clarity regarding the cause of his death, she said, pointing out there had been much speculation about this.

He could have been the victim of a shark attack but many people believed it was very possible he had died as a result of a medical condition, like a heart attack, and that the shark mauling had been posthumous scavenging, she pointed out.

“However, we cannot tell what happened at this stage and will only have a clearer picture once all the investigations are complete,” she said.

Lt-Col Wiid could not throw any light on the matter, either. The cause of death had yet to be ascertained as the results from the post-mortem were still outstanding. Port Shepstone SAPS had opened an inquest docket, she said.
Ms Mauz described the missing diver as a master instructor with vast experience who had done more than 2 000 dives. He had been a member of a group of divers doing a shark course with Erich Ritter from SharkSchool. By Wednesday, the day of the tragedy, the divers had been on the South Coast for a week and had been looking forward to diving the Northern Pinnacle of Protea Banks.

“Two boats set off for the reef. Surface conditions were great, visibility was rather low but the current was slack,” she said, adding that this dive had not been a baited one.

Mr Mairhuber had dived Protea Banks before. His buddy as well as the dive master had not had any reason to be concerned about his safety. After ascending and discovering he was missing, the skipper had notified the authorities and the search had immediately been launched.

Since the tragedy African Dive Adventures had been inundated with messages of condolence and these would be passed on to the family.
“One thing I have discovered is that there is some light during even the darkest times and this light has been the amazing kindness of South Coast people who have rallied around to support us,” she said.

She thanked everyone involved in the search, including many owners of private boats, control tower staff, the SAPS and Shelly Beach and Port Shepstone NSRI. She asked local people to keep the family and friends of the missing diver in their prayers.