Sons heartbroken after dad drowns: ‘He’d promised him he’d never let go’

In the picture, they look blissfully happy. A dad and his two sons, smiling at the camera, the blue water of the KwaZulu-Natal coast in the background.

Little did André (42) and his brother, Werner Dry (40), both from the East Rand, Gauteng, know that would be the last picture they ever took with their dad, Gerhard (71).

Just a day after the picture was taken on Durban’s main beach on 6 October during their family holiday, Gerhard drowned after getting caught in a riptide.

They fought hard to keep his head above water and swim to safety, André told YOU on Tuesday. But it was futile.

“It was incredibly traumatic to experience. I think we’re still both in shock,” he says.

Gerhard and his two sons had been on holiday and decided to go for a swim.

“The sea was rough but we didn’t go in too deep. Everything happened so fast – it’s impossible to explain to anyone. A current pulled my dad in and both of us tried to get him out of it.

“I decided to swim to shore to alert the lifeguards but in the meantime Werner and my dad were pulled further and further out to sea.”

Four lifeguards went into the ocean. They struggled for a long time to bring Gerhard and Werner to shore, André says.

“If it had been one minute longer,” he adds, clearly emotional, “then my brother might also have been gone now. He held my dad’s hand the whole time. He’d promised him he’d never let go.

“Later, they were in so deep they couldn’t stand. When the lifeguards brought them out, my dad was unconscious. They applied CPR for 40 minutes, but it was too late. We couldn’t revive my dad. He was declared dead right there on the beach.”

It’s a huge shock to both him and his brother, André says. Especially because their father had loved nature and the ocean so much.

“It’s actually so painfully ironic. He loved the outdoors, walking and swimming and just being out in nature. He was extremely fit and healthy – especially for a 71-year-old. The day before he died, when we took the picture, he told us how much he enjoyed being by the sea with his two sons.

“He always used to say how much peace he has when he’s at the seaside, how happy he is. And a day later, his life was taken by the thing he loved the most.”

They’re a close family, he says. For four decades, Gerhard had been the head of the department of parks and recreation in Springs, Gauteng.

“He was a man of integrity. He’d touched so many people’s life. Even years after he’d retired, locals would tell us how much they miss him. He’d had such a passion for his work – and for life. He always used to say, ‘My child, life is short. If you want to do something, you must do it now’.”

Gerhard “never recovered” from the death of his wife, Louise, 14 years ago. She died of cancer.

Gerhard

“You know, not a day would go by that he wouldn’t talk about her. He missed her so much. For 14 years he suffered. He loved her incredibly deeply and never let another woman into his life.

“That’s what we’re holding onto as consolation: that they’ve been reunited after 14 years and that he’s happy now.”

Werner posted on Facebook, “André and I have never felt so alone as we do now, and we’re still expecting dad to come home from a walk. Dad was our hero but after our mom’s death he never recovered. We hope you’re together and happy. Don’t worry about me and my elder brother – we have each other. Love you, Mom and Dad, always.”

The family are planning a memorial service later this week. Funeral plans have yet to be finalised.