Gloom and sorrow cut through the hearts of grief-stricken parents and staff of Saint Martin De Pores Boys’ School in Murang’a yesterday as details of Wednesday’s drowning accident in Diani dawned.
Several parents and staff members were yesterday receiving treatment and psychological counselling at Pandya Memorial Hospital in Mombasa where survivors are admitted.
The Standard also established that a teacher who waded into the troubled waters to save the pupils survived drowning narrowly and was rescued while unconscious after taking in a lot of water. The unnamed teacher was saved by volunteer divers.
Fresh reports also show that staff accompanying the 56 pupils refused to part with just Sh600 to pay three life savers who had requested the money to guide and protect the young swimmers before they waded into the rough sea alone. Each pupil paid Sh25,000 for the trip to the Coast.
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Meanwhile, we also established that teachers argued with the life savers claiming the pupils were big enough to swim on their own after swimming successfully on the less turbulent Kenyatta Public Beach, popularly known as Pirates in the north coast.
Yesterday, Murang’a Governor Mwangi wa Iria flew to Mombasa and visited survivors and parents at Saint Teresa Girls School in Changamwe.
The seven bodies are at Pandya Memorial Hospital’s mortuary.
Parents and members of the school administration converged at the Pandya Memorial Hospital as they mourned the loss of their children whose lives ended too soon.
When The Standard visited the hospital, teachers, parents and some members of the school committee had converged as they finalised arrangements to transport the bodies to Nairobi where a postmortem would be conducted.
Grieving parents declined to talk to the media and instead officials from St John's Ambulance took the mandate of briefing reporters.
A team from St John's Ambulance had established a counselling centre at the hospital.
An official from St John’s Ambulance, John Mwangi, said the parents were grieving and were not in a position to talk to the media.
He said that they started counselling sessions on Wednesday at around 10p.m. adding that most of the students were traumatised and scared.
The tragedy struck at around 5.30p.m. on Wednesday when the boys went swimming without minders or life guards.
According to Father William Kamau, a priest in Mugoiri Parish, the pupils left the school in Murang’a last Friday for their retreat to Mombasa and were to return yesterday.
The Standard Eight pupils were at the South Coast for the retreat ahead of their Kenya Certificate of Primary Education (KCPE) exams later in the year.
Speaking at the Pandya Hospital, Governor Iria said the whole issue of safety needs to be taken a notch higher.
The governor thanked the Kwale County government, the counsellors and all those involved in retrieving the bodies.
He said Kenya Airways has offered to airlift the bodies to Nairobi for free, adding the county government will foot the funeral bill of the seven.
But he dismissed claims the accident was as a result of negligence.
“There was no negligence and the teachers did all they could to save the situation. This was an accident which had no element of negligence,” said Mr Iria.
The school released the names of those who perished as Joseph Irungu, Collins Ndung’u, Derrick Gatimu, Ronnie Kimathi, Julius Peter Kariuki, Charles Githinji and Cyrus Muriu. All were aged 14.
Most of the pupils who died during Wednesday’s tragedy were top performers with their school results indicating that they had over 400 marks.
The school, located in Kahuro Sub-County, was established in 1972 under sponsorship of the Catholic Diocese of Murang’a.
Over the years, the institution has made it a tradition to send candidates to the Coastal town for adventure and exploration.
Yesterday, the community around the learning institution held a special mass for the departed souls.
One of the residents, Peter Mwangi, recounted how many of the candidates were role models within the community as they served as altar boys during Sunday service.
Last year, the school was among the best in Murang’a County after posting a mean of 358.51 in KCPE while in the previous year the candidates scored 358.40.
Yesterday, Murang’a county leadership led by Iria, Kigumo MP Jamleck Kamau and Primary School Head Teachers Association Chairman Stephen Kamau sent messages of condolence to the affected families.
The Kigumo lawmaker, speaking from France, mourned the death of the seven candidates and appealed to teachers to always consider the safety of the children in their custody.