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Saturday 20 January 2018

Honeymoon tragedy: Irish bride's mother in moving tribute to drowned couple

John and Lynette Rodgers from Co Down, who drowned on their honeymoon. Photo: Caroline Smyth Photography
John and Lynette Rodgers from Co Down, who drowned on their honeymoon. Photo: Caroline Smyth Photography

Chris McCullough

A heartbroken mother wept as she told how her daughter and her new husband had planned their whole lives together.

The families of John and Lynette Rodgers from Co Down, who drowned after a freak wave dragged them into strong rip currents while swimming off a South African beach, are struggling to come to terms with their deaths less than a week after they wed.

Lynette's mother Eva Reilly, who lives in Holywood, told the Belfast Telegraph that the family were "thoroughly devastated".

John, from Ballynahinch, was only 28 and Lynette was 26.

They were married last Saturday in Holywood's First Presbyterian Church after being together for the past four years.

They arrived in South Africa on the Monday after their wedding and planned to drive the famous Garden Route along the picturesque coastline.

Speaking in her living room yesterday morning, Eva was surrounded by friends and the family of John.

She sobbed as she asked: "Why my daughter? John and Lynette had their whole lives ahead of them. They had everything sorted out for their future. They planned their whole lives together."

The couple were in South Africa for their honeymoon; a trip of a lifetime they were so much looking forward to following their wedding.

It was their first trip to the country, and they had planned to spend their honeymoon travelling along the famous Garden Route after hiring a car in Port Elizabeth.

The couple had just arrived in Plettenberg Bay, west of Port Elizabeth in the Western Cape, and were staying in the five-star Robberg Beach Lodge, next to the beach.

This is a picturesque area along the coast, which is very popular with tourists who like to spend time on the beach, the same place where John and Lynette decided to take a swim, just moments after arriving at their accommodation.

South Africa is just coming into its summertime and yesterday the weather on Robberg Beach was calm, with sunshine and temperatures of around 24C.

However, on Friday when John and Lynette went to the beach, the sea was described as being rough.

The newlyweds had decided to take a swim and had ventured into the water just after 5pm.

It is thought that a freak wave overwhelmed the couple and dragged them into the strong rip currents, which tragically took their lives.

Tributes have poured in for the popular couple.

Lynette was a physiotherapist while John was an office worker.

Lynette's mum and older sibling Graham were being comforted by friends and family.

Lynette's father passed away some years back.

Eva said: "That particular area had been recommended to John and Lynette by a travel agency as a popular area to visit.

"We have been told it was the strong currents that dragged them under.

"It's really hard to take in. I can't imagine what they went through."

An excited Lynette had sent her mother a message via Whatsapp on Friday at around 2pm confirming that she and John had arrived at Plettenberg Bay.

That was the last time Eva heard from her daughter.

"The next thing I knew, the police were at my door on Friday night at 8pm," said Eva.

"Initially I thought it was something to do with my son Graham, who lives in Belfast.

"But when they said it was Lynette I immediately burst into tears. I could hardly take it in.

"Why her, why my daughter?

"She was so full of life and so excited about the honeymoon. We had all really enjoyed the wedding last Saturday.

"I had never been to a wedding before where the two families got on so well together.

"It was such a good day; it was Lynette and John's day."

In a joint statement, the Reilly and Rodgers families said that they had been left devastated.

The statement said: "It has come as a great shock to both the Reilly and Rodgers families to learn of the sudden and tragic events in South Africa, which have taken the lives of Lynette and John.

"Our happiness in sharing their recent wedding has been thoroughly devastated. Both were very dearly loved and brought us great joy."

South Africa's National Sea Rescue Institute said that doctors performed CPR on the couple but they were pronounced dead.

The institute said: "It is suspected that they drowned. Sea conditions were rough, with strong rip currents in the vicinity.

"Police have opened an inquest docket and although no foul play is suspected, the deaths are being investigated.

"The bodies have been handed in to the care of the forensic pathology services.

"British authorities are assisting with family abroad. The emergency services and those involved have expressed sincerest condolences."

Reports have suggested a man walking on the beach found John's body at 6pm.

But, according to eyewitness Diane Valentine, the bodies were found just after 5pm South African time.

Posting via Facebook, Diane said: "Two lady walkers who were alone on the beach found the first and second body.

"The time of finding was 17h10. They were minutes later joined by a party of three who arrived to walk and the man assisted the lady, who was trying to pull the drowned man from the sea. Sadly, he was already dead.

"It is of the utmost importance that visitors are warned of our treacherous rip tides and not to swim on a deserted beach."

Diane went on to say that the pictures of Robberg Beach usually paint a nice, calm image of the area.

However, she added: "I can assure you the sea did not look like that on Friday. I feel so terribly sad for this young couple and their family back home."

A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: "We can confirm the deaths of two British nationals in South Africa on Friday, October 23.

"We are providing assistance to both families at this extremely difficult time."

No arrangements for the funerals of the couple have been made, as the families are waiting for instructions from the Home Office as to when the bodies can be brought home.

Belfast Telegraph

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