Rescued girl (7) enjoying family holiday
Elizca Middelberg with the dog on the rocky terrain where she was missing overnight. Photos: Gerda Whitehorn.
LYDENBURG – The seven-year old girl who was found unhurt after being missing for 13 hours on a nature reserve near here is fine and enjoying her family holiday.
Ms Sanlie Middelberg, the girl’s mother, said on Monday that the experience still felt unreal to her, but her daughter was her usual self.
Elizca Middelberg, from Potchefstroom in North West, had gone missing on Friday evening on the Paardeplaats Nature Reserve where her family were staying over on their way to the ATKV-Eiland Spa Holiday Resort in Limpopo.
She was found on a neighbouring farm on Saturday, which was also her sister Karin’s sixth birthday.
According to Ms Gerda Whitehorn who owns Paardeplaats with her husband, they never thought to look at Nooitgedacht next door because of the fence separating the properties.
Elizca climbed through a hole in the fence, ripping her dress a little.
On the other side, she found a goat herder’s hut where she spent the night.
“I think she probably walked in the dark for only an hour before she found it,” Whitehorn estimated.
On Sunday, they went for a drive and the little girl pointed out the places where she had been.
She had passed near ruins of old gold mines on the property that she could easily have fallen into in the dark.
“We just did not think that she could have gone that far,” Whitehorn said, still incredulous at the distance the little girl had covered.
Capt Pottie Potgieter of the White River Diving Unit, said they also thought it unlikely that Elizca would be in the dam, which is 8m deep in places.
“So we walked and searched instead,” he said.
This paid off when a member of Phoenix Security, who was searching for her by car, found her about 1km from where she was last seen.
She had been playing with the Whitehorns’ dog, Joji, and ran off after him.
“He knows the walking trails very well and probably thought it was a game,” Whitehorn said.
Rescue teams were called in when it became dark. The dog later returned without Elizca.
The search party comprised members of the White River police’s diving and dog units, Off Road Rescue Unit (Orru), Phoenix Security, volunteers from surrounding farms and Conrad, her father.
They started searching at around 20:00 on Friday.
Their search of the hills and streams proved fruitless and it was called off for the night at around 01:00.
When the search resumed at first light, she was found unharmed.
“They were incredible, with some of them searching through the night,” Whitehorn said of the search party.
Middelberg said she spent the night praying.
“Elizca is not usually an adventurous child,” her mom said.
“She has been asking us to get her a dog all year. I think now we will have to because I never want to live through another night like that.”