Seven teenage girls on a school trip have drowned off the coast of eastern South Africa, rescue officials say. The girls, aged 16-17, are believed to have gone swimming at the town of Richards Bay before lifeguards came on duty, and were caught in a rip tide. Their bodies were recovered by the National Sea Rescue Institute and a port authority helicopter.
An eighth girl is still missing and the search continues, a spokesman for the institute told the BBC news website. A group of some 300 students accompanied by teachers reportedly arrived at the beach on Saturday evening and spent the night there. When the first lifeguard arrived at the scene, a large group of teenagers had already gone swimming.
The tide was going out and it became clear that some had been caught in a rip current and were struggling to reach the shore. A rescue operation was launched, involving a 12m inflatable boat, a helicopter and the ambulance service. An unspecified number of people were pulled out of the water.
For seven girls it was already too late, and they were declared dead at the scene. The harbour town of Richards Bay is a major tourist attraction due to its lagoon which is home to hippos and aquatic birds.