The South African rowing community is mourning the loss of one of its young rowing coaches after he was struck by lightning on Saturday while taking shelter from a storm. A pupil was also injured in the same incident.

Coach Nicholas Whaits (19) and student William Macdonald (14), from Somerset College in Cape Town, were participating in a rowing regatta at Germiston Lake in Gauteng when the tragedy unfolded.

Keith McIvor, from Rowing South Africa, told the Citizen Newspaper that the incident occurred after the regatta had ended for the day.

“A group of athletes together with their coach started to walk back to their hotel which was close to Germiston Lake. While walking, a very severe storm struck the area and the group sought shelter under a tree. Tragically, lightning struck the tree, fatally injuring the coach and injuring the athlete,” McIvor said.

He added that the rowing community were deeply saddened by the loss.

Macdonald was taken to Sunward Park Netcare Hospital in Boksburg, where he remains in a stable condition.

Nicholas Whaits was standing under a tree when lighting struck.

On Monday, Somerset College lowered their campus flags to half-mast to pay respect to Whaits, who was an alumnus of the college. Pupils wore black armbands to mourn their loss.

During a special assembly, Somerset College Executive Head Graham Sayer spoke kindly of Whaits, and said he would be remembered for his legacy of fun and belonging.

“We extend our sincere condolences and love to Nicholas’ family in this time of pain and loss. They are a family renowned for their contribution to our school and we will continue to lift them up in our thoughts and prayers,” said Sayer.

Pupils, staff and parents are being offered trauma counseling to deal with the loss.

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