As water poured in through the school bus windows, 12-year-old Zidane Stoebel and about 57 of his fellow pupils screamed in terror.
He was at the back of the 32-seater bus, on the left-hand side. When the water reached his hip, instinct kicked in.
“I wasn’t scared. I tried to look for a way out and I saw that one of the windows at the back was open,” said Zidane. He managed to climb out of the window.
Outside the bus he was helped to safety by people who had stopped next to the Kasatdrift River, about 18km outside of Knysna, into which the bus had plunged.
Fourteen of his fellow pupils and the driver died and 44 other pupils were injured and taken to hospital.
A shaking Zidane recalled how his day began yesterday.
He ate breakfast, walked to his pick-up point with his Rheedendal Primary schoolmates and waited for the bus, which he said was late.
Zidane said the bus normally made two stops in Goudveld and picked them up in Bibbey’s Hoek before dropping them off at school and going back to pick up more pupils who live along the N2.
But yesterday, instead of dropping them off at school the bus headed towards the N2 to pick up the pupils there, said Zidane.
He said when they arrived at their last stop to pick up Octavia Williams, 14, the brakes failed and they started moving backwards into the river.
When the bus hit the water they all started screaming as water rushed in through the windows, Zidane said.
In the aftermath of the tragedy, people spoke of their last moments with their children, while tales of selflessness emerged.
Octavia’s grandmother, Katrina Lourens, 63, lives less than 300m from the hill where the accident occurred.
She had said goodbye to Octavia, who was the last to board the bus.
Octavia had dropped a shoe as she got on and she rushed after the bus to give it back to her.
As she was giving the shoe to the driver the bus started rolling backwards and the driver shouted it didn’t have any brakes.
As Lourens moved away from the bus she heard “a loud noise”.
She rushed to the river.
“I saw the bus halfway into the water.”
Octavia did not make it.
Lourens said she regretted not getting her granddaughter off the bus when she saw it rolling backwards.
Octavia’s best friend, Pathlin November, 13, said she would remember Octavia who had often spent weekends with her.
Octavia’s father, Jonathan Cloete, who was at the scene when the Cape Argus arrived, said he last spoke to his daughter two months ago at a funeral.
“I am separated from her mother and live in Plettenberg Bay. I last saw her at my father-in-law’s funeral. She was telling me about school and that she enjoyed studying science”.
Zidane said he was not sure how many of his friends died but at least one, Leadre Kangela, 13, survived.
Leadre, who was too devastated to speak to the Cape Argus, turned out to be one of the heroes of yesterday’s disaster.
Her mother, Irene Meyer, said her daughter had told her how she pushed two younger children out of a window before she scrambled to safety.
“She keeps on telling me that she can’t believe what happened. She has been asking me to pinch her and says she can’t believe she can’t wake up from this horrible dream.”
Meyer said she doesn’t blame anyone for what happened.
“I am happy that I did not lose my daughter but my heart goes out to all the mothers who lost their children, and the bus driver’s family,” she said.
Parents, pupils, teachers and residents held a memorial service at the school today.