JOHANNESBURG — A rugby player has drowned and five of his teammates are missing and presumed dead after the team was caught in a rip current during a post-practice swim off a South African beach.
The players from Motherwell Rugby Club had gone swimming at Bluewater Bay beach in the south-eastern coastal city of Port Elizabeth, when they were swept out to sea by a rip current, the South African Press Association reported.
South Africa's National Sea Rescue Institute rescued 15 of 21 people, including some members of the public, in the weekend incident. The search for the five missing rugby players continues, with a massive rescue operation underway.
Rugby player Masixole Myosana, 29, was rescued from the water by lifeguards, but attempts to resuscitate him failed, South Africa's Times newspaper reported.
More from GlobalPost: Nelson Mandela archive, backed by Google, goes online
More from GlobalPost: Rugby match in Soweto uplifts South Africa
Oregan Hoskins, president of the South African Rugby Union, told SAPA it is a "devastating tragedy."
“These young men were preparing to compete in a SARU Easter Tournament in Cape Town in a fortnight and were enjoying a care-free day on the beach with their teammates," Hoskins said.
"To have their afternoon turned into a day of tragedy is shocking for the whole rugby community and our thoughts and prayers go out to their families.”
Zolani Mcopele, 29, a survivor, told the Times that the cries for help and scenes of his rugby teammates drowning will haunt him for life.
"After training we wanted to get the sand off our bodies, so we got in the water because the weather was lovely," he said. "Moments later I noticed that my feet could not feel the sand, and we were all screaming."
More from GlobalPost: Engine "explodes" during South African rugby team flight to Australia
Brendon Helm, one of the lifeguard who helped with the rescue, told Die Burger newspaper that the incident was "incredibly traumatic."
“Everything was peaceful, the sea was calm and they were up to their chests in the water," Helm said. "The next moment we just saw arms and hands in the air as the current swept them away.”