Miranda Harris, co-founder of international Christian conservation organization A Rocha, was killed in a crash in South Africa Monday along with the organization’s CEO, Chris Naylor, and his wife, Susanna.
Miranda’s husband, Peter Harris, 67, a former Anglican clergyman who was also traveling with the group, survived along with their driver, Thando Kalipa, Metro UK reported. Miranda was 66 while Naylor was 58.
According to Metro UK, the Harrises and the Naylors were driving along the 450 mile Garden Route from Cape Town to Port Elizabeth to the airport to return to the U.K. when the silver Toyota they were traveling in crashed over a bridge and plunged 75 feet into a river below at about 11:45 a.m. Monday. The couples were reportedly returning home from a 10-day working holiday.
Witnesses who saw the car landing on its roof in the river reportedly tried saving the A Rocha leaders by wading into chest deep water.
The UK Times reports that a post-mortem examination was performed Thursday and found that the deaths were caused by "blunt force trauma." The publication also reports that police have opened an investigation into "possible culpable homicide."
In a series of updates since the accident, A Rocha explained that Peter Harris is currently in ICU at a hospital in Port Elizabeth.
“On admission he had broken ribs and punctured and partially collapsed lungs. He was put on ventilation and into a medically induced coma. His primary physician is a committed Christian,” the organization said. “He is doing remarkably well considering the severity of the accident.”
On Thursday, Peter Harris was withdrawn from heavy sedation which allowed him to regain full consciousness. By Friday, the organization said his four children had visited with him and he was continuing to improve.
“Peter is showing some real signs of improvement today. He opened his eyes when the children spoke to him and squeezed their hands. His heart is still out of rhythm but other vitals are going in the right direction. ... All four [of his children] are humbled and thankful for the many people praying and supporting their family in this difficult time,” A Rocha said.
The driver of the car in which the A Rocha leaders were traveling is said to have remained conscious throughout the entire ordeal and was discharged from the hospital on Thursday.
The Harrises founded A Rocha in 1983, The UK Times added. "Naylor, a former science teacher from Oxford, was the executive director of A Rocha International and had co-founded the Lebanon branch in 1996 with his wife. Mrs. Naylor was the head of science at Christ Church Cathedral School, Oxford."
An A Rocha member in Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, recalled to Metro UK how wonderful the leaders were during their trip.
“I met the four of them last week and they were wonderful people. They said they were on a dream holiday although it was also a working trip and they said they were finishing it with a trip to the Addo Elephant National Park to see the Big 5,” the member said.
“The co-founder Peter said he was nuts on wild birds and said he was looking forward to photographing them at Addo and told me there were over 400 species living wild there. I cannot believe that three of the nicest people have been taken from us like this and I am praying for Peter to survive. These people were all devout Christians devoted to God,” the member continued. “It can really make you wonder when people like them are taken from us in such tragic circumstances and we are all saying prayers for their children and friends in the UK.”
Reacting to the tragedy, singer Kellie Haddock, who considered Miranda Harris a “spiritual momma” and mentor, said the deceased leaders were “beautiful souls.”
“Earth lost 3 beautiful souls yesterday. I’m heartbroken under the weight of this grief,” Haddock began.
“Miranda, in every way was a spiritual momma to me. She poured so much into me and took this role of mentorship to heart. We regularly penned letters to each other. Her last letter arrived last week and will remain a treasure to me for the rest of my days,” she said.
“In response to my letter she poignantly writes, ‘All living things do their most significant growing in the darkness, whether of womb or soil or egg or seed…’ You might remember a recent blog … where I talked about how Miranda helped me see that we are defined by our belovedness, not the things that happen to us. This distinction brought me healing in my own grief journey as a former widow,” she added sharing a song she wrote called “Butterfly” about “life being cut too short.”
“I share it today in honor of Miranda and the Naylors with love being sent to the entire A Rocha family all over the world. Our hearts are heavy with grief, united in love,” she said.