A newlywed couple from Northern Ireland have drowned off the coast of South Africa while on honeymoon.
John Rodgers, 28, and his wife Lynette, 26, died on Friday after getting into trouble in rough seas in Plettenberg Bay.
South Africa’s National Sea Rescue Institute (NSRI) said the incident happened shortly after the couple arrived in the country.
In a joint statement, their families said: “It has come as a great shock to both the Reilly and Rodgers families to learn of the sudden and tragic events in South Africa, which has taken the lives of Lynette and John.
“Our happiness in sharing their recent wedding has been thoroughly devastated. Both were very dearly loved and brought us great joy.”
Stephen Lowry, assistant minister at First Holywood Presbyterian Church, where the couple got married eight days ago, told 200 parishioners how the congregation had been plunged into “intensive grief”.
He said that many had known the bride since she was a child.
Rev Lowry, who was standing in for full time minister Nobel McNeely, who married the couple, said: “It is with a very heavy heart that I inform the church of the sudden and tragic deaths of John and Lynette Rodgers.
“John and Lynette were married here last Saturday, October 17 and both were sadly killed in a drowning accident whilst on honeymoon in South Africa.
“Lynette grew up here among us in this church family and many of us will remember her in the GB (Girls Brigade) and as she played in the faith band.
“Our prayers are very much with Lynette’s mother, Eva Reilly and her brother, Graham and the parents of her husband John, Billy and Joanne and their extended families and friends at this time.”
Prayers were said for friends of the young couple who, eight days ago, had toasted their wedding but were now in mourning and preparing for their funeral.
Rev Lowry added: “We as a church continue to offer our support in any way that we can, with our love and our prayers.”
Afterwards people huddled together in small groups, speaking in hushed tones about their shock.
One man said: “It is so tragic, these are just terrible circumstances.”
In a statement Rev Lowry, who met the Reilly family this morning, said: “It has come as a great shock to both the Reilly and Rodgers families and our church community of this sudden and tragic event in South Africa which took the lives of John and Lynette.
“The happiness and joy of their wedding last Saturday has been truly replaced by grief and loss.”
Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister, expressed his sympathies on Twitter: “Very sad to hear the tragic news of young Co Down couple who were drowned whilst on honeymoon in South Africa. My sympathy to their families.”
Andrew Muir, former mayor of North Down, said that the double tragedy was “horrendous”, and tweeted: “Thoughts & Prayers with families and friends of Holywood couple John & Lynette Rodgers who died in South Africa on Honeymoon. Horrendous news.”
The body of Mr Rodgers was discovered in shallow surf on Robberg Beach by a local man at about 6pm yesterday.
Two women strolling along the beach found his wife’s body 200 metres away.
The NSRI said doctors tried to save the couple but they were pronounced dead.
The institute said: “It is suspected that they drowned. Sea conditions were rough with strong rip-currents in the vicinity.
“Police have opened an inquest docket and although no foul play is suspected, the deaths are being investigated. The bodies have been handed into the care of the forensic pathology services.
“British authorities are assisting with family abroad. The emergency services and those involved have expressed sincerest condolences.”
A Foreign Office spokeswoman said: “We can confirm the deaths of two British nationals in South Africa on Friday 23 October.
“We are providing assistance to both families at this extremely difficult time.”