A lakeside baptism service in Ethiopia was struck by tragedy after a crocodile attacked and killed the vicar.
An 80-strong congregation looked on in horror as the reptile struck at Docho Eshete, a protestant clergyman in the town of Arba Minch, while he conducted a mass baptism in the shallows of Lake Abaya on Sunday.
“He baptized the first person and he passed on to another one,” a local resident at the service, Ketema Kairo, told the BBC’s Amharic language service.
“All of a sudden, a crocodile jumped out of the lake and grabbed the pastor, pushing aside the person he was baptising.”
Members of the congregation, as well as fishermen on the lake, attempted to rescue the clergyman – an almost impossible task. Crocodiles clamp their jaws firmly down on their prey immediately after catching it and then perform a “death roll” that disorients victims and breaks their bones.
Fishermen threw out their nets to block the crocodile from taking Mr Docho into deeper water, but by the time they extricated him he was already dead.
“They only managed to get his dead body,” Eiwnetu Kanko, a police officer from Arba Minch, 300 miles south of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, said.
“They were unable to save him.”
Protestant baptism services in Africa are frequently conducted by rivers or lakes, with the initiate being fully or partially immersed in the water in the manner of Christ’s baptism by John the Baptist in the River Jordan.
The ceremony was always likely to be risky one. Abaya, Ethiopia’s second largest lake, is known for having a large crocodile population.
The reptiles have a reputation of aggression towards humans because of a dearth of fish in the lake. The lake’s reddish brown waters make it hard to spot a crocodile until it surfaces, making escape less likely.
Hundreds of people are killed in crocodile attacks in Africa every year, conservationists say. Many of the victims are women washing clothes on river rocks.
The true death toll is unknown, however, as many deaths are unreported.
Last month a crocodile in Zimbabwe ripped off the arm of Zanele Ndlovu, a Zimbabwean woman, five days before she married her British fiancé, Jamie Fox.
In January, a 90-year-old tourist was killed and his female companion badly hurt after crocodiles elsewhere in Zimbabwe attacked their inflatable boat, puncturing it.
And in neighbouring Mozambique, at least 12 people were killed in February when crocodiles attacked villages situated along a tributary of the River Zambezi.