South African teen plays dead

South African teen plays dead then helps injured in Nairobi terror attack

Thanks to a quick-thinking South African teenager, his family and a wounded stranger managed to escape the Nairobi terror attack with their lives.

South African teen plays dead


A South African teen and his family played dead to avoid being killed in the Nairobi mall terror attack.

Islamic terror organisation al-Shabaab launched an attack on the Westgate mall on Saturday, in what it said was a retaliation for Kenya’s invasion into Somalia last year.

The attack, which is thought be masterminded by British Samantha Lewthwaite, killed  Capetonian James Thomas, 57.

Zachary Yach, 18, was eating lunch with his family following a doctor’s appointment when the attack started.

He was trapped for two hours with his mum Tracy and sister Gabi, ignoring his dad’s pleas from the outside to leave the restaurant.

The family had recently moved to Kenya after his father Jonathan was made managing director of international property company Broll, IOL reported. Yach is the nephew of extreme swimmer Theodore Yach.


“A huge explosion really swept us off our feet — it was like a big gust of wind, like a sandstorm, things hitting your face and then a huge explosion which was ear piercing,” he told BBC journalist Will Ross.

Yach and his family hid under the table they were eating at for “a good 20 or 30 minutes” while gunfire was going off and grenades were being thrown.

After the attack had subsided slightly, Yach started to communicate with other people in the restaurant to see if anyone was alive.

“I saw one of the waiters – he was OK but he had a lot of blood coming from his head. Also, in the other corner of the restaurant, I looked and I saw a lot of dead bodies and I was really just praying for them to just wiggle a bit to see if they were OK and alive.”

One man had been shot in the arm and the Yach family tied a cut t-shirt around the wound to stop excessive bleeding.

“In these kind of situations there’s no time to think, you just react. So the first thing I thought of was just to make sure my family was OK and once they were fine, to help anyone else I could,” he said.

Play dead

Their ordeal was not yet over as the al-Shabaab members then began to search the area to see who was dead or alive.

“The first time we saw the terrorists come out, I just said to my mum: “It’s a scary thought but just play dead.”

“So we did but I kept an eye open to see what was going on and if they [the terrorists] were coming into the restaurant.”

After two hours, the rescue team entered the area they were hiding in.

Yach initially thought the team were terrorists until he saw them checking the pulses of bodies on the floor.

“At this point I realised these guys were here to help us so I lifted up my hand and I whistled to say: ‘Come here we need help,’ so they opened a small gate and told us to crawl to them,” he said.

“I got my mum and sister to go first and then we went back to help the guy with the blood running from his head and the guy with the bullet wound in his arm. All five of us survived.”

“I’m just lucky that my family and I weren’t taken hostage,” he said.

South African high commissioner in Kenya, Super Moloi, told IOL that although he did not know about the Yach case, a missing South African woman feared dead was found safe.

“We managed to trace her, she was staying in a hotel room next to the mall and her family got worried when they could not reach her, but they have contacted us and told us she is okay,” he said.