When two young women fell into Africa’s Zambezi River just 150 feet upstream from the world’s largest waterfall, Keith Andrews didn’t stop to think.
He leaped in after them.
“It wasn’t a matter of thinking what to do,” the Air Force lieutenant colonel said. “I had to react.”
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Andrews, a Columbus native and Air War College student, traveled to Botswana and Zambia in Africa in early March as part of a regional cultural studies course.
The 20-year Air Force veteran said it’s been a lifelong goal to visit the continent.
“It was wonderful,” he said. “It was more than I could dream of. Being an African-American and getting the opportunity to go back to Africa, that’s my roots and we’re not taught as much about Africa as we think we should be. To be able to go over there and see the people and see the land and see the wonders, it was outstanding.”
He spent his first week of the trip in Botswana. On March 8, Andrews and his group crossed the Zambezi River and entered Nambia. Their hotel was in Livingstone, a short hike from the world’s largest waterfall — Victoria Falls.
After a brief stop at the hotel to change clothes, the group set out to see where 120 million gallons of water per minute pour through a chasm more than 330 feet deep.
It was a beautiful day in Livingstone, sunny and warm, but the falls produce a mist that blankets the area and soaks tourists. Because of this, Andrews took his raincoat.
On the banks of the Zambezi, which feeds into the gigantic, cascading curtain of water, Andrews found a rock on which he could stand safely to have his picture taken. He shrugged off his slicker and handed his camera bag to a friend before carefully climbing onto the outcrop.
From this vantage, Andrews could see a girl about his daughter’s age crouched close to the river. Too close, in his opinion.
Then he “heard a big splash, whoosh,” he said.
Andrews turned and saw that girl and another in the water. One was clinging to a rock while the other held on to her leg. They were about 150 feet away from the falls, Andrews said.
“Both of them, their eyes were big, they were screaming. I was running toward them,” he said. “So I was able to jump down halfway in the water, up to my thighs. I braced myself against a rock and held on to another rock and reached out and grabbed the girl’s arm.
“If I had been a second or two later I wouldn’t have been able to reach them,” he added.
Andrews pulled the shaken girls to safety. Their parents showered him with thanks and the local newspaper called him a hero.
Andrews said he doesn’t consider himself a hero.
“Growing up in church and in my neighborhood we learned how to take care of one another and do what’s right and from there that continued into the Air Force,” Andrews said.
Andrews graduated from Shaw High School. His mother, Josephine Andrews, still lives here.
The 42-year-old husband and father said his faith was strengthened that day on the Zambezi River.
“No one else could have reached them,” Andrews said. “I’m happy and thanking and praising God for allowing me to be there to help save them. I thank God that they’re safe and it worked out OK.”