American Tourist, 55, Has His Teeth Blasted Out After Being Shot in the Face During South African Vacation
Alex Hammer, Daily Mail, November 6, 2023
An American tourist took a bullet to the face moments after touching down in South Africa after his hire car’s sat-nav took him through one of the world’s most dangerous areas.
Walter Fischel, 55, is currently recovering post-surgery – and offered local news station News24 a frightening recount of his brush with death.
Appearing from his hospital bed with several missing teeth and a tracheostomy tube inserted in his neck, he recalled how he landed at Cape Town International at about 2pm local time Friday, and within the hour was left for dead in notorious Nyanga.
After disembarking, Fischel – who lives in Connecticut – said he immediately rented a car, entered his destination into the GPS, and picked a route that appeared to be the shortest distance to where he had been headed in Hermanus.
What he hadn’t realized was the route – going south along the M18 and M22 to reach the coast – is notorious for taking people through seedy neighborhoods such as Nyanga, which is widely considered one of the most dangerous areas in the world.
The American told News24: ‘I was coming to Simons Town to visit, and then go to Hermanus, and hang out in Hermanus for six or seven days and then return back to the United States.
He continued: ‘I landed at the airport in Cape Town, from Thailand, at about two o’clock, went outside, got to AVIS, got my car, told them where I’m going, put the address in the GPS after I got in the vehicle and inspected it.
‘[I] picked the route – the shortest distance – which was not the highway, because the highway apparently had traffic.’
‘[That] routed me through Nyanga,’ he added – roughly 48 hours removed from surgeries on both his face and then-obstructed airway.
Almost immediately, Fischel remembered, ‘the neighborhood was not the greatest, [and] traffic started getting a little tight.
‘Taxis were, you know, polling for position,’ he added.
Eventually, the procession of cars along the route – which despite its perils is often recommended on apps like Google – became cluttered to the point where the tourist had to come to a stop, he said.
Almost immediately, four men who appeared to have already been waiting swarmed his car, and – as he put it – ‘I got shot in the face.’
He told News24: ‘It got slow enough so that it was stopped, [and] the guy reached in, opened- hit the lock, opened the door, [and on of] his accomplice[s] opened the passenger door.’
He recalled how he ‘tried to reach for the pistol to grab his [attacker’s] gun to keep him from going further,’ but the eventual shooter ‘swung away from [me] while his accomplice grabbed some of the goods’ inside the car.
Then, ‘I got shot in the face,’ he said bluntly – adding that the men ‘also grabbed the keys [and] kicked [him] out of the car’ before all entering the vehicle.
‘Then I opened the boot to try to grab my bag, which I did, and then they chased me down and grabbed, took the bag from me, and left me there with a bullet wound.
‘I spit out a couple of teeth, and the bullet,’ he said, somehow still able to speak.
The man’s recollection then pivoted to how he was then rushed to nearby hospital, where, he said: ‘I I told them what happened, [and]… got me stabilized.’
Still visibly shaken but in surprisingly good health, he added: ‘I told them what happened, and they told me that they would take care of me, etc. Very good doctors.’
That said, doctors at that facility soon discerned they were not well-equipped enough to handle such an injury, with Fischel’s mandible fractured and a bullet hole still in his face, out of which a steady jet of blood was constantly flowing.
With time of the essence, doctors at the facility decided to resituate Fischel at Cape Town’s renowned Rondebosch Medical Centre, which he said ‘was more properly suited for this type of injury, with the doctors and the machines required.’
At that point in the interview, the American produced a photograph that appeared to have been taken shortly after he was shot, which had to be censored due to its graphic nature.
With his voice full of emotion, he remembered how, at that point, he ‘was full of blood’, and that doctors told him if his wound had been mere up or down, ‘we may not be having this conversation.’
Thankfully, he came under Rondebosch Medical’s resident trauma surgeon Denis Allard – who also spoke to News24 about the life-saving measures he and others took to ensure Fischel pulled through.
After spending almost all of Saturday in surgery, Allard recalled his first concern after seeing Fischel on his operating table.
‘The first question was, will I need to have a secure airway – because he was shot in the face.
‘Blood going down into his lungs is potentially fatal,’ he added.
‘We solved that together with the maxillofacial specialist [on staff] and my assistant that was here – we spent our Saturday afternoon in theatre,’ he recalled.
Dr. [Fanie] Otto, the maxillofacial surgeon who worked on Fischel, was eventually able to stop the bleeding and treat the wound – after which the doctors performed a tracheostomy to help the patient breathe more easily
The operation – which saw the doctors create an opening in Fischel’s windpipe – was a success, Allard said, adding how the patient is now ‘doing exceptionally well.’
He said of how close the tourist came to death: ‘[The wound was] centimeters from the carotid [artery], the brain – the bullet could even have ricocheted.’
He added: ‘It’s really very unusual to have a bullet still have the force to fracture the mandible, take out teeth, and then the bullet to stop and lie in the mouth.’
But against all odds, Fischel survived – and on Monday was able to express not only gratitude, but regret over the situation.
With the tracheostomy tube still in his neck, he told News24: I’m here, I’m lucky to be here, but, you know, I’m angry that I didn’t see it coming, that it happened – the whole ordeal.
‘I mean, who would expect that in the middle of the day.’
Others more familiar with the South African city – and the lay of the land near its airport – might say otherwise, with several online warning about the dangers of the same route that Fischer unwittingly embarked on.
While seemingly easy – and somewhat of a straight-shot – the road though the the south peninsula, via towns like Muizenburg, Kalk Bay, Fish Hoek, Simonstown, is riddled with slums and stops that provide criminals an optimal opportunity to strike.
Traffic lights and stop streets increase one’s chance of becoming an accident – or crime casualty – dramatically, and Fischer passed through what’s likely the worst area in not only the region, but the entire country.
Considered the murder capital of South Africa, Nyanga has the highest murder rate in the nation, and its police station is infamously understaffed.
Gang violence and poverty in the area is also rife, and recent crime statistics show it is the number one spot for carjackings in South Africa, with a 29% increase from 87 to 110 cases from September to December of this past year.
The precinct, which covers Crossroads, Philippi and Browns Farm, was also ranked second for aggravated robberies, with 357 cases.
Instead of traveling through those streets, tourists seeking access to the south peninsula are often recommended to instead go west on the N2 towards the city, and then turn south at exit 6 to use the M3.
But Fischel, now anxious to return to his home in the US, suggested Monday that there are not enough warnings for foreigners in place, and beseeched the city’s police and civic officials to take more measures to ensure travelers are in the know.
‘I think that people – and tourists – need to be aware of where not to go, and what not to do here,’ he told News24.
‘Because, obviously, it’s an area close to the airport, which you can easily stray into, intentionally or unintentionally.
‘And the public needs to be made aware of that, upon entry. From the car hire, the tourist bureau, I mean, from the police, from someone – that there’s areas that you need to stay away from.
‘I mean, if this can happen at 3pm, I mean, then it can happen anytime,’ he added.
Now set to stay in Cape Town for at least two weeks, the patient added: ‘I’m extremely lucky to have made it out alive.
‘But, as soon as I’m given the all-clear, I am leaving the country.’