x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Disabled Frenchman braves heat and sharks to swim the Red Sea

Using prosthetic limbs with flippers attached, Philippe Croizon swims from Taba in Egypt to Aqaba in Jordan in just over five hours.

Phillipe Croizon, a French swimmer, reached Aqaba, Jordan swimming from Taba, Egypt in just over five hours today.
Phillipe Croizon, a French swimmer, reached Aqaba, Jordan swimming from Taba, Egypt in just over five hours today.

AQABA, JORDAN // A Frenchman who lost all of his limbs in an accident braved hot weather and sharks today to swim across the Red Sea from Egypt's Taba to Aqaba in Jordan as part of a global challenge.

Using prosthetic limbs with flippers attached, Philippe Croizon, 44, left Taba at 10.30am UAE time and arrived in Aqaba more than five hours later 3.50pm.

"I am very happy that I have made it. It is a great feeling to swim between Africa and Asia," Mr Croizon said.

Arnaud Chassery, a french swimmer, as well as two disabled Jordanians, Mohammad Smadi and Mohammad Sawaai, accompanied Mr Croizon throughout the challenge.

"We are all sunburned. We had to drink loads of water. It was very very hot and the sun was blazing. But the sea was calm and nice," said Mr Croizon.

"I think we swam 15 or 20 kilometres. We did not swim in a straight line in order to avoid some strong currents."

Four Jordanian boats accompanied the swimmer and Mr Croizon's team and French embassy officials were on hand to welcome him ashore.

"Bravo, bravo," they chanted when Mr Croizon arrived.

Mr Croizon said obtaining authorisation from Egypt was difficult.

"We had to sign tonnes of documents," he said. "But thank God, we have achieved our goal at this stage, proving that there is no difference between a disabled swimmer and a normal swimmer."

The Red Sea is infested with more than 40 species of shark.

"I took part in this adventure to prove that disabled people can do anything. I have already taken part in various sports championships," said Mr Smadi, a 39-year-old former army officer.

He said he lost his left foot in 1991 to a landmine on the Jordanian-Israeli border, three years before the two countries signed a peace treaty.

For Mr Sawaai, another former army officer, who has disabilities in his feet, the swim was "the dream of his life".

"I wanted to prove to myself and the world that I am normal and have the ability to do what the French swimmer did," said the 44 year old, who currently works at a security firm.

Mr Sawaai was injured during an anti-terror training exercise with US troops.

"My dream has come true thanks to Philippe," he said.

Mr Croizon had initially planned to swim the Red Sea stretch last Friday, but he postponed the trip because of bad weather. Mr Croizon, who swam the English Channel in 2010, has set out on his aquatic journey across the globe to highlight the abilities of disabled people, and to convey a message of peace and solidarity.

On May 17, he swam from Papua New Guinea to Indonesia, in the first part of a mission to complete five arduous swims between continents.

He had to have all four limbs amputated after he suffered an electric shock of more than 20,000 volts in 1994 as he tried to remove a TV antenna from a roof.

In July, he plans to traversing the Strait of Gibraltar, by swimming between Europe and Africa.

In August, he will swim between the islands of Big Diomede in Russia and Little Diomede in the United States to complete an Asia to North America crossing.