Marc May, NSRI St Francis Bay station commander, said:
“During today’s Pam Golding down wind surf-ski challenge, between St Francis Bay and Jeffreys Bay, our NSRI St Francis Bay volunteer sea rescue duty crew were involved to assist to monitor the surf-skiers from our sea rescue craft EIKOS RESCUER I and from our auxiliary sea rescue craft EL RAGGY.
“NSRI Jeffreys Bay and NSRI Port Elizabeth were also on stand-by for the event with NSRI Jeffreys Bay crew monitoring along the shoreline to assist.
“The event started off with wind conditions of 18 knots but shortly into the challenge the wind picked up to 45 knots causing a large majority of paddlers to retire from the challenge by heading to shore and beaching.
“Officials and NSRI volunteers were kept busy identifying those that came ashore and in numerous cases our sea rescue craft corralled paddlers and assisting them to reach the shore, in many cases by minor rescue operations.
“During the event the paddlers became split up from each other making it more difficult to assist in these minor rescues of paddlers, who were largely overcome by the strong winds, and by making it more difficult to determine those paddlers safely accounted for, and while eventually some paddlers reached the finish line our tally showed that a total of three paddlers remained missing.
“An extensive search operation resulted in two of the three missing paddlers being found safe and we assisted them to reach the shore but with one paddler now overdue for an hour and a half NSRI Port Elizabeth’s helicopter rescue unit and the SA Air Force 15 Squadron Charlie Flight were placed on high alert.
“Fishing boats that were in the area at the time were also requested to keep a look out for the missing paddler.
“During the search NSRI Jeffreys Bay shore crews spotted the paddler off-shore at Aston Bay, Jeffreys Bay, and both a Chokka fishing boat and our auxiliary sea rescue craft EL RAGGY responded and we rescued 51 year old Phil Honey, from Jeffreys Bay, who was found hanging onto his surf-ski and unable to get back on in the gale force winds. He had been clinging onto his surf-ski for at least 40 minutes before being rescued and he was not injured.
“All paddlers were accounted for and safe and no paddlers were injured.”