At 17h30 (Friday, 13th September) NSRI East London volunteer sea rescue duty crew were activated following reports of multiple people being swept out to sea at the Nahoon River Mouth, East London.
NSRI East London launched sea rescue craft SPIRIT OF LOTTO and a sea rescue vehicle responded and the SA Police Services, Aldersons ambulance services, Buffalo City Municipal lifeguards responded.
It appears that a group of rugby players, believed to be the North West Leopards u/19 and u/21 teams, from Potchefstroom, had gone to the beach following a rugby match.
A group of the rugby players had reportedly waded into the water and according to reports they were less than waist deep in the water when currents in the outgoing tide, in the river mouth, swept 9 rugby players out towards the river mouth.
It is believed that others that were also in shallow water at the time had managed to avoid being swept away by the outgoing tide currents.
Two local surf-skiers, Doug Copeland and Paul Proctor, who had both just launched to paddle, had seen the commotion and had paddled over to assist.
According to Doug Copeland they found 3 groups of men being swept away by currents while also struggling against incoming waves. One group of 5 men and two groups of two men (9 men in total), Doug reached two men and managed to get them to hang onto his surf-ski while he paddled them towards shore, with difficulty against the currents and waves, but he managed to get them to shallower water where (believed to be) fellow rugby players assisted them out of the water.
Doug then returned to the next two men but found one man unconscious and Doug gave his surf-ski to the second man (believed to be the rugby team coach) to hang onto for floatation while Doug swam the unconscious man to shore. The unconscious man was handed into the care of bystanders and fellow rugby players.
Doug then swam back to assist others.
While this was happening Paul had reached the 5 men (who were in a group struggling against currents and waves) and he had jumped out of his surf-ski allowing himself and the 5 men to hang onto his surf-ski for floatation.
The coach, who was hanging onto Dougs surf-ski, had been able to reach the group, where Paul was, and all of the men were now hanging onto both surf-ski’s for floatation.
Doug then reached the group and together he and Paul were able to coral all men in between the two surf-ski’s and swim, using the surf-ski’s as floatation, towards shore.
As they reached closer to shore bystanders and fellow rugby players were able to assist the men out of the water.
NSRI and Emergency Services arrived on the scene and paramedics conducted CPR (Cardio Pulmonary Resuscitation) on the unconscious man who was found to be pulseless and breathless but despite extensive CPR efforts the man was declared deceased.
The remaining men were treated for shock and exhaustion and while it was advised that they be hospitalized for observation for secondary drowning they refused.
NSRI were later informed that after the men had returned to their hotel one man complained of not feeling well and he was transported by Dynamic ambulance services to hospital for observation for secondary drowning symptoms and medical evaluation.
A sea search had been conducted when NSRI had arrived on the scene when it was suspected that not all of the men were accounted for but it was then confirmed that all men were accounted for and the search was called off.
The body of the deceased man has been handed into the care of the Forensic Pathology Services.
An inquest into the death of the man will be opened by Police.
Doug Copeland and Paul Proctor are commended for their actions.