At 21h00, Saturday, 25th October, NSRI Port Alfred crew were activated following reports of a tourist group and their river guide in difficulties during a river paddle on the Bushman’s River, about 25 km West of Port Alfred. The backpackers lodge owners were concerned for their safety.
A local backpackers lodge, Woody Cape Backpackers, reported that their guests, 3 Spanish males, 2 Spanish females and a British female, had paddled up river on an arranged overnight paddle with a 36 year old Durban river guide that the backpackers lodge had arranged to take them up river for an overnight camp.
On 3 double river canoes and with the river guide on a single canoe, the tourists had contacted the backpackers lodge at around 18h30 reporting that the river guide had paddled further upstream, leaving them behind, reportedly to look for a camping site for them to spend the night. The tourists were concerned that he had not returned and although they were safe, they were not sure where to set up camp. They were also concerned for the river guide who had not returned to them and feared for his safety since it was getting dark.
The backpackers owners had alerted the Bushmans Marina shop owners who had taken their private boat upstream to look for the group but with no word being received, the backpackers owners were growing increasingly concerned and they decided to raise the alarm alerting rescue authorities.
NSRI Port Alfred dispatched our sea rescue vehicle towing our 5.5 meter rigid inflatable rescue craft which we launched onto the river. Police and a member of the Police dive unit also responded to the scene.
We started to search upstream and the Bushman’s Marina boat was found. They had indeed come across the 6 tourists and were in the process of bringing them back downstream safely. Once back at the Marina shop they were reunited with the backpackers lodge owners and they were ferried to their accommodation at the backpackers lodge (no one was injured). They reported that their river guide had left them to travel further upstream alone reportedly to look for a camp site and he had gone upstream, leaving the tourists at a safe shore place, but he had failed to return.
NSRI continued to search for the missing man upstream but by midnight no sign of the river guide had been found and our sea rescue craft had gone as far upstream as we could in the low tide (about 20 km) before running out of water. It was unknown what had happened to the river guide and the crew on the sea rescue craft searched all the way back downstream but by 02h00 our sea rescue craft arrived back at the Bushman’s Marina shop having still not found any sign of the missing river guide.
Police Disaster Management and EC Government Health EMS were placed on alert and an NSRI Port Alfred team, a Police Search and Rescue team, with K-9 Search and Rescue Police dogs, and the EMS rescue helicopter prepared to resume the search from first light.
At first light this morning, Sunday, 26th October, our sea rescue craft was dispatched upstream again and during the ongoing search we came across the missing Bob Timms and he has been brought down stream safely and reunited with his girlfriend.
It appears that Mr Timms had dragged his canoe ashore last night and had fallen asleep.
Mr Timms has been treated for hypothermia and reunited with the backpackers lodge owners and all additional responding rescue resources were cancelled.