At 16h25, Sunday, 25th January, NSRI Gordon’s Bay duty crew were activated by the Transnet National Ports Authority (TNPA) following reports of people trapped by the incoming tide on a cove cut off by high tide at Dappat Se Gat, Koegelbaai, between Gordons Bay and Pringle Bay.
It appears that groups of people had gone onto the popular sightseeing rocky outcrop during the current new moon Spring low tide not realising that high tide would cut them off from mainland and that the Spring tides high tide risked engulfing the rocky outcrop.
Some of the people, realising their predicament, called for help and on arrival on-scene NSRI rescuers confirmed that the risk of getting rescue swimmers onto the cove was too great in the incoming tide. Rescue craft would not be able to get close enough to extricate the group of people from the sea side without incredible risk.
At that stage it was estimated that at least 16 people were trapped and NSRI Simonstown, WC Government Health EMS rescue squad and the Red Cross AMS Skymed rescue helicopter were activated.
NSRI Simonstown dispatched the rescue craft SPIRIT OF SAFMARINE III and the Skymed rescue helicopter responded to join NSRI Gordons Bay rescue swimmers that were on the scene on the shore and NSRI Gordons Bay rescue craft SPIRIT OF SURFSKI and INGE (a Swedish rescue runner) that were standing by on the scene.
Cape Town Fire and Rescue Services and the SA Police Services were also dispatched.
The decision was taken to hoist as many people as possible in relays using the Skymed rescue helicopter before the high tide engulfed the cove. NSRI rescue swimmers and the rescue craft stood by to retrieve anyone who got swept into the ocean.
It was then determined that a total of 20 people : 2 boys aged 7 and 8 years old, 10 adult men and 8 adult women.
It appears that they were not aware of the new moon Spring tide and that the sea would cut off the popular rocky outcrop at high tide and risk being engulfed under water at high tide. (During normal tide these rocks are easily accessible even at high tide).
A WC Government Health EMS rescue diver, Jason Higgins, was hoisted down from the Skymed rescue helicopter and supervised the successful rescue of all 20 people who were hoisted off by the rescue helicopter using a “short haul rescue technique”.
Jason found all people safe. It appears that some of the people were unaware of the danger they were in but Jason called all of the people together and explained the situation and that they would all be extricated.
As the tide rose, eventually everyone was huddled to a corner of the rocky outcrop and in relays of 5 persons at a time the “casualties” were kitted into harnesses by Jason and static line hoisted to mainland where additional rescuers were on hand to receive them.
The rescue helicopter had reached its fuel limit when the last group were hoisted off and the helicopter was forced to return to base having successfully completed the rescue operation.
It then emerged that one man was still trapped but he had not been in a position to indicate his entrapment due to the high seas and he was well hidden from view.
Rescuers were only made aware of him after his wife indicated where the man had last been seen and that he remained outstanding. They are from Cape Town.
A rescue team from Wilderness Search and Rescue (WSAR) was deployed from the land side and they rescued the 45 year old man after negotiating steep cliffs to reach the man.
The rescued people were a group of people (16 people in total) from Kuils River aged between 28 and 34 and including the 7 year old and the 8 year old boy.
From Pietermaritzburg, an elderly husband and wife.
A Johannesburg adult man and the adult couple from Cape Town.
In total 21 persons were rescued.
When rescue teams were finally leaving the scene most of the rocks were engulfed by water. Even if the 21 people had huddled to the highest point it may only have been at around midnight tonight before they would have had any chance at low tide to get back to mainland and, dressed in normal day beach wear, it is predicted that most would have succumbed to hypothermia by then. A strong possibility that not all of the 21 people would have been able to remain on the cove in the incoming tide and at high tide and it is strongly suspected that a number of the people may have been swept into the sea.
The rescue effort by the Red Cross AMS Skymed rescue helicopter team, WSAR, NSRI and the emergency services involved in this operation are commended for averting a mass casualty disaster today.
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