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OPERATION CENTRE (EOC)

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You’d be forgiven for being a little nonplussed to learn that the NSRI has five inland stations. It is, after all, an institution based on sea rescue. But where there is a large body of water, there is a need for drowning prevention, and as such, over the years inland stations at five major dams throughout South Africa have been established, one of which is in Deneyville, a small Free State town on the banks of the Vaal Dam. As a watersport hot spot for ‘Vaalies’ with a shoreline of 1 300km, not to mention the prevalence of turbulent summer storms and icy winters, the Station 22 crew have their work cut out for them.

Changing times

Completed in 1938, the Vaal Dam was constructed in response to an urgent need for water due to a tough drought during the Great Depression, and a rapidly expanding population – Johannesburg being one of the only major cities in the world not constructed on a large river.

During the construction of the dam, a small village named Deneysville (after Deneys Reitz, Minister of Irrigation at the time of the dam’s construction) was founded. Today, it is the centre of activity for the marinas and boating facilities that hug the shore of the dam – as well as NSRI Station 22.In the 80s, with the dam’s popularity as a holiday and watersport destination was rapidly rising, it became evident that there was a need for a rescue station.

Master boat builder Dick Manten, who founded Manten Marina at Deneyville in 1974, offered his voluntary services to the institute, and a station was formed at the end of 1984.Through fundraising, the station acquired a five-meter semi-rigid inflatable from the Ruth and Anita Wise Trust (which became known as the Ruth Wise), and a few years later, a past resident of Deneyville, Mrs Royston, left a large sum of money in her will for the acquisition of a 7-metre semi-inflatable (aptly named Alice Royston). In 1989, Nissan SA donated a Sani 4x4, which served as both a towing vehicle and, at times, an ambulance. Today, care of the station has become a family tradition, with Dick’s son, Jake Manten, taking the reins as station commander.

“The station currently has a 5,5 meter rescue RIB (rigid inflatable boat), a RescueRunner jet ski and an Ark rapid inflatable rubber duck for swift-water rescues,” says Jake. “But we need a rescue mobile and are looking for sponsors.”

Everyday heroes

In its 36 years, Station 22 has undertaken hundreds of rescue operations, both big and small. On one occasion, voluntary crews saved eight people from almost certain death when they were being swept down the raging Vaal River (the dam’s sluice gates were all open at the time) – a dangerous operation where the crew members risked their lives.On a separate occasion, 12 people whose craft had broken down near the dam wall, at a time of floods and again with the sluice gates open, were literally plucked to safety from the second barrier cable by Station 22 crew.

As recently as March 2020, two rescues were carried out: Vaal Dam duty crew towed a capsized yacht back to its mooring (thankfully no one was injured), and an extensive search for a missing man was conducted after he reportedly fell off the back of a jetski and attempted to swim back to shore. Unfortunately the man was not found.

What does the future hold?

Even though the national lockdown has put a dampener on the country’s travel plans, it’s only a matter of time before the station crew will once again be on full standby for the summer onslaught – and they’ll be ready. “We’re looking to build a new radio and operations room, which has a training facility with a kitchen and a place for the crew to stay overnight. It’s in the early stages and we are looking for sponsors.”If you’d like to sponsor or donate to the building of the new radio and operations room or a rescue mobile, email station22@searescue.org.za

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